Do you shudder every time you hear your phone ring and realize it’s a FaceTime call? Does the thought of a Zoom party make you want to run for the hills? Are you always the one friend that joins those parties without turning their camera on?
You are not alone! There’s plenty of others for whom this new normal is just short of torture. You see, communication was already difficult for most of us. Now there’s the added hassle of a learning curve for all of this technology and figuring out an entirely new way of connecting.
So many of my clients get caught in a vicious cycle of feeling self-conscious on camera and then feeling bad because they’re missing out on important personal and business connections. They’re afraid that people will perceive them as awkward or anti-social. They can’t wait for this to be over and for Zoom to become a relic of the past like beepers or cassette players did.
The problem is that Zoom and FaceTime are here to stay. We’re all going to be on camera quite frequently from now on. We'll need it for business, school, dating, family life, and everything else in our lives that used to happen face-to-face. In 2021, you stand to lose a lot when you cannot put your authentic self in front of a camera lens.
What’s making you self-conscious?
As a communications coach, I see a lot of problems affecting my clients and making their on-camera performances less-than-stellar. Below I dive into the three most common ones:
1. It’s awkward
Let’s get one thing out of the way: video chats are very awkward. They’re a very unnatural way of communicating. There are the weird lags in audio and video, the interruptions, the strange noises from unmuted microphones, and, my personal favorite: having your image freeze in the most unflattering moment possible.
The best way to deal with this is by just embracing the awkwardness. We’re all navigating the same uncharted waters. Laugh it off. Use it as an ice breaker! Nothing will bring you closer to the person on the other side of that screen than calling yourself out for being frozen in the most unattractive position! It happens to all of us!
2. It shines a spotlight on your insecurities
The spotlight that we’re put in when we get in front of the lens is, by far, the biggest source of on-camera anxiety. It’s the root cause of a lot of fear and self-consciousness. Over 59% of people report feeling more self-conscious when they’re on camera than in real life. And they have every reason to feel that way. When we get on camera, our faces are magnified and our movements happen in slow motion. Every blink, every little wiggle, and all of our fidgeting becomes ten times more noticeable. And then there’s the mirror camera.
Being in a situation in which you are constantly face-to-face with a mirror video of yourself will have you worrying about stuff you never worry about in real life. Even the least vain of us will find ourselves thinking a lot more than we usually do about how our hair looks or wondering where all those frown lines came from. It’s a kick in the butt to our confidence and it affects our ability to communicate effectively. You won’t be able to shine as you always do if you’re busy staring at that one thing you don’t like from your face in the mirror video.
It’s important to remember that we look very different on camera than in person. A lot of this has to do with the way cameras and lenses are built, especially for the devices that we commonly use. The lenses in your phone and your computer’s webcam are not the same ones used to photograph people for magazine covers. They flatten and distort faces and highlight details that most people wouldn’t notice in real life.
The easiest way to fix this is simply by talking to the lens and not talking to the screen - which is where you end up staring at yourself. When you look at the lens, your energy is focused on the other party and not yourself. Another way to feel more comfortable with yourself is to dress as if you were having a meeting in person. Put some extra time into styling your hair wear clothes that make you feel confident and powerful!
If you’re still feeling anxious at the thought of being in the spotlight, don’t forget that we are all feeling the same way. We’re all worried about how our nose looks and how the lighting in our home office is making our skin look washed out. Instead of fixating on your appearance, focus on bringing your whole self into the interaction that you are having. That will impress people a lot more and help you connect deeper with them than a perfect, pretty face.
3. It offers people a peek into your personal space
Video chats have become an opportunity for friends, coworkers, interviewers, dates, and even strangers to take a peek into our personal spaces. Bringing people into our homes is always a nerve-racking experience. It’s even more so now that our personal spaces are messier than ever with us and our entire families stuck inside of them 24/7.
It seems we’re all now expected to be seen on video with a picture-perfect background out of “Better Homes and Gardens” magazine. The truth is that, for most people, it can be nearly impossible to find a quiet, well-lit, and tidy-looking corner in their home. Most of us are just trying to find an angle in which the mess that our 4-year-old left on the table is out of the frame. Good lighting be damned!
The way to help yourself with this is to, first, understand that we are all dealing with a similar situation. Second, do your best to find a well-lit area in front of a window-facing window. Ring lights are a fantastic and inexpensive way to make up for poor lighting and ensure you look your best on camera every single time. Third, find a quiet spot and make it your little “zoom corner.” Keep it tidy and looking good even if the rest of your house is not. Whenever you have to get on camera just walk over to that area and - voila! - problem solved.
Everything you want is on the other side of the screen
Whether you’re an established business owner, a novice entrepreneur, or a sophomore just trying to get through that third year of college, being able to communicate on camera will be a determining factor in your success from now on. If you cannot put your authentic self in front of that lens and connect with whoever is on the other side of the screen, it will hold you back big time.
So when you feel that fear creeping up, trying to hold you back, and take you off-center, remind yourself of this: everything you want is on the other side of that screen!