I thought I was going to be a natural on camera.
We did a test shoot for my on-camera segments of The Copy Cure, an online copywriting course that I’m creating with my friend Marie Forleo. This test shoot revealed two things.
1) It’s hard to read from a teleprompter and not sound like you’re reading from a teleprompter.
2) Apparently, I never smile when I talk. Which means none of my friends ever pointed out to me that I look ghastly All. The. Time.
Why? Why have people allowed me to continue in this way? Publicly?
I thought I was a smiley person, because I always smile in the mirror.
I smile in the mirror because I look terrible not smiling.
Is it sexist when men on the street yell “smile, baby” at me? Maybe the “baby” part is sexist, but the “smile” part is more like urgent advice. They’re trying to help. It’s like yelling, “Your skirt is tucked into your underwear in the back.” There’s a thing called “bitchy resting face,” but mine is more “disastrously sloppy resting face,” and needs to be corrected immediately.
My face not smiling and then smiling is like a before and after of extreme plastic surgery. “Oh look, they fixed her head.”
On America’s Next Top Model, Tyra Banks told us to smize, or smile with your eyes, but I need to smile with my mouth (smouth). I try to pose for pictures like other people do, with my lips slightly parted and my stare burning through the lens, all sexy-like, and the resulting shot looks like Alfred Hitchcock.
I also know I need to smile because a big, hulking creep who lived in my dorm in college called me “Droopy Dog.” He would call me that and then try to lift me up and carry me down the dorm hall, which was not fun. In his defense, he might have thought I was having fun because I’d now be smiling, having been reminded that my non-smiling face looked like a jowly cartoon dog.
So, you’re thinking, “What’s the big deal, just smile when you talk.”
The thing is, if you don’t normally smile when you talk, and then you try to do that, you feel like a lunatic.
The smile feels inappropriate. It feels like I’m grinning and telling someone, “I’m afraid we have to let you go.” Or “Your parents are dead.” It feels like I’m a psycho killer saying, “I’m sorry I have to do this. But it’s time to peel off your skin and make you into a handsome suit. Now let’s get you flayed.”
I learned a pretty good trick from my husband.
I asked him, “I never smile when I talk, do I?”
He thought for a second, then shook his head nope.
I told him I don’t know how to smile when I talk to the camera, because it seems so bizarre, and he offered this, from his many years’ experience working the front of restaurants:
“Pretend you’re me talking to a restaurant regular whose name you totally forgot.”
You’ve never seen anyone smile as wide as Steven when he’s blanking on someone’s name. “HEY, YOU! SO great to see you! It’s been a while! What’s been going ON?? We’ve got your usual table for you, Schnookie.”
So on the actual shoot day, that’s what I did. I started each segment with a big, smiling, “I TOTALLY FORGOT YOUR NAME!”
That did the trick, though I think my smile ran out after a few seconds, like the flavor in a piece of Bubblicious gum.
As for the teleprompter, I’d memorized and practiced and done what I could to not sound like a kid reading a book report to the whole 4th grade class.
We’ll see. Or not — the course is coming out soon, but I don’t know if I can ever watch the parts with me. Can’t bear to look.
Have you ever been in front of a camera and realized you must look absurd ALL THE TIME?
What thing or things have you been horrified to discover about yourself lately? GO.
Got any tricks for performing on video?
TELL ME IN THE COMMENTS.
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Peter Schwartz says
Well, Laura, I’ve now seen some preview shots for the TCC, and it appears you smile VERY well. In fact, if I’m not mistaken, Marie looks a tad bit worried, but maybe it’s the pixellation.
One of the nicest things about the pictures, though, is the way you’ve turned all the books around so the spines and titles are facing the wall and put a frame around the world.
That says a lot.
Here’s some video advice from someone who has worked with lots of non-pros making videos:
Say your bit in a different voice or an accent, even, and especially, if you do it badly. Valley girl/cheerleader is a good choice if you’re having trouble smiling. Really overdo it, it’s just a throw away take anyway. Then do it in your normal voice. When I use this with my clients, there’s almost always a breakthrough after the ridiculous take.
