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5 Ways to Get Better at Preaching/Speaking Directly Into a Camera

empty room

Amidst all the changes you’ve experienced in the last few weeks, like a ton of leaders and pastors, you are likely trying to master the skill of speaking or preaching straight into a camera.

With no audience.

And by now, you’ve realized just how challenging that can be.

As difficult as speaking in front of a live audience is, being in the room with a crowd gives you huge advantages as a communicator.

When you have an audience in the room with you, it’s easy to tell if people are paying attention and whether they’re leaning in. You can sense whether they’re tracking by whether they laugh at your jokes (please, laugh at my jokes…), sitting up during important points, or become so rapt that in moments you can hear a pin drop.

All of that plays into an invisible feedback loop in the speaker or preacher’s mind that gives you cues as to whether to speed up, slow down, move on, dig deeper, relax or make other adjustments as you go.

When there’s no audience, all of that is gone.

Completely gone.

I didn’t realize how heavily I relied on my ability to ‘read’ an audience and see how my message is tracking until I spoke straight into the camera in an empty room for the first time.

At first, it felt awful—almost as if I had never spoken before. I had no idea how to adapt.

These days, I shoot hours and hours of video each year with zero audience (just a camera) for everything from pre-recorded sermons, to creating my online courses, to leading webinars and livestreams. For a while I even live hosted a live national TV show (with no studio audience). I’ve learned some things along the way.

This post is part of a series on church leadership and the current global crisis:

5 Ways The Current Crisis is Accelerating The Arrival of the Future Church

Crisis Leadership, Christian Leadership and the Corona Virus

How to Lead Through Rapid, Unexpected Change

8 Ways to Lead in the New Digital Default Church

My Top 7 Rules for Leading a Digital Team

3 Simple Ways To Make Sure You Don’t Break In the Crisis

Why Motivation Alone Won’t Get Your People (or You) Through This Crisis

8 Early Tips for Producing Digital Content During the Current Crisis

Here are a few tips that can help you get used to speaking directly into a camera (with no audience).

1. Be Real. Real Is Resonating, Deeply

It’s so tempting to think you’re only as good as your gear. And if you don’t have great gear, a crew, and amazing production, your message won’t resonate.

That’s not the case at all.

The truth is you’re every bit as good as your content and delivery. Gear can help, but in this moment, who you are is resonating far more deeply than the gear you use.

It's so tempting to think you're only as good as your gear. Gear can help, but in this moment, who you are is resonating far more deeply than the gear you use. Click To Tweet

Some church leaders are still doing big production on a stage without the audience, and you could argue that’s what people are longing for (can we please go back to normal?). No criticism here. We’re all trying to figure this out in real-time.

But for some that’s impossible or unwise (health considerations, number of crew needed, or frankly, you never had big production in the first place).

Only having your iPhone or something less than a pro-set up isn’t fatal at all. In fact, it gives you more opportunity than anything.

You can take the pressure off yourself and just be real. Our world needs real more than it needs anything right now.

Our world needs real more than it needs anything right now. Click To Tweet

You know who’s crushing the new low production reality? Jimmy Fallon is.

Jimmy Fallon didn’t try to pretend he wasn’t doing the Tonight Show from home. Instead, he embraced it in all of its ordinariness. Which is exactly what makes it work.

If you haven’t seen it yet, he’s filming the entire Tonight Show from various places in his home with his wife as camera operator and video linking to guests in their homes. Here’s a link to one episode with John Legend, and another with Alec Baldwin and 5 Seconds of Summer.

Jimmy Fallon didn't try to pretend he wasn't doing the Tonight Show from home. Instead, he embraced it in all of its ordinariness. Which is exactly what makes it work. Click To Tweet

As you flip through the episodes, notice that Jimmy:

  • Doesn’t compete with his family…he includes them. His daughters make all the art for the show.
  • Reads his monologue from a printed sheet, the same way you’d read something in a meeting or casual conversation. That actually makes it funnier, because even someone with the gifting of Fallon realizes that without the studio audience there, it would be really difficult to get the delivery right.
  • Wears the clothes you’d normally wear at home (no suits).
  • The audio quality is really crazy low…including the musical guests (literally no mic other than the iPhone in a bricked room).
  • Does a low res Skype/Zoom iPhone interview with Alec Baldwin on his iPhone with his wife and daughter hanging out in the background.
  • Raises money for a new charity every night to try to help with the crisis.

