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Don’t like how you look or sound on video? Here’s why

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With colleges and universities moving their face-to-face classes online or into a live video format during this Spring 2020 COVID-19 outbreak, some faculty are being forced to confront an unpleasant reality: they don’t like how they sound or look when recorded.

The mere exposure effect

The more we see or hear something, the more—in general—we like it. That is called the mere exposure effect.

Our voice

Because of how the sound of our own voice travels from our throat to our ears, it sounds different in our heads than it does to the people around us. We have spent a lifetime listening to our voices produced that way, and so that is the voice we prefer.

Microphones record our “outside” voice. Microphones pick up the sound of our voice as the people around us hear it.

They like that voice because it’s the one they hear. We hate it because it doesn’t sound like our voice to us. It’s not the one we hear.

Our face

Symmetrical faces are perceived to be more attractive than asymmetrical faces. I hate to be the one to deliver this news, but your face probably is not symmetrical. And I know, speaking as one who does not have a symmetrical face.

We have, again, spent a lifetime looking at our own faces—in a mirror. We much prefer this “mirrored” view of ourselves than we do, say, a photograph of ourselves, you know, the way other people see us.

Try this. Take a photo of yourself. Use your phone’s or computer’s image editing tools to flip the photo to its mirror image. You will probably like the mirrored photograph more than the original—the view of yourself that you see most often. Ask your friends and family which one they prefer. Most often they’ll choose the original photo—the view of yourself that they see most often.

No wonder we hate recording ourselves

Recordings we make of ourselves don’t sound like us, and the view is not one we’re used to seeing. It’s a wonder that anyone ever consents to being recorded.

Keep in mind that any recording you make is not for you. Your recording is—in the case of faculty—for your students. How you look and how you sound matches their reality. While you may not like it, they like matching the sound and face of the real you with the sound and face of the recorded you. And after all, your students are the ones your recordings are for.

Check your recording software for a mirror image setting

While there’s nothing I can do about your voice, some recording/webconferencing tools—like Zoom—include the ability to switch your webcam to mirror image. This feature was designed to better help you make sense of what you’re seeing on camera. In regular webcam view, it’s a challenge to get your stray hair back in place. Your right hand is on the left side of the screen and as you move your right hand toward your left, on the screen your right hand moves to the right. Everything is backwards!

When you enable mirror image, it is just like you are looking in a mirror. Your right hand is on the right. When you move your right hand left, the webcam image of your hand also moves left.

And you know what? Since this is how you see yourself all the time in your bathroom mirror, you’ll like how you look a lot more.

But here’s the extra cool part. While the camera view looks like a mirror to you, it has not changed for your viewers. They will still see you as they would if they were standing in front of you. And that’s also the view that will be recorded. Not the mirror view.

(Shout out to my colleague Eric Baer for showing me this in Zoom!)

Theater vs. television/film

While we are talking about recording yourself, now is a good time to remember that if you have spent most of your career standing in front of a classroom, you are a performer. Like theater-trained actors, you have honed your craft so that your gestures and emotions carry to the back of your classroom.

Many theater-trained actors struggle when they go from the stage to the screen. Television and movie cameras are intimate machines—as are webcams. They are right up in your face, recording every wrinkle and every muscle twitch. Toning down your expressiveness for your webcam recording may not come easily to you.

If you are wildly expressive on camera, don’t worry too much about it. Just know that it’s part of your “stage” presentation style. With practice, you could learn to dial it back, but that’s probably not worth your energy right now. No students are going to be harmed by your exuberance.  

Go record yourself

Go forth. Take a deep breath. And make a recording.

About the Author
At Highline College near Seattle, Sue Frantz is working on her third decade in the psychology college classroom. Throughout her career, she has been an early adopter of new technologies in which she saw pedagogical potential. In 2009, she founded her blog, Technology for Academics. The blog features both new tech tools and tips for using not-so-new tools effectively. She currently serves as Vice President for Resources for APA Division 2: Society for the Teaching of Psychology. In 2013, she was the inaugural recipient of the APA award for Excellence in the Scholarship of Teaching and Learning at a Two-Year College or Campus. In 2016, she received the Charles L. Brewer Distinguished Teaching of Psychology Award. As the newest contributor to the Instructor Resource Manual for the David Myers and Nathan DeWall Introduction to Psychology textbooks, she is excited to bring teaching resources to you in this venue.