Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Performance Coaching Tips for Your Food Blog Video From a TV Professional

In my long international career as an Emmy nominated TV producer/host coach, I have worked and trained many celebrities, TV personalities, sports, pop and movie stars. Today I am sharing a bit of my professional wisdom with food bloggers out there who are making, thinking about making or aspiring to make better videos for their blogs. This information is geared to bloggers wanting to do more personality driven videos, not straight technique demos.

I could create a series of posts discussing writing, shooting and editing videos as well. Eventually, maybe I will. Because in addition to 100s or segments and hours of television, I have produced a large number of cooking segments in my career. There's a huge learning curve to share from those segments as well. Today I will focus on performance.

After watching the food blogger video entries for the Food Buzz Project Food BlogI became even more motivated to write this. But as we all know, post ideas can run ahead and we can chase after them for months before we finally nail them down to the computer. 

As I watched the videos, the coach in me was alternatively cheering, correcting and cringing. I would never critique another blogger's recipe because compared to many food bloggers, my work here is laughable and holding food bloggers to professional host standards is not fair. But if you are interested in making videos, below is some of my professional expertise to help step up your game a bit. 

My professional coaching is tailored to the specific person and their innate strengths and challenges. I am used to working intensively one on one addressing their fears and often develop customized exercises based on the student's skill set to help get them to the next level of performance. Basically, I focus in on working organically with what the person has naturally and develop their strengths from there. I aim to polish and enhance what is already there. That's what one should strive for in an on camera performance.

As I am used to working with people individually, the tips below are general and pared down. Still, they may be a bit overkill for the purposes of home blogger video but take what works for you and throw out the rest. 

If you have a specific question about anything below or about something I didn't cover, feel free to email me at:  themadhausfrau@gmail.com. 

Performance tips 

Be authentic: Many people have their personalities kidnapped by the evil camera fairy when they get in front of one. For amateurs, usually two things happen:

1) They lose their personality all together and become wooden and stiff. 

2) They take on a whole new fake persona which has nothing to do with their real one, usually this is a false, exaggerated person who comes off as if they are talking to a child.

Imagine the camera is your best friend or family member. Have a conversation with the camera. Don't talk AT it. Talk TO it. Being conversational is key. Speak in a normal voice. That being said....

Voice control/articulation: There are some breathing exercises I teach to help students consciously connect breathing with the diaphragm to produce a fuller sound (breathe into your back people!) Those of you who have taken singing lessons understand what I mean. In general, try to use your chest voice and not your head voice. A few deep breathing exercises before you start can relax you and lower your voice. Many people (women in the USA especially) speak behind their nose, totally up in their head. There is no texture or resonance to the voice. Take a deep breath and let the sound out as you exhale. Repeat until you feel your voice has a fuller sound and is not coming from your head or throat but from your chest and belly. Some of your family members may come rushing into the room thinking you have been hurt or have lost your mind. That's show biz.

Articulate your words. If you have difficulty in this area try the old tried and true Peter piper picked a peck of pickled peppers or Rubber baby buggy bumpers or any other tongue twisters you know. It helps to warm up your mouth, tongue and mind before you start.

An external mic makes a world of difference as well. If you can borrow one, do so.

Body Language: It should accentuate what you are saying, not distract from it. Be aware of repetitive hand gestures. Give your hands something else to do. This is much easier as you are making a cooking video and you have to physically move the segment along. Many people's tics and bad body language habits naturally go away as they become more accustomed to being on camera and their confidence grows.

Ummm...Uhhh: These also seem to fall by the wayside as camera confidence increases. Mostly these ums and uhs happen because people think they have to fill in the blanks (or airtime) while they are gathering their thoughts. If you feel one coming on. Stop. Gather your thoughts and continue. Eventually as you become more secure, those pauses in between thoughts will get smaller and smaller.

Organizing Your Information: When you watch hosts on TV, many of them are holding Cards. These cards contain their questions and bullet points about the guests. I suggest writing out your entire segment from top to bottom, including your intros and outros. Then condense the segment to bullet points and put them on cards.

