Lights, Camera, Action! – Videotaping Speeches

“We are our own worst critic.”

“The camera never lies.”

Every time we give a speech in Toastmasters, we receive an official evaluation and feedback from several more people. But can we enhance the evaluation process by watching our own speeches?

HealthToasters has been videotaping speeches for nearly five years. Today I’ll share some of the benefits we’ve received and the best practices that we’ve developed over that time.

In the spring of 2013, the HealthToasters executive committee decided to try an experiment. The club borrowed a member’s video camera and began recording speeches. Would it be helpful? Would it be distracting? We really didn’t know.

Sometime later, the camera owner reclaimed his equipment. The club then needed to decide whether the experiment had been successful enough to warrant purchasing our own camera. We concluded that it was. Since then, we have recorded almost every speech given in our club, although members always have the option of whether or not they want to be recorded. Recently I asked my fellow club members for feedback. The eight members who responded use the videos in different ways, but all said that they were helpful.

Some members watch their videos once. Others watch them several times in order to perform a more detailed analysis. One member watches his videos once after giving a speech and again before giving his next speech.

What do they find? Several members appreciate being able to see things that their evaluator may have missed. One of these members also looks to better understand the points that his evaluators were making and noted that sometimes comments that seemed peculiar during the evaluation have made more sense after reviewing the video. Several members focus on body language, including one who specifically noted not just gestures and movement but also changes in visible confidence and comfort level during the speech.

Several members noted that the videos let us hear how we actually sound, since our own voices always sound different to ourselves than to others. (And I can confirm that other people sound basically the same on video and in real life, so presumably the recording also offers an accurate representation of my own voice.)

Although I opened this article with the saying “we are our own worst critic,” one member observed that sometimes seeing the video lets him see that something that bothered him significantly during the speech actually wasn’t that big a deal.

These positive comments all come with a caveat. Since the beginning of the Toastmasters year, we have recorded fifty-three member videos. Based on website statistics, only half of those videos have been viewed. Some members have chosen not to use the video feedback of their own speeches. This is probably unsurprising, and if at some time in the future they decide that they want to review their speeches, the videos will be there for them.

At HealthToasters, we keep our videography simple. In general, we position the camera so it captures the entire speaking area and just push the record button at the beginning of the speech. The videographer does not follow the speaker around, zoom in, or pan over the audience. Keeping it simple allows us to assign any member to the videographer role, not just those who are skilled with the camera. It also allows speakers to see how they use the whole stage, something that might not be as visible with close-up shots.

There are, of course, cheaper alternatives than purchasing a video camera and tripod. Most obviously, a club member could record video using a cell phone camera. However, this requires more attention from the person recording the video, takes up a lot of storage space on the phone, and will generally produce lower quality output. Cell phones are a good option for recording the occasional speech but probably aren’t the best choice if your club decides to make video recording a standard practice.

To manage our videos, HealthToasters has created a “pseudo-officer” role of video specialist, which I am currently filling. After each meeting, I remove the SD (secure digital) card from the video camera and put a new one into it. I insert the card into my computer and upload the videos to YouTube. I then email each speaker with a link to their video. It’s very simple. The process takes less than fifteen minutes of active effort, although it also takes some time for the videos to upload.

If the members of your club would benefit from being able to review their own speeches,  consider getting a video camera and making this a regular part of your meeting.

Ed Burke
Division J Director, District 6
Toastmasters International
Where Leaders are Made





I am not an expert in video equipment, so I cannot give you the pros and cons of all the products out there, but I can tell you what we use. HealthToasters has a Canon VIXIA HR R600, which currently sells for about $300. There are other cameras in that series that are available for less. We use an Amazon Basics tripod, which works fine for our relatively simple requirements. We do not use an external microphone. A good external mic would improve sound quality, but it would increase the cost and setup requirements. For our purposes, the built-in camera microphone is sufficient.

Internet Video Storage

There are several sites that allow you to upload and share videos. We use the largest and best-known site, YouTube. You may find that another site meets your needs better. Our club has a Google account for this purpose so that the videos do not need to reside in any individual’s account.

YouTube has two security options to maintain the privacy of your videos: unlisted and private. Unlisted videos do not show up in search results or on your list of videos. People can only get to a video if they have a link for that specific video. Private videos have the added security of requiring the video specialist to give access to the specific person who is allowed to see the video. We use the unlisted option, because it provides good security while being less work to maintain. It also allows the speaker to share the link with other people if they desire.

Some Considerations

Storage – You will need a place to store the camera. HealthToasters is fortunate to have secure storage at our meeting site. If you do not have this, then someone will need to store the camera off-site, which will be less convenient.

Power – You will either need to have power available to plug in the video camera (preferably without a power cord being placed where people could trip over it) or else will need to run off of battery power. A fully charged camera battery has more than enough power to record a few speeches, but you will need to charge the battery between meetings. We use an extension cord so that we can place the camera where we want without worrying about battery life.

Instructions – Our camera is simple to use: open the viewfinder and press the record button. But being simple doesn’t necessarily mean that it’s intuitive. After several cases where speeches weren’t recorded properly, we realized that we needed to create written instructions so that new videographers would have a guide to help them.