If you can avoid a teleprompter, by all means do! Especially in the beginning when you already sound and look like a fucking robot (really wanted to throw away some power right there). Here’s the trick to not using a teleprompter, if you can’t remember everything. Frame each section of copy with a question that will prompt you to say what you need to say. Have someone off camera ask you the questions, so it feels more like a conversation.
Peter Schwartz says
Where the eff is the shrimp?
And why isn’t she talking to us?
Has the cat eaten the shrimp?
Is she slathered in butter and unable to open her mouth?
I hope this whole copywriting course isn’t a scam-pi.
I know I’ll never be able to afford this course, but I’m still looking forward to it.
Is there going to be a special discount if you’re a male shrimp?
Do male shrimp write differently from female shrimp?
Have I crossed any boundaries here?
Have I become obnoxious and not realized it?
This is a nice space in which to do my “morning writing.”
this is how i feel when recording voiceovers…they sound so much better when you smile while talking, especially for someone like me with a dry ass voice that matches my dry wit. makes me feel like a lunatic.
related: thank you for saying “bitchy resting face”. 99.9% of people (many of whom are on tv) say “resting bitch face” and all i can ever think is, “do you not hear how incorrect that sounds?!” let’s spread the word!
Oh yes! Can totally relate to this, since we recently started filming videos for our tea company. And I saw myself on camera speaking about a topic I love…and thought just that – I look SOO SERIOUS. I’m talking about tea for heaven’s sake, tea can be fun.
My advice to myself was instantly “Smile more when you speak” – just hope i can do it for the next video shoot, haha! 🙂
Thanks for this great fun post!
Adele Uddo says
First off, I’m super excited to see The Copy Cure, whether your face is smiling or not.
Secondly, there’s a reason in my business they take multiple (sometimes hundreds of images) during one shoot. Many of them suck. I once heard a photographer say if you get 3 great ones out of a hundred, it was a good day.
Nobody likes examining themselves on camera. Though I’d probably find the take of you that you hate pretty cute. We’re our own worst critic.
On another note, I’ll be making an app with you soon -just finishing up the course and want to be prepared with lots of great copy so I don’t look like an inappropriate idiot who’s not smiling 😉
Peter Schwartz says
I have to say: Your Web site blew me away. In fact, everyone’s Web site blew me away, but yours especially.
Got me to wondering whether I had any body parts I could put to work making money for me. I took an inventory; it wasn’t pretty.
But…I think my thumbs are okay. I think I have pretty good man thumbs. Just a little bit of hair around the first knuckle. What do you think?
Nadia Marshall says
You are hilarious Laura. You may not smile when talking but you make us all smile while reading!
Personally, I suffer form bitchy resting face : ( And its the same story – when I smile my face is completely transformed like before and after plastic surgery.
I can only do video stuff on my Mac where I can constantly see myself… it forces me smile every time.
Thank you for being you xx
Peter Schwartz says
“You may not smile when talking but you make us all smile while reading!” See? This is IT! With one addition: “You make us smile while watching you talk on video.”
Comics never laugh at their own jokes, except when they’re lame jokes. YOU, Laura, don’t need to smile; you just need to make US smile.
If you, Laura, don’t smile, you leave us, your adoring fans, more room to smile ourselves. And what’s more important to your business? That you smile or that we smile?
Pia Larson says
I spent yesterday watching and reviewing all 21 expert video interviews I recorded for my upcoming event and it was unbearable. My face looks so bitchy and know it all like. I kinda wanted to slap myself and tell myself to shut up. Next time, I’ll ask someone else to review. Was 2nd to birthing a baby…swear to God.
I feel almost embarrassed to say that I avoid speaking in youtube videos because I don’t like my crocked smile, even though I know about 99% of all humans smiles more on one side >.< It's just so weird seeing oneself so asymmetrical lol
Isabel, I have a whole side of my face I refuse to show to the camera, if possible. And I’ve tried smiling symmetrically in the mirror, but my face won’t cooperate. I have to manually lift one side of my mouth.
