Making Unconscious Habits Conscious

Surprised Interviewee

Just prior to Covid, I was media training an author for some on-camera appearances coming up, and we were doing mock interviews. I had a list of questions based on the key messages from her book and we were going through them to see how she handled being in front of the camera. We were both sitting down, recording the conversation which was going well until — all at once — in the middle of a sentence, she leaned down, put her hands on her ankles and just pulled them up her legs all the way back to her sitting position. A few seconds later, she did it again!

Um, I was a little surprised.

So I had the camera operator stop the recording and I asked, “Why did you do that?”

She blinked a couple of times and responded with, “Do what?”

“You just ran your hands up your legs in the middle of doing an interview,” I remarked.

I had the camera operator rewind the segment to about 15 seconds before she did that “thing with her arms,” and played it back for her on screen.

“What?! She was incredulous. “I didn’t do that!”

It’s hard to argue with a recording that is recording you doing exactly that.


I know this seems funny, and it’s hard to believe someone would actually do that, but it is not a conscious act. We are talking about something entirely different here.

Unconscious behaviors.

We all have them, and it’s under stress that they come out and really show themselves. When live on camera, whether it’s on television or on a streaming platform, little tics will show themselves. Maybe not to you if you’re unaware of how your body handles stress, but the audience will see them. It is far better to practice first under some pressure or hot seat conditions and find out what they are so you can make corrections BEFORE the rest of the world sees you.

Let’s take another example

I had a client booked to appear on a fairly high profile morning television program to be interviewed about his book by the two co-hosts. At the time of the live interview, all three of them were sitting on bar stools. Bar stools that swivel. Maybe you can guess where this is going.

The two co-hosts had had plenty of practice sitting in those stools, but not my client. The next thing I knew, in the middle of the interview he was swiveling away and looking anything like the smart, confident expert and PhD that he was. Instead, he looked a little like a 5-year-old who had discovered a cool new chair.

Side note: Personally, I don’t know why the show would have a set like that. Most people are going to have trouble sitting still in that situation anyway, so why give them a very clear opportunity to move around? But they didn’t ask me. And, on another note, I haven’t seen that set for awhile now, so my guess is my client was not the only guest who fell into that unconscious behavior.

You’ve heard me talk about media training before, and this is another reason it’s important to do it. How does your body respond to stress when you’re on a live program? What are your little tics? Because if they’re there, they will come through. When they’re unconscious, we can’t control them, which is why we make them conscious in media training — as challenging as that may be. We want you in charge of yourself. That is always the goal.

When it comes to being in front of the camera, not only do you want to retrain any bad habits, but you also want to come across as the confident, capable person you are, so here are a few other tips toward that end.

Record yourself doing a mock interview and then watch the recording. Notice the following:

Virtual interviews:

  • Is your face looking directly at the camera? It should be. Not only should you be looking at the camera rather than yourself on screen, but your screen should sit up high enough to frame your face well. You shouldn’t be looking up or down, but straight into the camera lens.
  • Watch the head tilt. Too much and it makes you appear unsure.
  • Don’t fidget. Just like your parents used to tell you in church, or wherever, learn to sit still. When nervous, the body wants to move, but a big part of media training is learning to contain that excess movement and actually channeling it into your message.
  • A movement on your face when you’re speaking directly to someone or on a speaker’s platform must be very expressive. But remember, movements on camera are amplified significantly. Raising the eyebrows speaking in front of an audience is one thing. On camera, you have to keep those movements contained and much smaller. On camera, a little goes a long way.
  • Watch the Botox. This is a big one as so many people now are using it to reduce any lines or wrinkles. However, it can make you seem unfriendly, disinterested, and mannequin-like to viewers. Really be careful with this.

In-studio interviews:

  • When we’re back to being in-studio, be sure and watch your feet. Fidgety feet are often the strongest indicator of nervousness, and a good interviewer may pick up on this.
  • Don’t slouch, as doing so can make you appear sloppy, uninterested or lacking in confidence.
  • Don’t stand with most of your weight leaning to one side. This too can make you appear less confident and less steady.
  • Don’t cross your legs and your ankles simultaneously (as some very flexible people do), as it makes you appear insecure.
  • Don’t cross your arms in front of you, as this can make you appear defensive.
  • Don’t play with your jewelry or anything else.
  • Sit and stand straight, but don’t be stiff. There is a difference. Your ears should be aligned above your shoulders. You don’t want your shoulders looking like they’re squeezed up to your ears.
  • Smile when you say hello and goodbye, and when you are talking about positive messages in your book. Some people unconsciously paste a smile on their faces throughout an interview, which is completely inappropriate when discussing some topics.
  • As mentioned above with virtual interviews, watch the Botox when it comes to in-studio interviews too.
  • Before you leave the green room to go into the studio, roll your shoulders back and forth, jump up and down a little, take a few calming breaths and stretch your neck and body. All of these things will help to relax you and keep you out of “fight or flight” mode. By opening and relaxing the body, you should have a stronger, steadier voice, and you should feel and appear more confident.
  • If you tend to fidget, simply cross your ankles.

Bottom line

We all have unconscious habits. The only way to be sure they don’t hurt you when on camera and doing interviews is to train your body to handle stress, tension, and pressure in a different way. This is what media training is all about. Let me know if I can help you with that.

To your success!


P.S. Let’s get it!


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