The best part? It’s so real.

Rather than compete with the situation we’re all in, Fallon embraces it. And while he has a few more zeros in front of the decimals in his bank balance than you and I do, he brings himself into the reality we’re all in. He went where his audience lives: to his home, adapting like everyone else.

Theologians might call that kind of approach incarnational. Incarnational is one approach our world is longing for right now.

Being with your people in a time like this means being real with your people in a time like this.

Deciding to be real is strangely, even more calming and anchoring than constant hype or constant hope.

Being real is strangely even more calming and anchoring right now than constant hype or constant hope. Click To Tweet

2. Picture Your Audience

Real is one thing, but how do you connect when you can’t see your audience?

Simple: imagine them.

Pick a person you know and talk to them. Maybe it’s an unchurched friend you’re trying to reach, a new attender you just met or a long time member you trust deeply. Just pick a person and speak to them.

Naturally, you can vary that from talk to talk or live-stream to live stream, but it really breaks down the digital wall.

When I record my leadership podcast I imagine a leader out for his morning run or in her car listening to the episode. I think about what he or she is struggling with and I try to speak directly to them.

When I film one of my online courses, I imagine a senior pastor listening and trying to apply it to his or her church, or a staff team trying to make it work in their context.

When I preach to a camera, I imagine room full of people, or in this case, a living room with a family.

All of that helps.

Imagining your audience will make your tone of voice more expressive and empathetic as well as more natural. And it will even help you think about whether your content is really going to help the people watching or listening.

If you imagine your audience when you’re speaking into a camera, you’re far more like to connect with them.

If you imagine your audience when you're speaking into a camera, you're far more like to connect with them. Click To Tweet

3. Shorten It

My general rule on live communication with a crowd is that there’s no magic length for the perfect sermon or keynote.

While TED talks have changed the game, there’s nothing magic about 18 minutes: 5 minutes of boring is 5 minutes too long and 60 minutes of fascinating isn’t nearly enough. I still stand by that for live communication. (Here are 5 other communication myths it’s time to bust).

When it comes to communication, 5 minutes of boring is 5 minutes too long and 60 minutes of fascinating isn't nearly enough. Click To Tweet

Video, though, is different to me. People listen to podcasts and watch videos at 1.5 or 2x speed. And I don’t know why, but two minutes still seems like an eternity on YouTube. Know what I mean?

For that reason, my rule of thumb on video (with no live audience) is that shorter is better.

I’m up this Sunday, and instead of speaking 38-40 minutes, I plan on doing no more than 25 minutes. It just feels much longer when there’s no one in the room.

Plus, if you look at the reality of what’s happening in the average home, kids are crawling all over parents, half your audience might be cleaning up breakfast while ‘worshipping’ and it’s pretty easy to open multiple tabs on your laptop if you get bored.

This might change over time, but I would leave your congregation wanting more than having them wish you had been done ten minutes ago.

Remember, online viewing is much less polite than an in-person congregation. To walk out during a message takes guts. To swipe out of the message takes nothing…and nobody would ever know.

So be shorter.

On video, shorter is better. Click To Tweet

4. Don’t Try to Recreate What’s Gone

As I shared in an earlier post about how to lead in a digital default church, that you’re probably spending a lot of time doing right now is figuring out how to do what you used to do.

Um, that’s gone. It’s history.

Again, back to Fallon, rather than trying to build the Tonight Show set in his back yard, he just embraced the fact that all of that was gone for now.

You’re probably spending a lot of time doing right now is figuring out how to do what you used to do. That’s gone. It’s history. Click To Tweet

I’m not criticizing preachers who have a camera set up in an empty auditorium (I will likely preach that way this weekend…it’s what our church is still able to do), but don’t just re-create. Experiment.