Can’t wait to see your non-smiling face!!!
In the next newsletter, please oh please, tell us how your hair is not at all as nice as Marie’s. We need to see the “authentic” you and hope you are just as un-perfect as the rest of us mortals.
Peter Schwartz says
Said one vision of perfection to another.
Checking into the Web sites here, I’m developing a serious complex. I will never, ever be able to compete with or alongside or against you.
As Chris Rock said, “Online marketing is clearly not for me.”
Of course, I’m a galitizianer, not a litvak like you.
Indre, in all humility, I say you look like you’ve emerged from an ultra-pure, cool, arctic mountain source.
Peter, that’s how every person I know feels when they look at other people’s websites. As for galitzianer vs litvak, I don’t know what that means but I think you’re speaking my dad’s language.
Indre is, in fact, from an Alpine spring.
Peter Schwartz says
Ah, for some reason I thought Indre came from Lithuania, hence a Litvak.
Steel and fire run through their spines.
We galitzianers, on the other hand, tend to be weepy, whiny, maudlin, morose, and melancholic.
One thing my brief journey through Web site Land has taught me is that I lack the watchimacallit to have a Web site and, if I do get one, I won’t appear in it, and if I do appear in it I will never smile, which will probably make me smile or laugh now and then, forcing me to cut back on all the smiling and laughing and get down to business, which is what, exactly? I have no product. Only 10 fast fingers of fury.
My only advice is that you talk to someone in the room (not to the camera) and focus on them like you would focus on a friend whom you’re gossiping with and allow the camera to be a voyeur you address from time to time, just so he feels included.
But really, I don’t know what I’m talking about. And now that I review my advice, it’s pretty awful.
You’ve taught me to write rude, Laura, and I’m stuck on that one tip.
Too much of anything is bad. Well uh, I mean, personally I’m annoyed when, um, I hear too many filler words – especially on camera. I am guilty of it too!
It’s tough to keep it natural! I have no doubt you will fine-tune your amused expressions and keep your “disastrously sloppy resting face” away!
“I just like to smile, smiling’s my favorite!” – Buddy the Elf
David C Belgray says
Did you actually take all my corny jokes and transform them into your classy wit? ..and then some!
I loved your Alfred Hitchcock bit. Should I call you Alfie, Freddy, or Hitch?
Will copy cure actually cure me? I’m skeptical!
Peter Schwartz says
Personally, I think Kristen nails it. The ENTIRE point of these online videos is to have real authentic people “like you” talking to you. Not the made-up, propped-up, faked-up personae we are so used to seeing on television. You shouldn’t look “natural” unless you’re unnaturally natural like Forleo. But how many of those are there?
Peter Schwartz says
First of all, I can’t believe I read this stupid post.
Why are we wasting time on this?
I’ve subscribed because:
• You’re cute.
• You went to Wesleyan.
• You’re Jewish.
• You’re from New York.
• You’ve clearly had much more copywriting success than I have.
All of which meant, I thought, you were smarter than I and definitely worth listening to. How wrong I fear I was. You’ve helped my self-esteem, though, which is good. Thank you.
Here’s the issue: You’re both “belle” and “gray,” which means you’re an inherently complex person and can’t be expected to smile non-stop into the camera like an aerobics instructor. So if you’re copywriting videos are going to feature you on ‘ludes, well I won’t learn a thing because I’ll be laughing too hard.
I myself almost never smile, whether I’m talking or talking into camera or sleeping, and when I do smile, it looks bad. Someone told me that smiles without teeth were not real smiles. So I tried to show teeth when I smiled. Felt very bad, though I have to admit, it looked better than it felt. I tend to go from frowning to laughing without stopping.
But here’s the point: No one who’s anyone smiles while she’s looking into a teleprompter.
Does Obama smile when he’s reading from a teleprompter? No, he does not.
Does Bill Clinton? No, he does not.
