Watching Yourself on Video – A Few Minutes of Pain for a Lifetime of Improvement

I recently had the opportunity to lead a presentation skills workshop. It was a two-day workshop where each participant gave 2 presentations:  a 3-5 minute presentation at the beginning of the workshop and then a 5-7 minute presentation at the end of the workshop.

I was amazed how much each individual improved from the first to second presentation. Our training has great content (of course!), but a major reason for the improvement was video. We video’d each person presenting and then watched the videos together as a class.

Watching yourself on video can be an awful—and very humbling—experience.  That’s why most of us don’t like it. It’s incredibly awkward and uncomfortable to watch yourself.  I’m not going to get into the reasons why here, but here’s a great blog that goes into some of the science and psychology of why it’s so uncomfortable for us:

Be it uncomfortable or not, it absolutely helps us as presenters. So, put aside your pride and thin skin, and watch yourself on video. In fact, watch the video several times.  It takes at least once to get over the shock and horror. The second time you can start to focus on some areas of improvement. Then a third time you can really dig in and look for ways to make yourself a pro. Plus, once you can get past the “physical” critiques, you may even be able to devote some mindspace to evaluating and improving your content.

As you watch yourself, here are 4 things to focus on.

1.       How do I look?  Check out your overall appearance—not just your clothes and hair, but your overall “presence.”  Am I standing up straight?  Am I projecting a sense of confidence?  Do I look and seem relaxed? Professional?  Am I appropriate to the event? Do I look like someone I would want to listen to? Studies indicate that about 80 percent of a person’s perception of your presentation is based on your non-verbal communication, so make sure you look the part. You only have one chance to make a first impression.  Make it a good one.

2.       How do I sound?  This one has a couple of different elements. First and most important, notice your volume.  Can people hear you? Can they understand what you’re saying, or are you mumbling, talking to the floor, or talking to the screen?  There is nothing more irritating to your audience than not being able to hear and understand you. 

Are you talking too fast?  In a recent workshop we had a student who was very comfortable, looked great, spoke great, and had great content, but was too fast. By the time they were done, the audience was exhausted. If you seem too fast, slow down just one beat. It may seem slow to you, but to the audience it’s a nice pace, and much more relaxing.  Being nervous makes us go faster, so keep that in mind as you present. Don’t be afraid of a little silence or downtime.

Also consider your vocabulary and language.  Is it appropriate to the audience and situation?  Is it too casual or too formal?  Is it the right “level” for the audience?  We had several scientists in our workshop and their language will differ depending on the audience. It will be much more scientific for fellow scientists and more high-level for a business/management audience.

3.       How do I move?  Movement during a presentation can be very impactful or it can be a complete distraction.  Do you stand still? Sway? Move from foot to foot? Do you wildly flail your arms and hands? Or do you have subtle, intentional movements?  Do you move with purpose toward the screen or toward the audience? Do you use gestures and movements to make a point?  An audience loves intentional and purposeful movement during a presentation and it can greatly enhance your message.  Are your movements enhancing what you’re saying or distracting?

4.       All those other stupid things we do – This is probably the worst of all the things we see when we watch ourselves. It’s those little habits, expressions, quirks, or ticks that in most cases are charming and interesting.  Maybe it’s an eye roll, the way you lick your lips, a gesture, or a certain face we make.  They are the things that make us “us.”  You may see them and be embarrassed, but just accept them.  Different and unique can be good.  If you want to change them, go for it, but you are who you are.

And probably the most irritating of all:  the uhs, ums, and ahs, or other verbal baggage you may carry.  This probably is something you can control, so make the effort. As stated above, don’t be afraid to take a pause or take a breath. There’s nothing wrong with a little silence.  Uhs, ums, and ahs are a natural part of most of our speech, but just be aware and try to minimize.

So, if you haven’t had the opportunity—or horror—of watching yourself present on video, you should definitely try it. It’s amazing how much you can improve from just a few minutes of pain.  Let us know if you’re interested in formal training, we’d be happy to tell you more about our Presentation Skills Workshop.  Email us at