I plan on adding a live-stream Q and A at the end of the message.

And video is endlessly creative.

A friend who leads a mega-church, and has a huge love of movies, screenplays and great art, texted me and asked if finally all the energy he’d love to put into cinema (he wanted to write screenplays) could be put into the message. I didn’t blink. Of course it could.

Don’t spend your energy trying to recreate what was lost. Try to find something new.

When the audience isn’t in the room, new ways open up to connect with the audience.

Let this crisis be a cradle for innovation.

Let this crisis be a cradle for innovation. Click To Tweet

5. Take people backstage

And by backstage, I mean into your life. 

My pastor, Jeff Brodie, smartly opened his message by showing pictures of his family and how everything changed in the last few weeks at his house. Fun, personal and real.

I speak around the world (or at least used to) on leadership, write books, host leadership podcasts and breathe leadership every day. But if you check my Instagram feed (especially stories), it’s a hybrid mix of my leadership ideas, and my life—going out for a run or bike ride, smoking brisket on my Big Green Egg, getting my first COVID haircut, and in the summer obsessing over the lines in my (hopefully very green) lawn.

When I land in a city to speak (on leadership), you know what the top things people talk to me about? It’s often not leadership. Instead, they talk to me about my obsessions with my lawn and barbecuing on the Big Green Egg.

People may love what you say, but they identify with you.

In an age where everything is spun, sold and marketed, people are looking for you. Let them see, well, you.

Quick tip for preachers. People think you say what you say because you get paid to say it. I know that’s crass and it’s not true, but that’s the thought-bubble over people’s heads when they interact with a preacher.

Letting people see that you’re real helps people see that God is real.

I guess we’re back at point 1, but that really is something that will get you so far in the midst of this crisis. And well beyond it.

Letting people see that you're real helps people see that God is real. Click To Tweet

Bonus Tip: Watch Yourself

As painful as it is, watch yourself on video.

I know…I still cringe, noticing every little mistake I make.

If you’re really brave—which you should be—get others to evaluate you and give you tips.

Pain can be a great teacher.

If you can’t stand to watch yourself on video, why would anyone else watch you?

If you can't stand to watch yourself on video, why would anyone else watch you? Click To Tweet

Become a Better Communicator…Starting Today

art of better preaching

As much as the digital reality has changed everything, some of the core principles of sermon preparation and excellent communication never change. Great communication is simple great communication.

If you’re ready to start preaching better sermons and reach the unchurched without selling out, then it’s time to start using the right tips, lessons, and strategies to communicating better.

The Art of Better Preaching Course is a 12 session video training with a comprehensive, interactive workbook that will help you create, write, and deliver better sermons. The course contains the lessons Mark Clark (lead pastor of  Village Church, a growing mega-church in post-Christian Vancouver) and I have learned, taught, and used over decades of being professional communicators.

This is the complete course you need to start preaching better sermons, including:

  • 7 preaching myths it’s time to bust forever
  • The 5 keys to preaching sermons to unchurched people (that will keep them coming back)
  • How to discover the power in the text (and use it to drive your sermon)
  • The specific characteristics of sermons that reach people in today’s world
  • Why you need to ditch your sermon notes (and how to do it far more easily than you think.)
  • How to keep your heart and mind fresh over the long run

And far more! Plus you get an interactive workbook and some bonus resources that will help you write amazing messages week after week.

In the Art of Better Preaching, Mark and I share everything we’ve learned about communicating in a way that will help your church grow without compromising biblical integrity. We cover detailed training on everything from interacting with the biblical text to delivering a talk without using notes, to writing killer bottom lines that people will remember for years.

Don’t miss out! Check it out today and gain instant access.

What Helps You?

What helps you when speaking directly to the camera?

Scroll down and leave a comment!

