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11 Tips for Looking Good on Screen From a Journalist

on screen tips presenting Nov 09, 2023

Michele Mitchell is an award-winning filmmaker, journalist and author who began her career on Capitol Hill then moved into broadcast journalism before becoming a documentary filmmaker focussed on investigating politics, injustice and war crimes.

As a political anchor for CNN Headline News, and then as an investigative correspondent on the PBS show “NOW with Bill Moyers”, Michele has spent plenty of time in front of the camera. These days she is more accustomed to sitting in front of a computer screen on Zoom as she prepares to shoot her next documentary. We asked her to share the key points she has taken from her on-camera experience and how she uses them in her Zoom meetings. 



I always tell people you have to look at the lens like you're having a conversation with the person on the other side.  I'll give you an example; when I was on Headline News it was just me in the studio with a camera right there, there was nobody else around so when I looked at the camera I would just imagine that I was talking to my Dad. You have to look as if you're connecting with somebody on the other side and have a real conversation. Obviously with Zoom you are having a conversation with someone but you want to make sure that you are really looking at the person in the camera.


The Right Height

You don't have to have a fancy computer stand, just a stack of books. Play around with the height so you find yourself at eye level with the person on the screen.  I use my hands a lot in real life and on camera.  I think the framing of your hands should be in the lower third of the screen, I think that is where your hands would be naturally and so don't raise them up too high otherwise you look like a lunatic!


Hair Matters

If this is a professional Zoom meeting then you do want to make sure your hair looks all right. I know that sounds insane but the one thing that the camera always picks up on, no matter whether your lighting is great or crappy, is how your hair looks. It can be very distracting if your hair looks bad. I would always do a camera check before going on camera and you should do the same on Zoom.


No Peeking

Don’t look at yourself in the camera, especially when you first log on to a meeting. It’s very tempting to make sure that you’re looking good and your hair is all in the right place but do all that before you join the meeting. 


The Halo Effect

I would say natural light is always better. I don’t have a ring but I have a light fixture right above where I usually will zoom from in my dining room. What you want is for the light to actually hit you just on the top slightly at the back of your head - it makes everything look all pretty. 


Nix the Fake Background

Never use one of those ridiculous false backgrounds. It never looks good - ever -  and it usually will fail at some point. More importantly they are not beneficial to improving your physical appearance. 


Take a Stand

I think that one of my tricks is that I don't use a chair anymore. I was starting to hurt from sitting in a chair so now I have a wobble stool that makes me keep my balance and sit upright. Standing is also a good idea too. 


Body Language Counts

Be aware that if you’re slouching or you look as if you’re going to check out of the meeting, whoever is on the other side is going to pick up on that and they're going to say to themselves you're not a serious person and do I need to have this conversation. There are people that I have Zoomed with and thought I'm not doing this again - this is not worth my time. Everybody's time is valuable so make sure you present yourself properly and look engaged


First Impressions

I do a lot of Zoom conversations now about financing and creativity so I have to be very professional immediately because the first thing you want to make sure people understand is that you are competent and that they can trust you. It doesn't matter if you're not wearing pants but you should wear something nice on top at least because your clothing does count on camera.


Pet Peeves

This is going to sound really petty and strange but one thing that I've noticed is that false eyelash thing that is going on now, it somehow makes you look less serious. And vocal fry, I don’t know what you're going to get for that but I will not be hiring you nor will you be on my crew.


Feel Good

Another weird thing that I do before I do a Zoom - and I have no idea why I do this except for it gets me ready -  I spray on perfume and I brush my teeth. I love that it makes me feel good.

Michele Mitchell will be offering a Mini-class on how to sell an idea. Sign up to be notified when the class launches. 


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