Michael Caine’s Acting In Film is full of wise words. Here, I turn them into a practise for each one of us normal non-movie-star human beings can do. And if you embed these practises into your body and voice, it will change everything for you.
Buckle up – let’s begin!
The camera ‘is listening to and recording everything you do, however minutely you do it; you have never known such devotion’.
So it’s time to change your mindset. If you see the camera as an annoying intrusion that you don’t turn on, then it will remain an annoying intrusion. But it could be a very, very powerful tool for connection. If you start to view the camera like a deeply devoted person to you, you will start to behave accordingly.
‘Screen acting today is much more a matter of “being” than “performing”’.
If you present like a newsreader when you are presenting, that is performing, not being. If you speak like you are reading off a script rather than having a conversation, that is performing, not being. As an audience we can smell a fake. How do you ‘be’ and not ‘perform’? The answer is simple (although not always easy): speak in short sentences and smile. It stops you from thinking about the next thing and sounding like a TV presenter. It engages your face muscles which means you don’t look miserable. And it will keep your brain alert to where you need to go next.
‘The close-up camera will seek out the tiniest uncertainty and magnify it.’
If your doorbell rings, your dog barks, or something happens off-camera during a meeting, your eyes will naturally go to the noise of the sound, and it will look like you have just seen something awful. That’s okay, because that is real life. You just need to be aware of that and name it. If you are speaking and you are nervous – they will also know. Speaking in short sentences will help you to calm your nerves and avoid being overrun by adrenaline. Then, breathe gently in through your nose and smile to the camera. If you are smiling to the camera, it will believe you are genuinely happy. Even if you are not – at times you simply have to fake it.
‘If your concentration is total and your performance is truthful… the camera will catch you every time.’
How many times have you seen your meeting atttendees’ eyes wandering, or their faces look miserable? I like to call this deep joy – the joy is so deep that it hasn’t reached their face! We need to listen with our eyes. Iif you look even just a quarter of the time into the eye of the camera (and not the screen below), nod your head now again and smile, you will be a deeply engaging listener. And if you do this, you will be the person that everyone wants in their meetings, because you bring joy and connection!
‘If the mind is in overdrive the body is headed in the right direction.’
When Covid hit, meeting online became the new normal/necessary evil, but no one understood how to make a success of it. The answer is in the mind. And then the body will follow. If you choose to turn up to a meeting ready to listen, to smile, to speak, to nod, to sit up, to turn your camera on – if you effectively go into a minor form of hyperdrive – you will be deeply engaging on camera. Your body will respond. And it goes the other way too. If you just turn up with your pyjamas on (metaphorically speaking or not) you will become the chief energy sapper. And nobody likes an energy sapper.
‘Your screen potential is judged by what you look like, how relaxed you are, the sound of your voice.’
The screen test is what gets an actor a part – they have to look and feel and sound good on screen. A director wants to see relaxed energy. Most of us are not having meetings with Hollywood directors but it is a really important measuring stick – can we be relaxed, have a calm voice and look good in ourselves (I don’t mean dressing up)? The answer is ‘yes’ but it requires coaching. Warming up your voice is essential and it starts with breathing. Watch this video on Breathing on my Storytelling Academy and then do the exercises. Then watch this one on Voice and do the following – speak faster, in shorter sentences and make yourself 5% louder. It could just change your presence on screen.
‘You’ve got to get your own act together before the camera’s act can begin.’
This is the final key ingredient. Get your space behind you, the bit the camera sees, as tidy as possible. Remove clutter, make sure the camera is sitting slightly above your head (15 degrees above – use a stack of books if you need to), have any notes you want to speak with printed out in front of you or on the screen in front of you. Breathe for 30 seconds and then turn the camera on.
Do these seven things regularly and you will become one of the screen greats. Not in Hollywood or on Netflix, but in your circle of influence and with all your audiences. And as you do this your influence will grow and grow and grow. I guarantee it!