When I started working at Loom three years ago, my job was to help build a product that made communicating at work more human. But every time I recorded a video message, I felt uncomfortable in front of the camera.
Rather than focus on what I had to share, I got distracted by the process of videotaping the message. How do I make eye contact? Is this awkward? Why don’t I like the way my face looks? Sometimes, I would end up recording Looms multiple times to get the right take. I didn't know how to not be awkward on camera.
It surprised me how uncomfortable I was at first, but perhaps I shouldn’t have been — video messaging is a new medium for many people, and many of us are camera shy. It can feel vulnerable to record a message — almost like public speaking — especially if you’re not getting feedback from another person in real life.
What causes camera shyness?
Camera shyness refers to a person's want to avoid being filmed or photographed by any kind of digital device. Individuals who live with camera shyness also tend to be afraid of speaking in public, being in front of big groups, or having their photo taken or video captured.
Scopophobia, or camera phobia, is the excessive fear of being watched. But even if you aren't excessively afraid of the camera, according to Harvard Business Review, humans are hardwired to kick into fight-or-flight mode when they’re being watched. That’s because our body interprets the “watcher” as a potential predator, even when they’re just a friendly colleague.
In one experiment, USC professor T. Shelley Duval had two groups of 20 people perform set tasks. One was photographed while performing the task; the other wasn't. Among the people being photographed, their "mood and self-esteem plummeted."
“Photographs really cause us to focus on the gap between the true self and the idealized self,” Duval said. “It makes us overly self-conscious. And self-consciousness is a bummer.”
“... any good photographer will tell you that paranoia is the worst thing you can take with you in front of a camera. Your attitude becomes a self-fulfilling prophesy: You get nervous, you flinch. You flinch, you look bad. You think you’re unphotogenic and the next time, you make that face again. ... Professional photographers will tell you that the least photogenic people are those who believe that they look terrible in pictures. It is our vanity that derails our faces, makes us flinch and count the flaws.”
— Emily Adams, LA Times
What’s more, that vulnerability you feel is a feature, not a bug. Embracing your vulnerability is embracing your humanity — it helps you communicate your message with a fuller spectrum of emotional nuance, which in turn helps you deliver it more efficiently.
Remember that everyone has the jitters when they first start recording — it’s part of being human.
7 tips for overcoming camera anxiety
The good news for my fellow camera-shy people, in my experience, is that camera anxiety doesn’t last forever — I was able to move past it fairly quickly, and have worked up to a point where I now easily record 100 looms in a single week. That process helped me to develop a better tool, communicate with greater clarity, and build stronger relationships at work.
Here are my best tips for being more confident in front of a camera:
1. Use the “mirror image” default
When I first started using Loom, our product didn’t default to share a mirror image of my face. Our brains are used to seeing ourselves in front of a mirror, and I didn’t like the way I looked without the camera flipped. That’s because our faces (and facial expressions) aren’t symmetrical, and they seem different the other way.
Loom now defaults to that mirror image, so you can stick with that setting if it’s more comfortable.
You can also use the avatar feature. You can upload a photo to Loom, which can act as a stand-in for you need a break from video or need some time to get comfortable.
2. Take a few deep breaths first
Your body may tense up into a stress response the first time you're in a new situation, or when you’re experiencing work or social anxiety. You may notice your thoughts accelerating and some discomfort in your upper pack or jaw. This primal response is natural if you’re nervous about “messing up” on camera. Try to acknowledge and move through that anxiety before you press record.
Take a few deep breaths from your abdomen to reset your nervous system. Remind yourself that video messages are a helpful way to communicate with colleagues — they’re not meant to be perfect or perfectly produced.
3. Minimize distractions while recording
When you’re meeting with someone in person, you give them your full attention. The same ethos can help when you sending a loom. If it’s a long loom, you may want to jot down a couple of points to share beforehand, so you make sure you don’t miss anything while you talk.
Either way, close Slack and email, so you can focus on recording a video without being disrupted by a message popping onto your screen. (Loom’s desktop app for Mac helps keep distractions to a minimum by muting notifications.) In the case that you’re presenting your screen to a team member, you might close or minimize any unrelated browser tabs, too.
4. Slow down while talking
If you have some camera anxiety, it’s easy to inadvertently speed up the rate that you’re talking on camera. Just as with physical tension, speaking faster could be a byproduct of anxiety. When you’re recording a loom, make the conscious effort to slow down your recorded message. It can help soothe your anxiety by creating a more manageable rhythm for you, too. The viewer can play it at up to 2x speed, if they choose.
5. Look directly at the camera
After recording my first few looms, I quickly discovered that conveying a sense of eye contact helps your message come across more naturally.
The quickest way to make eye contact is to move your camera bubble next to your camera. If you still feel awkward, imagine that there’s someone watching on the other end, and it will feel like one side of a two-sided conversation. Focusing your thoughts on the person receiving the message can help quell any anxiety you feel.
Some people even stick a pair of googly eyes on either side of their webcam to remind them to make “eye contact” — goofy, but it might help!
Further reading: How to Give the Right Nonverbal Communication Cues — Loom
6. Include the human moments
Did your dog bark in the background? Maybe you accidentally said too many “umms?” Keep the more human moments in your video messages rather than editing them out. The fact that looms are unfiltered means we get better insights into someone’s personality. Mistakes give everyone permission to be human and makes the video message more engaging.
It's especially important to give ourselves and others the space and empathy for these real-life moments during the Covid pandemic, when so many of us are working from home, surrounded by family members and pets and other so-called "distractions." That's just what life is like right now, and despite what the New York Times says, it's not unprofessional.
7. Don’t take yourself too seriously
At Loom, one of our core values is “embrace the weird.” We believe that our quirks are essential to who we are as individuals and as a company. One of the best ways to break through your anxiety is to give yourself permission to have fun. Thank your coworkers with a sincere smile in a loom, throw on sunglasses just for the heck of it, share a wacky (but maybe genius?) idea you had that could help your team.
It only takes a little practice
Here at Loom, I send video messages every day for code reviews, feedback, and support my team. Not only do I communicate more clearly — and with greater nuance — I also feel more connected with my colleagues.
Personality doesn’t always shine through over text. But when you receive a video message, due to the sender's tone of voice and body language, you get a better sense of who the sender is. Those connections translate to a more productive and comfortable work environment because people really have a sense of one another’s personalities. There’s greater trust, which empowers team members to bring their full selves to work every day, quirks and all.
Video messaging is just like any other communication channel. It may feel uncomfortable at first, but the more you practice, the more comfortable you feel. I can’t imagine working without it now.