But first, do us all a favor, and ask not what your TED video can do for you. Ask what you can do for your TED video.
Planning how your talk will work on video is an often-missed step in the prep for a TED talk. I've coached nearly 100 speakers for TED talks, primarily as the coach for TEDMED as well as for TEDx conferences around the world, and I always incorporate coaching about the eventual video along with coaching for the speaker's impact with the live audience.
But TED isn't the only conference recording and sharing video of speakers, as more organizations look for high-quality content to share online. Understanding how your talk will play in the hall and beyond it has become a new standard for public speakers. Here's what I advise speakers to do to yield a better video for TED talks--or any talks:
- Don't blend into the background: Ask your organizers about the color of the background against which you'll be speaking, then go for contrast. Many, if not most, TED conferences have a dark background, so that smart black suit you want to wear won't help you stand out. Put some saturated color, like a French blue or other jewel tone close to your face and torso, since pastels will wash out under the bright lights; that pale blue shirt will read almost white on video. Be careful with red: On video, a red jacket tends to look as if it's bleeding, or disintegrating, at the edges. If you will wear jewelry, make it larger, rather than small, jewelry--a statement necklace, rather than a small chain necklace, for example.
- Make yourself easy to light: An all-black outfit also means that any detail on your clothes--beautiful stitching or pleating, for example--won't show up well on camera. And avoid a pure white, which will always draw the camera's eye more than any other color, making it especially difficult to light. If your outfit is all white, please make sure you report to the lighting director in advance, so she can plan for you.
- Avoid inadvertent noise from accessories: If you're wearing earrings, bring alternatives with you and consult with the audio technician about whether your earrings will make noise close to the microphone. You also can remove the earring closest to the mic during your talk. In the same vein, avoid touching your necklace or wearing noisy bracelets, and if your hair is long and hanging near the mic, ask the technician to adjust it. While you're at it, think through any noise your props make, and what that will do in the video. Ask for a consult if you're not sure.
- Slow down: That microphone is your friend, but there's one thing it can't do: Help us understand you when you go too fast. Pause more than you think you should, and put two silent beats in between your sentences or the items in a list. We'll hear you much better if you pace yourself. And pausing after a mistake, then continuing, lets the video editor work magic later on.
- Don't vocalize or gesture for the back of the house: One of the biggest misunderstandings in TED talk delivery happens when speakers think they need to be more theatrical, projecting loudly for the people sitting in the back of the theatre, or gesturing more broadly or frequently to get their points across. In fact, there's no need for loudness or large gestures. You can be as quiet as you wish, and let the audio and video technicians do their job and make you heard and seen, in the hall and on the video.
- Allow for close-ups: There's one more big disadvantage to large gestures and lots of moving around: If that's all you do, the camera will have to pull back to encompass your motion, and you won't get a close-up. You don't need to move all over the classic TED "red dot" carpet, a 12-foot circle. Just take a step or two and stop, or shift your weight, or stand in place.
- Alert the crew to special props, big moves or other unusual moments: If you're going to swing something at the end of a rope, toss things into the audience, move a big piece of equipment or a large prop on stage, do start working with the organizers and crew well in advance, so they know what you are planning and when it will occur. Provide them with a script marked with your big moves, prop use and other cues, so they can plan appropriately.
- Give the camera a chance to capture your first words: Rather than start talking as you walk toward center stage, emerge silently, center yourself on the spot where you want to begin, shut your mouth, breathe through your nose, and smile at the audience for a few moments. Then begin speaking. You'll calm yourself, connect with the audience, and most important, give the camera operator a moment in which to focus on you and establish a shot that captures your first words. Doing anything else is the video equivalent of swallowing your words. You only get one chance for the video to capture your first words, so don't waste it.
- Then jump right into the start of your talk: Many speakers routinely begin their talks with what speaker coaches call "throat-clearing," those thank-yous and nice-to-be-heres that don't add content but help the speaker get comfortable. The TED tradition is to jump right into your talk instead. You don't need to introduce yourself or thank anyone, and in fact, TED will edit such comments out of your video, anyway. So why bother?
- Don't worry about angles: You may want to turn to different parts of the audience during your talk, but at TED or TEDMED, most of the time, there will be multiple cameras capturing multiple angles for most talks, which means you need not worry about how you face the audience. TEDx conferences will vary in this aspect of video recording, often with just one camera. Ask the organizers if you are not sure. Whether there's one camera or many, you don't need to look directly at the camera--just talk to the audience and let the camera capture that connection.