If I had a pound for every time I’ve heard someone complain about seeing themselves present on video, just look at themselves on a photograph, or even listen to a recording of their own voice… well I’d be rich enough not to do this 🙂 As it is, however, no one pays me when they ask the question. Fortunately, lots of people pay me for the answer… here it is for free. (Okay, not all of it, as it’s a big and messy bit of science, but a starting point at least.) Oh, and if you prefer to listen/watch, there’s a ten min vid here: https://youtu.be/3kkP_JfY6vU)
Part of it is just ol’ insecurity of course. We don’t like looking at ourselves for the same reason as we don’t like people looking at us – but there’s more to it than that, obviously. For example, I’m okay with being watched when I’m making a presentation but I hate having my photograph taken to the point where when Laura Pearman took my recent headshots she had to treat me like a five year old child and distract me from the camera with ‘toys’. So there’s more to it than just “being observed”.
Let’s start with the hard one first – why we don’t like looking at ourselves, ‘cos that’s the messier one…
Videos of our presentations
When we see ourselves on camera we come face to face with the brutal aphorism that “the camera never lies”. It does, of course, but in general terms what the camera gives you is what happens. And that’s the problem. The world is a big, fast moving and (as far as our evolution-based-brains are concerned) a dangerous place. That means that we can’t always pay attention to everything. Crudely put our brains go:
- there’s too much to keep track of here, I need to prioritise
- engage heuristic algorithm:
- check things
- is it a threat?
- if yes, focus on it
- if no, ignore it and just re-scan occasionally to check it’s still not a threat.
The result of that is to free up our attention for potentially dangerous and/or interesting things by filtering out lots of other stuff. By some estimates our brains filter out well over 90% of what we see. That’s the good news. The bad news is that when we look at recordings or photographs of ourselves we pay attention. And as soon as we pay attention we see all the things that aren’t perfect that we didn’t notice before. The camera’s recording is absolute, not filtered by the attention filter I just outlined… and because you’re focussing on a screen/recording, you see that as a threat and give it your whole attention. By definition, watching yourself on video will therefore engage threat-responses in your brain.
No wonder you see things you don’t like!
Don’t panic! Here’s the good news… we didn’t notice things because (usually) they weren’t worth paying attention to. That implies (but doesn’t ensure) that audiences didn’t pay much attention to those things either. So chill. Stop freaking out over videos of your presentation!
Note: that doesn’t mean you can’t watch recordings of your presentations to learn from them, of course! One really good tip I picked up of a professional impressionist is to play back videos at two-time or even five-times normal speed. That way any repeated physical habits you have will be come much(!) more obvious and you can then work on stopping them happening in case they are starting to annoy your audience.
Similar things happen when we listen to recordings or our presentations.
And just to complicate matters, the direct opposite happens too! Remember how I said that cameras record things perfectly? The thing is that unless you’ve got stupidly expensive recording equipment and play back systems what you hear on a recording isn’t what your voice sounded like anyway. So chill.
Which brings us to another issue. You never know what your own voice sounds like anyway – and hearing it back in a recording is a shock to you – it sounds like a stranger. No wonder you don’t like it!
So why don’t you know what your own voice sounds like? Simple.
Everyone else hears your voice as vibrating air molecules. You, however, hear most of your own voice as vibrations which travel up through your body – particularly your bones. Bones vibrate in a very, very different way to way the air does and hence your voice sounds different. As a simple analogy, think of how different voices sound at the swimming pool when you put your head under the water. Water is more like air than your bones are ‘cos it’s a fluid – so if water makes voices sound different, imagine how different something solid like bones can make things.
So what should you do?
As always – stop measuring your presentation by the wrong metrics. How cool you think you sounded and how cool you think you looked are pretty close to utterly irrelevant. They’re vanity metrics for presentations. Even a standing ovation in the room is just the presenters equivalent of having a million followers on twitter… but if 999,999,999 of them are bots from far rate hate groups, how is that actually any good?!
What matters is what your audience think of your presentation, not what you think of your recordings! There is one brutal metric that matters, not your feelings about your recordings: how many of your audience change what they do/think/believe after your presentation? Everything else is vanity.
(Oh, and use the recordings in conjunction with an expert to interpret what you did, so you can learn to be even better. Recordings of a presentation are a tool, not something to fret about in their own right!)