Does Hillary Clinton? She most certainly does not.
How about Chris Christie? Uh, no.
Jeb Bush? No.
Rand Paul? No.
Do these notables have large, loyal audiences? Why yes they do. Do they know a thing or two about using the teleprompter effectively? Yes. Have they had much occasion to do so? Yes, they have.
BTW, when are we going to learn how to write copy?
Cranky Pants Kelly says
“But here’s the point: No one who’s anyone smiles while she’s looking into a teleprompter.”
First: Why choose all politicians to exemplify your point?
Last: Your statement is complete conjecture. I’ve taken a lot of online courses and most of the instructors smile, some more naturally than others. None of them deadpan the camera the entire time though, or I would’ve asked for a refund.
Peter Schwartz says
If “most of the instructors smile,” then Laura should not.
Maybe Forleo could smile and Belgray frown. Like the masks! (Or is it masque?)
Stand out. Be different. Like, if you did a video, I would hope you’d be cranky, but maybe that’s just me.
In my experience, copywriters never smile. And I’ve known a lot of them. They spend their days getting beaten up by their inferiors.
The work is too hard and you’re constantly looking for new ways to lie to people, something their parents taught them never to do. As in “The 7 Things in a Krispy Kreme that Won’t Make You Fat.” Or “Read this Book, and You’ll Never Fear Death Again.” I suspect Laura has a whole lesson on lying to people and trying not to feel too bad about it. If not, she should.
Just my take.
I recently learned that no matter how slow I think I am talking I am still talking too fast but if I slow down only a little but more I sound like I am trying to speak to a partially-deaf non English speaker so I am constantly trying to find that middle speed. Kind of like when over the blankets is too cold but under is too hot. There is an optimal speaking speed that may not be attainable for me
I only saw you once on video and I fell even more in love with you. You didn’t have a big fakey smile but a slightly sardonic smile which I felt was perfectly appropriate. It felt like you were sharing a secret with me to let me know you realized that all this videoing ourselves and putting ourselves out there is kinda ridiculous. I thought you were real even though you were less polished on camera than you are through the written word. I can’t wait to see more of you on video!
I spent the first part of my life training to be on stage and on camera and I feel pretty good playing someone else but it’s a whole different thing being yourself on camera. It takes practice. It’s natural to be hyper critical of yourself.
The best piece of advice I have is to be extremely clear about who you are talking to. In my videos if I’m not talking to one specific person and imagining their reaction, I can tell, it doesn’t come across as well. So just before I turn on the camera I pretend to start talking to that person who I know well, using their name and imagining their response and then begin filming keeping that focus. If you imagine what you have to say is making that person very happy and you can imagine their face smiling, it helps to bring a real smile to your own face.
Oh gawd… i think the shakin physical body and face is brilliant… I remember mouth quivering tension while smiling, and thinkin I must look like jack N’s joker. So physicality is a great tip. I don’t think my come hither look works…. And the day I started using Botox was the day people stopped thinking I was angry…I was CONCENTRATING a people!….anyway haven’t had Botox in a year so either I have more in my face lingering, my creams are working, or life just has gotten better since I’ve become the unemployable woman
Cranky Pants Kelly says
I recorded myself having a phone conversation which is totally normal right…. and then I compared it to myself when I was filmed for a bartending promo. (Pesto Martini anyone?) The take-away: I squint my eyes. Seriously, wtf? I also do this weird tsk tsk thing with my mouth. So, I just practiced. I secretly uploaded random conversations with myself to youtube and analyzed them. I also got in the habit of Face Timing friends. I think I’m better now. Power posing like Wonder Woman is a go-to for alleviating nerves before you’re being filmed, for sure. I’m teaching a workshop next week and that will be filmed as well. Thank baby Jesus, I actually know everyone who’ll be attending. Hopefully I won’t have too many hecklers in attendance. That would suck.
Oh so yes! I’ve started doing all my blogs via video. Usually it feels more natural but some days (like yesterday) totally trainwreck. My biggest problem is the sleepy eyes… I look like I’m going to crash mid-sentence. Which is crazy because I’m usually so animated, but the second the camera is on…..