Shoot Less/Practice More: Use the cards to run through your segment several times before your shoot. You will find yourself making notes on them to adjust them as things feel right or not right in the segment during rehearsal. This will help make your segment more concise and flow better. It will also save you tons of time in editing by eliminating several takes.

Own Your Segment: The segment is yours. You created it. Own it. You and your personality are driving the segment, not the recipe you are making. 

Tease Me Later: An important part of the video is the open and the initial capturing of your audience. It can also the most difficult because it's usually where you are the most nervous and vulnerable. I suggest shooting your open last. By this time you are warmed up and relaxed and feel you have the hang of things. Your intro should be short, catchy and tease the dish you are making. 

Understand TV Time vs. Regular Time: The best way to do this is to time yourself watching TV for one full minute. You will see what a frakking eternity this is for a viewer. Especially for you Twitterheads out there. However, when you are on the other side of the camera, one minute goes by in a heartbeat. So you must learn to...

Speak and think in Soundbites: Time yourself in rehearsal. In general, unless you are doing a very complicated dish or demo, your video should not exceed three minutes. That's three minutes people. Not three minutes fifty seconds. If you are over your 3 minute mark, go back to your cards and be brutal in editing them. Condense your words and thoughts until they are more streamlined. Of course never compromise the quality of your information. If you absolutely must have that extra 10 seconds to make the video comprehensible, take it.

Background: Should not be too busy or dark. If your kitchen is dark, move a table into your living room or use your dining room table. Just like for your photos, use your best available light and style your demo table accordingly. Spend some time framing and styling the shot to see what looks best. Make sure there is not something hanging on the wall or behind you that looks like it's unnaturally growing out of your head or another part of your body once you add yourself to the shot.

The 3 Ts: 
Add short and sweet tips, tricks and trivia to your dialog. Put them on a separate card or insert them in the appropriate place in the recipe step. Try to mix it up a bit not just delivering intro, recipe, outro.

Watch Yourself: I can't even count how many people I coach who hate watching their training tapes. If they do, it's often through their fingers because their hands are over their face. Tape some of your rehearsals and watch them. Develop your own critical eye. Check your voice, your body language, the camera angles. scrutinize your  wardrobe, hair, makeup, lighting. Does the segment make sense? Did you leave anything out? Can you cut some of the steps out or combine them to make things move faster? Check your energy level. Embrace these training tapes as the step to being better, not as an embarrassment.

Wine a Little: Apologies to the teetotalers out there, but if you are having problems overcoming your stiffness in front of the camera, sometimes having a few sips of wine before you shoot can relax you and take away your inhibitions. I would never recommend this in a professional situation but at home, for a cooking video? Why not! Many home cooks relax by sipping a glass while preparing a meal. 

Lighting: Turn lights on in addition to the natural light. Check the shots for shadows. Move lamps around to eliminate them. If you are serious about doing a series of videos, I recommend investing in a small lighting kit. You can buy a second hand one on ebay.

Grooming Tips

Looks and style are important for obvious reasons (it's TV, not radio) so here are some styling tips:

Wardrobe: Solids are best. Do not wear plain white as it tends to flare in front of the camera. Tiny prints, dots and small stripes can moray becoming disconcerting to the viewer. Any complicated design can overwhelm your presence. Stick to clean lines. Focus on color. Work with a color that best highlights your coloring and a style of clothing that best represents you. The color should not wash you out on camera or overwhelm your face. Look for TV hosts or actors that have your coloring, check out what colors they are wearing and see if they resonate with you.

If you are going to layer an apron over your outfit, make sure it is a complimentary color and stick to the no small print, checks or stripes rule.

Don't hesitate to camera test a few outfits to see what looks best. You want to look warm, crisp and fresh, like your delicious creations!

Accessories: Should be minimal and not anything that distracts from you or the focus of your video. Be careful of any jewelry, scarves, headbands, etc. that are too shiny or reflective. When in doubt, do a camera check.

Makeup: I am obviously addressing the women here but imho some men can do with a bit of powder or coverup but it's not realistic to expect they would partake as food bloggers. So if you fall into that category, skip reading this part.