5 Ways to Get Better at Preaching/Speaking Directly Into a Camera

25 Comments

  1. Tony Sullivan on July 26, 2020 at 4:22 am

    Hi Carey,

    Just thought I’d comment about what I do. Early on in the shutdown I saw a country preacher go out to his barn and video his message and that gave me the format. I live in Australia and a lot of our Bush is unique. Since then I have gone to several places to record with my trusty Canon camera and soon I’ll go to the beach for a sunrise session. Our wildlife always provide some background support to add to the atmosphere.

    What better place to bring a message than in the building that God created.

    Thanks,

    Tony Sullivan

  2. Heather Rogers on April 21, 2020 at 7:44 am

    Great advice. I am using Zoom to have services and bible study. We do not have video capability in our churches so this is really new to most of my 3 congregations. I chose zoom so that the older folks who do not own a computer or do not get online could call into our services and still feel a part of the congregation. For the first few services I had my notes on the table in front of me, then I had them taped around the perimeter of my screen, then I realized that I could leave them on the computer and while it looks like I am looking directly at my congregation members I am also able to see my notes which are directly below the camera. People have commented that they are really feeling connected. My parish relations chair said she felt like I had learned something from the news anchors on TV and was speaking directly to her.

  3. Ed on April 5, 2020 at 5:06 am

    hi
    This was very helpful . Today will be my first presentation on the air. I am excited and petrified. This article gave me five points to considered and has reduced my anxiety (in addition to being a clergy I am a psychotherapist). May God continue to bless you to bless us all.

    • Carey Nieuwhof on April 10, 2020 at 5:50 am

      Thnaks Ed! Glad it helped!

  4. unlockmytv on March 31, 2020 at 5:06 am

    Preaching directly into a social media platform allows names and emotive … I then began to speak, as the Scripture called for it, about repentance and judgment … Simultaneously, a family of five in your church will likely gather around … members who share your sermon online do so in an evangelistic way.

  5. Jon Thompson on March 30, 2020 at 11:09 pm

    The 29th was our first Sunday going Live Stream and what helped me was turning the view screen of the camera around so I saw myself (camera is about 10 feet away) and just spoke to me as if I were the congregation. It worked for me.

    • Carey Nieuwhof on March 31, 2020 at 7:44 am

      Thats a great tip Jon. Pro camera or your phone? Just curious!

  6. Scott on March 30, 2020 at 8:55 pm

    The church is the body of Christ, so it is a family and very much about the community and connection. Therefore
    “record and watch later” should be the last resort. Try to do the service live *and* for any church that has the ability (I suppose smaller churches), ask everyone to keep their video on (but mic off most of the time) to maintain that face-to-face interaction. Video off when there is an option to have it on would be like Charlie Brown wearing that brown paper bag over his head in church. If our church body is important and our time together to worship and pray and learn and encourage is important, then it shouldn’t be couch potato time. Children above toddler age can be in attendance together with the family in the living room sitting up, not eating a bowl of cereal, with as few distractions as possible, just paying attention. Little ones can be rolling around on the floor in the living room and absorbing what they can. I respectfully disagree that it’s not time for the leaders to a wear a suit. I wore a suit online last week, even though I rarely wear one in church and even though it couldn’t really be seen, so that I would personally not be lulled into a complacent or careless attitude (not falling-asleep-on-the-couch slob) for what should be one of (if not the most) important times of the week for the Christian. Also, the leader sets the example and tone, and looking smart, even if not to the suit level, is important (especially at the initial use of a new medium) to give the message that online services are not less important/serious than services in the real. (I don’t suppose Jimmy Fallon went completely grunge when broadcasting from home. I would personally love to do that, but I’m not a teenager anymore.) Communion is also possible, just ask everyone to prepare their own bread and juice in advance. If their are too many viewers for video to remain on, I would try to have one or two (good, positive) viewers (who like the speaker!) with video on to help the speaker have the feeling of speaking to an audience and getting some body language cues from them. I know that’s possible with Zoom.

  7. Matt Musteric on March 30, 2020 at 8:41 pm

    So much good stuff here… especially during a steep learning curve. Thank you!

    • Carey Nieuwhof on March 31, 2020 at 7:45 am

      You’re so welcome!