I’m planning on trying the jumping around idea. Film standing up (feel like I can move more naturally). And I get the camera a little above eye level to stop the sleepy look.
Cranky Pants Kelly says
I do the same thing with my eyes! So weird.
Just tried this…and it totally WORKS! I’ve been shooting my first video and have been really frustrated with every take.
This is an actual, bona fide game changer. 🙂
PS My husband calls this my “hey yoouuuuuuu” face. It never occurred to me to use it, on purpose, for video.
I have actually discovered that it helps to think of your copy advice when I’m on camera.
Bring your natural self and only your natural self to the table.
Also it helped that I got an ‘honest piece of friendly advice’ from a straight-talking friend who told me I looked like an android on camera the first couple of times. Stiff upper lip, botoxed / deer in a headlight look and the type of smile that makes you look like you are wearing underwear 3 sizes too small. ‘Never actually done that but I imagine it is unpleasant.’
So I decided to use some advice given by a vocal coach years ago. I jump up and down in one spot a couple of times to get my body loose, take about 10 deep breaths and massage the face, particularly the jaw line, before doing a shoot. It definitely helps.
This is hilarious! It sounds like me now. When I first tried video and looked back at it, horrible. Which is why I haven’t done many. I have to try the “I don’t remember your name thing’ to see if that works for me. I don’t smile much either so when I am on camera it feels really awkward and ‘fake’- Thanks for this, I will try it out!
I remember shooting a movie once, and in one scene I was a guest on a talk-show and the audience members were being really mean to me. Apparently, I sat there with resting bitch face, but with my mouth agape. To the point that one of the producers actually elbow-crawled on set, slithered behind the couch, and stage-whispered, “KATE! Close your MOUTH!” So…there’s that.
I love receiving your emails. Hilarious! And, I totally understand what you are talking about. I recently shot a bunch of video for my spa, and I found that the best videos I produce are the impromptu ones shot with my iPhone. There is something intimidating about the teleprompters. And my clients, who were kind enough to volunteer for video testimonials, really struggled with this, as well.
Here’s a link to one of my better videos. I checked it out to see if I was smiling…and yes, I was! Hooray!
Thanks for the wit and wisdom!
Cranky Pants Kelly says
Love this! Do you have any before or after shots? That’s a great challenge and awesome marketing strategy.
Stephanie Martel says
I recently made a video for an interview with my newsletter service and realized how much I stunk at being on camera! I kept looking at myself on the screen and not the camera, so it made me look like I was either crazy from dodging my gaze all over the place or I had a lazy eye. Good times.
I recently started practicing my smile in the mirror to see what I really look like (my wedding is in 2 weeks). I don’t want to look back and see scowls when I thought I was doing a polite, soft grin.
PS I love the phrase bitchy resting face
ooh yea! I’ve got ideas. But you do smile when you talk. Bc I remember that.
Put a camera and a TelePrompter in front of anyone (not seasoned) and it is difficult!
You really have to be ok feeling ridiculous. And jump around before camera goes on.
Just add smiles here and there. Practice. Be goofy and silly. Watch ppl on tv who you feel like you have a similar energy to and see how often they smile and are they just adding smiles here and there? What’s their recipe?
Bring me on set and I will help you!
Love that advice! You’re good.
I’m totally going to try jumping around next time. So do you do on-camera coaching? Maybe you should offer that service! I see so many bad videos. “Hello. I am so glad you’re here. Allow me to share with you my top secrets for glowing digestive health.”
I’m glad you remember me smiling when I talk. You must’ve gotten me at my party-girl best.
When I did my first on camera commercial class like 5 years ago my teacher (a 70 year old man with a thick Brooklyn accent) was like
You did GREAT!
But you looked like you were giving a EULOGY!
Right everyone? Right?
He was so nice that it really got through my brain and I’ve since totally changed everything when it comes to presenting and on direct to camera whatever.