Journalism Blog Series: Spokesperson Best Practices

This is the second post in our Journalism Blog Series. Each post includes transferrable lessons and skills from former journalists currently working at Vanguard that help them best serve their clients as public relations professionals.

Success in engaging hearts and minds means making authentic connections. For some people, public speaking—regardless of audience size or presentation format—is second nature. For others, it is the most nerve-wracking part of their work. Live communication via your laptop camera is now a routine part of daily professional interaction, and a practice that will stick around and perhaps accelerate even after social distancing practices linked to the COVID-19 pandemic wane.

By now many of us have joined virtual events in which the speakers seemed to struggle to connect with the audience. Their gaze wandered, appearing blank or unfocused. Their voices might have been monotone or oddly rhythmic. As someone who spent nearly 15 years as a TV news anchor and reporter, I know how hard it is to speak before an inanimate object and appear as though you are talking with your best friend. Speaking on camera is a genuine skill set. It takes practice, and despite some misconceptions, on-camera presentation is not the same as speaking before an in-person audience.

Here are some tactics I learned while on the air that can help you “break the third wall” to connect with your audience through a virtual device.

  • Locate the camera lens and rest your gaze. Do your best to avoid staring at yourself or audience members (if you can see them). If this practice is especially difficult for you, position your device up to a foot away to make the exact position of your gaze less obvious to viewers.
  • Feel free to use natural facial expressions and hand gestures. If you routinely talk with your hands, don’t try to force them to be still when you speak on camera. As long as hand gestures don’t block your face or become otherwise distracting, you’ll be fine.
  • It may feel a bit corny, but envisioning the responses you would get from a close friend when describing an interesting new book or favorite film can be helpful. The energy you convey in such conversations makes your message and connection personal.
  • Know your content. Review and practice what you plan to share as often as possible. A thorough knowledge of your content will enhance your ability to communicate with a warm, conversational tone.

Video-based conferencing and presentation platforms are here to stay. With a little bit of effort, developing your “on air” skills will create new opportunities and help you make meaningful connections across all sorts of barriers.