Why do I get nervous in front of a camera?

There are as many social anxieties as there are fish in the sea. “Public speaking” is one of the most common for the vast majority of the population, but for some others speaking to an inanimate object such as a camera seems more daunting and provokes what they think to be an “irrational fear”.

I´ve heard many times things such as “ I look horrible”, “This is how my voice sounds?”, “What am I doing with my face?”, “Why do I look so tense?”.

This fear in particular can actually prevent some business owners from recording videos to promote their companies in which they are the protagonists. This is but one example. Have you ever been asked by your boss to record a video to thank the team or to review last year's challenges and outtakes and thought to yourself “I just want to crawl into a hole”?

This is a real struggle and is not an irrational fear; your brain is wired in a way in which the camera is identified as a threat, it’s a mechanism attempting to protect. Remember the fight or flight response? Eat or being eaten? Well…your brain is playing tricks on you, but don´t worry, this is not the apocalypse even if it might seem otherwise, and you, you can do this, you just need to understand what's going on inside you – the psychology of the matter!

Let me break down what your brain is doing:

WHAT YOU BELIEVE IS WHAT YOU SEE: A 1998 study by George Washington University psychologist Amber Story showed that our ability to remember feedback depends on whether that feedback is congruent with our own self-esteem. If one person says you’re awkward, you’ll remember that. If ten people say you’re great, you’ll forget about them. Some people will go even further, only seeking out feedback from people who will back up their negative perceptions of their own self.

THE FAMILIARITY PRINCIPLE: This phenomenon was studied at the University of Wisconsin–Milwaukee back in the 1970s. Researchers Theodore Mita, Marshall Dermer, and Jeffrey Knight asked participants in their study to select their preference between two images of themselves. One was their actual face, the other a mirror image. The researchers also showed them real and mirror images of friends and family. “In these studies, the person was found to prefer their mirror image over their true image, whereas the reverse tendency characterized preferences of the subject’s friend or family member.” All this means that you aren’t actually that familiar with your own face. You have always seen a reversal of it. When you see it in a photo or on video you can still recognize it as you, but it doesn’t look right. The participants could never quite describe why they liked their mirror face to their true image. The difference is barely perceptible to your consciousness, but your brain does know the difference and prefers the mirrored you.

Now I know this, what can I do?

1. SELF AWARENESS: It´s not ideal, but if you start recording yourself on a weekly basis, you´ll start getting familiar with all of your ticks, your voice and all those things you weren't aware about yourself. Have you ever practised a speech in front of a mirror? Sometimes I do this, I want to see what I'm doing, how I look, at first it´ll be uncomfortable, but the more you do it, the easier it´ll get. Be kind to yourself and give yourself constructive feedback as if you were talking to a friend. We tend to be our worst critic. So, try to remember this.

2. BREATHING: Here we go again, you think, how many times do we mention the importance of breathing? Let’s repeat one more time. Here’s something to try before the camera turns on: stretch your arms up as you breathe deeply. This triggers a

relaxation response in your body and will slow your breathing. This technique was tested in trained musicians, and the results of the study found that just one session of slow breathing helped control physiological arousal, especially for musicians with high levels of anxiety.

3. PRACTISE: Now that you’ve familiarised yourself with all of your facial gestures, you´ve taken some deep breaths and stretched, practised your speech or prepared cue cards, rehearsed in front of the mirror…finish your set up. Camera rolling, sound, speed and ACTION! Do you know what's great? You have unlimited storage space to do it, over and over again until you get to your desired outcome. If today you´re not inspired, try again tomorrow…there’s no pressure!

Still feeling unsure and needing help developing these skills? You can check out my course “THE MATRIX” focused on “Digital Speaking and Camera Techniques”


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