How to talk to the camera on Instagram Stories (without feeling hideously awkward!)

Unless you’re been living under a digital rock, you’ve probably noticed that social media is getting up in your face a lot lately. With Instagram stories, Snapchat, Live broadcasting on Facebook and Instagram and now even requests to present at conferences via Skype, we’re starting to see more and more use out of our front-facing cameras. 

Which in many ways is a great thing. In the era of the hyper-curated Instagram grid, there’s wonderful connection to be found in seeing someone’s face again. If we trust the old stat that 93% of communication is non verbal – meaning, not about the words we use – then we can easily see how talking to our audiences, complete with tone of voice, facial expressions and body language, can get our messages out there in the world more clearly. Yay! 

Except.

I hear from so many women (and men, but mainly women) who feel petrified at the thought of going on-camera. For many of us our faces and general appearance have become something we fear and control – untagging ourselves in Facebook photos, not leaving the house without makeup on. The thought of being camera-ready every time you want to chat to you audience can feel utterly overwhelming. And the repercussions for showing up not perfect – be that in a messy home, make up free or in a crappy mood – feel like they could be tremendous. Hasn’t life already shown us that we’re judged so much on how we look? What if people unfollow, or stop using our business?

It’s a real fear and one I can’t easily dismiss, but I hope to convince you to push through it. The rewards for talking directly to camera can be huge, and if there’s one thing I’ve learned in life it’s that we can’t hold back for fear of displeasing others. We will displease others no matter what we do; some people just live for the pursuit of things to be displeased by. Even the prettiest woman on earth is not immune to criticism on her outfit or driving or parenting style. Yes, hiding away exposes us to fewer judgements, but it also makes for no growth, no adventure and no fun.

What’s in it for me?

Regularly talking, face to face with your followers breeds connection. It allows people to get to know you – real actual you – instead of the pristine and polished version we often represent on our blogs or instagram accounts. It makes friendships, loyal followings and extended relationships.
But I like my fake polishedness!” I hear (some of) you cry. I did too. I still kind of cling to it, if I’m honest. Every week when I put out my latest podcast I worry that I’m too imperfect, too Sara, that I’ve shown myself up. And then the feedback comes in from my 25k weekly listeners, and it’s always lovely and warm and so truly connected. 
In the age of the curated instragram grid, we’re all kind of over that faux-perfect life. We’re looking for something real, something human, and someone we can really relate to and feel understood. 
Plus, if you’re a business, or ever hope to be, there’s the old adage that people buy from people. If your audience can see you regularly, they get to know you. And once they know you, they’ll trust you enough to invest in your products or services, too.

Plus – and possibly most significant of all – there’s the simple power of being seen. Being heard, taking up space and refusing to be made small by all the fear and pressure the world can put on us. We have a voice that generations of women before us could only dream of – a free and open journalistic platform where we can go ‘live’ anytime and broadcast our views and experiences to the entire world. It is the most tremendous privilege, and to refrain from using it because we worry we don’t look pretty enough is exactly the kind of silencing bullshit three generations of feminists have been fighting against. Y’know?

#TalkToCameraChallenge

Because I know how scary it can be, and because I wholeheartedly believe in the power of this wonderful community of ours, I’ve put together a bit of a Stories-to-camera mission. I’m calling it the #TalkToCameraChallenge (catchy, I know) and the format is simple: each week I will send out a prompt or question for you to answer on your Stories, talking to camera. I’ll share tips and tricks along the way, too, and when we get stuck, I’ll go out and ask my brilliant network of bloggers and businesswomen nailing this shiz to tell us where we’re going wrong. 
If you’d like to get the prompts and dip your toe in (no pressure), pop your email in the box below.

Join in the #talktocamerachallenge for Instagram Stories!

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Some tips for beginners

• Look either at the camera, or straight in your own eyes. Some people swear that they see a difference between when people look direct to camera vs at their own face, but I think it’s minimal. What’s harder to watch is when someone is trying to look straight to camera and struggling, so their eyes flick all over in obvious awkwardness. If looking right at the camera is hard for you, look in your own eyes on the screen and imagine you’re having a 1:1 conversation with someone real. 

• Plan what you’ll say. It doesn’t have to be super formal, but knowing what you want to say in advance really helps. Knowing what you’ll say in advance means you feel like you have a bit of a structure for where you want to go. That’s where I’m hoping the prompts in the emails will come in handy – I’ve deliberately chosen topics and questions that should be interesting to talk about and to listen to!

• Make it valuable. Is this story funny, interesting, relatable, helpful? “Actually be saying something” says Laura Jane Williams of SuperlativelyLJ. “If you’re not informing or entertaining, why are you bothering?”