  8. Michael Ramondetta on March 30, 2020 at 2:08 pm

    Carey, Thanks for the great post! I am sensitive about connecting in a real and personal way to our online church family/crowd. We have watched the movie Mr. Rogers recently. Wow, he could really connect with those kids through the camera seeing each one as he spoke. So, what I have told our worship team is, let’s picture that one family or person you usually see on Sunday mornings and in the spirit of MR Rogers make them smile. So, also, when I speak I will ask questions and pause for a response from our online crowd, speaking directly to them. Feels a little awkward sometimes but I believe it is effective. Thanks for your ministry and prayers.
    Blessings to you,
    Mike
    http://www.ebclife.org

    • Carey Nieuwhof on March 30, 2020 at 4:58 pm

      Great thoughts Mike. Thanks for sharing!

  9. Susan on March 30, 2020 at 10:33 am

    Love this! I am the children’s ministry director at my church. Just recorded and uploaded my first children’s lesson last week. It was so much fun!! I thought about teaching my own kids. After it posted to our social media accounts, I posted some additional “bloopers” to our private community group—bonus fun, and it generated even more interactions.

    Strange times we’re in. Thanks for your ministry. Somehow, I stumbled across your first post re a COVID-19 response, 2 weeks ago. I’ve been reading your content ever since, and I think God placed it in my path at the right moment, because it has been a huge help and blessing.

    Keep pressing on! We’re cheering for you!

    • Carey Nieuwhof on March 30, 2020 at 4:59 pm

      Great to meet you Susan. Love the bloops idea. So thankful we’re able to connect with you and be of help.

  10. Amy Hanson on March 30, 2020 at 9:37 am

    Thank you, Cary, I needed this today. We are not a large church with an existing, riveting online presence nor a budget to support that. We are now in the process of bringing everything we have online with only a couple of people, and this was a great reminder to stay authentic in our pursuit. Simple can be good!

    • Carey Nieuwhof on March 30, 2020 at 4:59 pm

      Absolutely Amy. You’ll figure it out!

  11. Gideon Gaitano on March 30, 2020 at 9:17 am

    Thank you, Carey. This was very helpful!!!

  12. Chad Macy on March 30, 2020 at 8:48 am

    Great article and this comes at a much needed time. Trying to adapt to the new normal in student ministry all the while staying connected to our students and our leaders. It is a complete adjustment for me to teach without an audience. My wife has been encouraging me to get out of my head and think about the students that we are trying to reach. Thanks Carey for reiterating this fact. Here is a link (https://www.instagram.com/tv/B-VNXlbDF2M/?hl=en) to our student resources. I would love your feed back.

  13. Chuck Congram on March 30, 2020 at 8:27 am

    We have a long way to go in getting better at this but will be working hard at it this week. Your word will play a big part in that. Grateful for our friendship.

  14. Chuck Congram on March 30, 2020 at 7:58 am

    Critical and valuable help and insight for a time like this!! Thanks, Carey.

    • Carey Nieuwhof on March 30, 2020 at 8:19 am

      Thanks Chuck. It was actually at YOUR church about 17-18 years ago when the houselights went down and I could see no one that I had the first experience of “no crowd”. Hope you’re well!

  15. Chuck on March 30, 2020 at 7:56 am

    We have a communications expert on our leadership board who has really stepped up to help us during this time. We met via zoom a few days ago and her first point was to watch Fallon as soon as we were done. She cited many of the same things you did. Real is the new high tech for sure. Thank you Carey!

    • Carey Nieuwhof on March 30, 2020 at 8:19 am

      Oh that’s fascinating. Fallon is crushing it and completely reinvented the medium overnight. Full props.

  16. Joe Donahue on March 30, 2020 at 7:45 am

    Great stuff!

    When preaching to the camera, I often tell myself “Talk through it, not to it.” When looking “at” a camera – I look like a deer in headlights. When I look “through” a camera I am “seeing” people where they are.

    • Carey Nieuwhof on March 30, 2020 at 8:20 am

      That’s great advice Joe! Thank you!

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