Important Lessons Learned From My First Experience of Pre-recorded Talk

A closer look at how you can better understand and prepare yourself

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Photo credits: Jessie Zou

NOTE: I must state that this is a personal recommendation, and in no way represents the opinion of my current employer

I was exploring my Twitter feed and noticed one of my Twitter acquaintances mentioned his fear of “pre-recorded” talk. The original tweet and the discussion which followed was also very interesting where people shared their experiences of pre-recorded conferences talks.

First things first, mad respect for those who regularly do this and have mastered the skill.

That Twitter thread struck a chord. Just one experience doesn’t make me an expert at all but I thought maybe sharing my own observations and learnings could be useful for those who haven’t done it yet.

Important Disclaimer: My experience refers to pre-recording talk with a professional video production and editing team which is quite different to recording yourself on your laptop at home/office. The presentation has only slides without any interaction with the laptop. Nature of the talk is also not a webinar or a tech talk with hands-on demo but more of an introduction pitch for new tech platforms.

A little background

I joined Huawei in Oct 2019 and currently lead “Partner Engineering” team. A part of my role involves promoting some of the HMS Core platforms and technology at various events. Fast forward to September 2020, I got an opportunity to speak at Huawei’s largest tech conference “HDC.Together 2020”.

This year, the event was planned as a mix of online and offline sessions where on-site activities and exhibitions were organized at Huawei’s Songshan Lake headquarters in China. During this three day event, the company held Keynotes, Tech Talks, and Codelab workshops to make new announcements, organized discussion, and promote exchange between Huawei experts, partners, and developers.

I was asked to present 3 topics as part of the “Tech. Sessions” category for the international audiences. I was pretty excited that we will be announcing platforms that we have been working on for some time now but I was also slightly nervous at the same time. Over the last couple of years, I’ve pushed myself to speak live at various meetups/conferences and learned the hard way how to make myself comfortable about public speaking. But this time it was my first-time experience to do a “pre-recorded” talk in front of the camera instead of an audience.

Embrace the unchartered territory

It is always difficult to do something for the first time because of fear, and lack of experience in that area. It is helpful if you know beforehand what are you getting into.

I can confidently say that anyone prerecording a talk for the first time will find out that it is an entirely different experience compared to giving a live talk on a stage. A few of the reasons include:

  • There is no audience and you can’t connect with them on a personal level
  • There is no luxury to improvise and be spontaneous
  • There’s a camera watching every emotion on your face
  • It can always be re-recorded so there’s a lack of adrenaline
  • Even if the recording can be edited, there will always be pressure to do it right in one go
  • Mistakes will happen and multiple retakes might drain your energy and can frustrate you
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How the setup looks like

To convey my thoughts in an organized manner, I would like to divide my personal observation and learnings into two categories: Preparation and Execution

Preparation

Get familiar with the team

If possible, it would be in your favor to visit the room/studio much earlier where the recording will take place and meet the team.

Usually, the professional recording team will be covering everything like voice, video recording, lights, uploads, and professional makeup. At the end of the day, depending on how many talks and duration of the talks, you will be spending several hours with this team. They can introduce various members, their roles and you can see the setup and ask questions. It definitely helped me in kind of getting onboarded. Even better if you can watch your own colleague recording a talk to get an idea of what it will feel like and what mistakes not to do. Try to give enough time for yourself to settle in and understand the dynamics of the recording.

Get familiar with the environment

If you are like me, you would be seeing a teleprompter for the first time in your life but there’s nothing to be nervous about.

When it comes to the recording equipment, it would look like a big setup with several lights, cameras, special background, and a lot of laptops. But for me as a presenter, the most important element was the camera, screen, and especially the teleprompter. The screen was there to show slides, the teleprompter to show the script for you to read line by line, and the camera was hidden behind the teleprompter.

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Source: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Teleprompter

You would just look into it and deliver your talk and you won’t even notice any camera.

It is there to support you in delivering your talk accurately and professionally.

Get an idea about the process of editing

Any professional video recording is incomplete without the editing effort. The team behind the camera (in a literal sense) was kind enough to explain how editing and post-production would work. Mainly because I was genuinely curious and asking questions but it also helped me in getting more confidence and a sense of the big picture.

I was told not to worry too much about the mistakes and I can start just right from where I get stuck or lose momentum. They will eventually bring the pieces together so parts that went well don’t need to be repeated. Honestly, it was a big relief to hear because imagine repeating a 15 min talk multiple times 😱

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Source: https://youtu.be/w2sn-9HTa1w?t=586

The end result was something like you see in this picture. The content of the script got overlayed as subtitles and the recording of the face and body was added with the slides.

The script is the King

There’s a reason why every drama or film needs a well-written script with exceptional dialogues to aim for leaving a positive mark on the audience.

You need a script becuase that is the backbone of your pre-recorded talk because you will be literally reading your script. Hence, it needs to be taken seriously and a considerable time should be spent on it. Material for your script comes directly from your slides. It is generally recommended to have a written plan before you even filling slides with the content and that plan is like a genesis of your script.