• Give it a few tries.It’s a fake it till you make it scenario, I think” says Carrie of the ever-dreamy WishWishWish. “I often have to record clips a couple of times as I find myself stumbling over my words or starting sentences that don’t go anywhere – it definitely doesn’t come naturally. But it’s something you gain confidence in over time!Laura Jane Williams agrees. “If it’s not compelling the whole way through, record it again” she says. If you’re worried about accidentally posting a mis-take, flip to airplane mode before you record.

• Don’t overdo it. When I asked what turned people off with talking-t0-camera, this was the biggest peeve. Lots of people said if they could see there were too many stories in a row, they wouldn’t even start watching! “I try to do no more than three Stories in a row talking about the same thing” says Laura Jane Williams, my go to Stories queen. “Most things can be summed up in one!

• Caption it. The other thing I heard repeatedly was that captions on Stories are a must if you want to get people to watch. Either pulling out a quick quote from what you’re saying, or summing up what it’s about will work – once you’ve watched Stories with these captions, you’ll never want to go without again!

• “Don’t wait too long to start speaking after you hit record.” Another great pointer from Laura Jane – to which i’ll add, try not to let go too soon and risk cutting of your last words, either!

• Be casual. Talk like you’re talking to your friends says stylist and ever-real mama Han Bullivant. “But also remember you don’t owe the internet you vulnerability. There is a balance!

Don’t keep messing with your hair! I do this allllll the time and when I watch my Stories back it drives me nuts! It’s hard not to be critical when looking at your own face on the screen, but try to focus on your eyes or the camera and tune the rest out.

• Play them back. You have to play them back to yourself” insists Charlotte Jacklin of Betty Magazine. “One, to make sure that you make sense, and also so that you get over hearing your voice sounding like fingers being dragged down a chalkboard. We all think that about ourselves but the more you hear your own voice, the more you become comfortable with it.” This was definitely true for me with podcasting – I actually hated my voice until all my lovely podcast listeners started telling me how calming they find it!

• Invest in a bit of kit. I have this tripod-and-ringlight combo from Amazon which I can’t recommend enough. It’s good build quality, has a range of brightness settings and takes the difficulty out of setting up to talk to camera. Honestly, you don’t need a tripod by any stretch – but if you’re liable to make excuses (“it’s dark now“, “I’m too wobbly“, etc), this will rule a lot of them out.

• Use a clip splitting app. Another non-essential, but if what you’re saying is going to span two or more Stories (though hopefully not too many 😉), it can be easier to video yourself in your phone’s native video/camera app, and split it into 15 second segments with an additional app.  Continual seems to be the best around, although there are free versions popping up on both IOS and Android now too.

What are your essential tips for talking to camera – or your pet peeves as a viewer? Comment below and I’ll update my list!

If you’d like more tips and tricks like this, as well as the weekly prompts, be sure to join the free weekly mailing list below!

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To answer some of your questions about the challenge project…

Can I still take part if I’m already happy talking to camera?
Yes, absolutely – the more the merrier. Absolutely anyone can sign up and join in.

What if I really hate my voice/face/accent?
My hope is that in sharing ourselves with our lovely Instagram crowd, we’ll be able to push past some of that. Often these feelings come from cruel comments or negative beliefs we hold about ourselves, and if we can push past the fear, we can find a lot of freedom on the other side. Remember you’re in a safe community of people who understand you, and that there’s no pressure to do any more than you’re comfortable with.

I have an idea for a prompt! Can I share it with you?
Yes please! Hit reply to one of the emails or comment below to send it over. I need to come up with 52 of these babies so extra inspiration is always welcome.

What if I miss a week?
Feel free to dip in as little or as much as you like. It’s a no pressure thing, just for fun.

Am I too late to join?
No, never! Hop on board!

Can I do this as a business/blogger/mum/man/Deaf person?
Yes, yes, yes, yes and yes! I’m aiming to keep the questions open general, so you can choose where in your life you can apply them. The more diversity the better, and whichever way you usually use to communicate face-to-face will work perfectly here – be it speech, sign or AAC (or a combination of these).

Why am I doing this again?
Talking to camera is frequently being touted as an essential skill for the next era of social media. Whether it’s Instagram Stories, going Live on Facebook or Instagram, speaking at a conference or workshop via Skype link or vlogging for Youtube, knowing how to pick up a camera and talk fluently is a useful tool for us all to possess. Most of us recognise this, but are holding back out of fear, awkwardness or general uncertainty. For women, especially, there’s also concern about our appearance.
I believe we can all benefit from pushing past that and exploring what this medium could hold for us once our fear is out of the way.