February 28

An Actor’s Guide to Avoiding 5 Common Mistakes in Virtual Sales

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Eating, chewing gum, rocking back and forth - you’ve likely seen your fair share of distracting behavior in virtual meetings. Some are memorable simply based on their shock value alone. Like the time I saw a client gnaw on a chicken leg like he was at the Renaissance Festival! While more common mistakes in virtual sales may fall short of searing themselves into our memories, they can hurt us in other ways.

It’s difficult to maintain the attention of virtual audiences and distracting behavior can take your audience out of the moment and draw attention to your behavior, not your message. And, since many common behaviors are magnified on camera and interpreted differently than in person, they often create an undeserved negative view of you.

As an actor, I learned a number of things you should and should not do on camera, here are five common mistakes that apply equally to virtual sales: 

5 Common Mistakes on Camera:

1. Touching Your Face, Your Hair, or Your Head)

In film or tv, if a character repeatedly touches their hair or head it’s typically to indicate that they are nervous or vain. Not qualities you want people to associate with you! And in the tight frame of the camera, your face is in the spotlight. And unlike if you were in person, there’s not much else for your audience to look at. Humans intuitively respond to movement. That means brushing the hair out of your eyes, scratching your nose, or touching your face will grab your audience’s attention. And while their focus is on that behavior, they have disconnected from you and your message. 

2. Forgetting the Camera Is the Eyes of your Audience

Have you ever been watching a film or television show and felt like the actor was talking directly to you? When a character looks directly at the camera they are looking into the eyes of their audience. Not making eye contact through the camera is one of the biggest mistakes business people make on video. Eye contact is vital for building trust, conveying confidence and interest. But it’s a counter-intuitive as we are drawn to look at a person’s image on our screen. Fortunately, actors have developed a technique for looking at the camera and carrying on a conversation with someone which you can learn, too in my book or my Workshops.

3. Making Quick Movements

“Theater acting is an operation with a scalpel, movie acting is an operation with a laser.” So said the great Sir Michael Caine. Deciphered, this means that large, rapid movements completely appropriate for in-person audiences are too vague and overwhelming for a virtual audience. Movements must be much slower and more deliberate on camera. Not only do things get blurry when you move too quickly on video (especially with greenscreens), but it also makes you look nervous and insecure - not something you want to communicate to your audience!

4. Moving towards the Screen

In film there’s the Medium Close-up (head and shoulders) and then there’s the EXTREME Close-up (head or even partial head only). The extreme close-up is very rarely used as it’s quite jarring and “in-your-face.” (It’s also universally unflattering!) Anything you place close to the camera lens will appear disproportionately large. Whether that’s your hands, your face, your pen, and your wireless presenter. And in an effort to connect with their audience, many people have a habit of lunging toward the camera with their head, torso, or arms. This well-intentioned motion puts you in an extreme close-up view, which can appear overly familiar or aggressive, especially to certain cultures or people you don’t know well. 

5. Hiding Your Feelings

Why is a movie typically more powerful than a book? Because you get to SEE the actor experiencing emotions, and emotions are contagious. They also allow us to relate and connect with each other. But most people have a very flat demeanor on video, so there is very little to connect with! While you might get away with a business poker face in person since it’s offset by your physical energy and body language, it is a death knoll on camera. In virtual meetings, your face looms disproportionately large and it is all we see of you. Which begs the question, if your face has nothing to say, why have your camera on?!

Many of these same behaviors wouldn’t cause you to bat an eye if you saw them in person. But the camera’s magical magnifying lens combined with your audience’s narrow view compounds their impact, increasing audience retention and decreasing your virtual credibility.

Learn More Screen Actor Secrets in our Workshops, Keynotes, and Coaching Programs


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