It is obvious that you need to invest a good amount of your time and energy preparing well-crafted slides to convey your message in the best way possible. The expectation is that all the key information has to be covered, as there might be no opportunity to answer the onsite questions from the audience. A key learning was that even though slides were ready from my point of view before I started final version of the script, it wasn’t really ready. As I did more dry runs of the script, I got new ideas about delivering the message. Consequently, I had to change and improve the content of the slides back and forth in order to have a supportive script.

Practice out loud

It is a no-brainer that if you have practiced your script well enough, then you will make fewer mistakes which means fewer retakes.

Try to rehearse in front of the mirror as it gives you a better understanding of your body language and facial expressions which will be prominently noticeable to the audience. Also, teach yourself to keep your talk within the allocated time slot and if it is not fitting then you would need to adjust the length of the script. If you know your script well, you’ll be more confident about the delivery and as a result, you’ll come out as more natural and convincing to your viewers.

Be conscious about the number of talks in one day

I was told that on average the person can do 3 recording repetitions of 10 to 15 minutes presentation.

After that, it is hard to keep the concentration and energy up for a good performance in front of the camera. I gave a maximum of 2 talks in one day and I can tell you that it was a very hectic and exhausting experience.

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Original tweet: https://twitter.com/jesslynnrose/status/1317481415928385541

It can happen that due to logistic reasons, the studio/team is available for only limited days and if you have multiple talks to record then it should be better planned. Also, make sure that there are sufficient time slots that allow speakers to relax, be their best self, and move into recording with the least stress possible, at their own pace.

Execution

Sleep well and come fresh

I understood that the key to a successful recording is the script itself, but only if it is delivered as passionately and as naturally as possible. It will be difficult for you to bring your full energy if you haven’t slept well.

Appearance matters

The overall outlook of a person matters a lot when it comes to leaving a mark of an impression on any audience.

I’m intentionally not commenting on the preference of “dress code/attire” because it depends on several factors but my comments are based on the guidelines received or personal observation.

  • With the dark background, light clothes go best. Avoid wearing black if the background is also black.
  • It is advisable to avoid shining objects that reflect the light.
  • Depending on the scale of the event, there may be a make-up artist present who will take care of all the daily imperfections and ensure you look good on the screen.
  • Avoid any physical activities (cycling, jogging, etc. ) before the recording that would make your skin sweat.

Adjust your speech pace

The reality is that the “teleprompter” defines the speed of your talk.

Initially, It won’t look natural to follow, and feels strange not being in control. But the idea behind is that the whole script needs to go in a flow and a uniform manner.

An administrator handling the script display will set the speed while considering total length, maximum time allotted, and other cues given by the presenter. But in the end, speed has to be of a factor which is manageable and it’s not too slow or too fast. Additionally, feel free to give feedback if some part is too fast so the administrator can adjust manually.

An example of a cue can be a demo video which is shown during the presentation so the duration of the video has to be considered.

Body language has a key role to play

There is a lot at your disposal to make an impact and in the end, it is the way of presentation and the energy that will add soul to the content you are presenting.

Just because there is a camera in front of you instead of the audience doesn’t mean your body language can take a back seat. In fact, in my opinion, it becomes even more important because viewers will be observing much more closely compared to a setup like a stage.

  • Depending on the setup, you might not be allowed to move around and in fact, there might be a spot marked for you to act as a reminder. Use your hands as you would do normally but just be aware of the frame limit.
  • Free your face right at the beginning and don’t forget to put a natural smile where appropriate. For example, when you are introducing yourself.
  • Audience involvement is key but of course, the context will be different. Nevertheless, you can still use this opportunity to engage with them by asking questions or make them think about something to hold their attention.
  • You will have to make eye contact with the camera alone for the whole duration. If you don’t, your viewers will easily notice it while watching the video.

Don’t overthink too much

Don’t try to be perfect and instead, be your natural self and your audience will appreciate it.

I still feel anxious before giving any talk and every occasion almost always gives rise to a mixture of many thoughts and feelings at once. It could be something like fear of Imperfection, Imposter syndrome, or the pressure of doing justice with the topic. But one thing which has always helped me in all past situations is to picture myself delivering the talk with confidence and enthusiasm. It helps a lot.

If this will be a new experience for you like it was for me, probably you will also feel nervous but it only means that you care about giving a good presentation. The start is always hard and then later things usually go in a flow. Just focus on the script and why you are here and ignore the camera, lights, or people around you. Don’t overthink too much. There’s nothing that can’t be fixed in a pre-recorded talk 😃

If you are interested in watching videos of the talks I presented then you can find them here.

I hope it was helpful in some way. I would love to hear your follow up questions or even better if you have something to add based on your own experience. Looking forward to your comments!

Written by

EU Lead Partner Engineering🥑 at Huawei • Growing HMS Ecosystem, one partner at a time • Android, Product, UX • Co-Organizer @DevRelMunich

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