If you are a makeup whore like me, then you're all set. You probably already know what colors and products work for you and obsessively match makeup to your outfits. Stick with that. 

If not, I would suggest you go get a makeover at your local makeup counter. If you are lucky enough to live near a Sephora, this is a great place to learn and experiment. Sephora also has products in different price ranges. Ask for a similar product in a lower price range if cost is an issue. Do several makeovers until you find a look that you are happy with. Ask the makeup artist a lot of questions about technique, application, etc. Ask why they chose the colors they chose for you. Learn your face. Where are your cheekbones, how to highlight them. If you feel you have a flaw, like eyes too close together, nose too wide or pointed, ask about corrective shading and highlighting. Tell them you are looking for makeup that works for you for a video. Many of the counter makeup artists work on wedding videos or local commercial shoots and have great tips to share. 

Here's the deal. If you can't afford it, don't buy the products. Maybe buy one less expensive item as a token of appreciation to the makeup artist. Take a white tissue or paper and smear the products that work for you on it, foundation, eyeshadows, blush and lipstick. Write on the tissue what each is for. Then go to your local drug store, smear the testers on another tissue to compare with the original tissue and match the product colors as best you can with cheaper products. 

I do apologize to any cosmetic counter makeup artists out there if this seems like taking advantage of their skills. An even better idea to find a makeup artist you like and barter your skills in the kitchen in exchange for their professional knowledge.

Mostly stick with neutrals but be mindful of what you are wearing in the shoot. It should not clash. Depending upon your age, less is more. Younger women often can get away with a bit of powder, lipstick and mascara. Older women require more makeup to achieve a "natural" look. There are a few tricks professionals use like a pop of frosted gloss in the center of the lips which defines the lips nicely on camera.

Hair: Again, I am speaking to the women, but if you are man with a lot of hair, just keep it off your face and make sure it's combed :-) 

For women, your hair should frame your face, not distract from it. As you will be cooking, make sure it is secured so it doesn't fall in your face as you are working causing you to do the dreaded push the hair back with the wrist move. 

Many older hosts highlight strands of hair around their face several shades lighter than the base color. The blonder strands illuminate the face and give it a youthful lift on and off camera. 

I probably should have wrapped this post in colorful graphics and fun pictures for a better presentation. I was short on time and wanted to finally get this information out. I didn't cover everything and sometimes you need to break all the rules to make a really great video. Break All the Rules would be my last tip but only after you have acquired some on camera skills beforehand. In general these tips are meant to quell performance anxiety and give some structure to the hosting process. I hope they were helpful.  

Again, you can contact me with specific questions.

Now go for it! Happy video-ing!


  1. you are so great!!!thank you for sharing your information with newbies like me ;) i am thinking of starting my video blog this summer, so your info is absolutely priceless!

  2. Great post Lora - I could just see me on a video umming away blushing and fake talking like I was talking to a toddler...totally. Although even with these great tips I'm sure it would still happen I doubt I'm a natural. I'll just have to stick to my old fashioned blogging :)

  3. Lora, this was my first visit to your blog and I really hit the jackpot. I browsed through your earlier posts and I must tell you how much I enjoyed the food and recipes you feature here. I'll definitely be back. I hope you have a great day. Blessings...Mary

  4. Fascinating post Lora! I'm so NOT into making videos (was relieved to be eliminated from PFB before the video torture) but it's good info to know for other things as well, like giving a cooking demo or class. Or, you know, when we all hit it big and go on the morning show circuit. ;-)

  5. Great tips Lora. I don't know that I'd ever put myself on a video, but you never know :) I'll make sure to read all these tips again if I change my mind!

  6. I am so grateful for this post! Thank you so much for putting this together. The first video on my blog was HORRIBLE. I did everything wrong - wore plaid, talked behind my nose (and very softly) the hand gestures...UGH. I was TERRIBLE. But I feel like giving it another shot since you put this valuable post together.

    Sincerely, your fan-


Thank you for your comments and feedback. I love hearing from you!