Avoid verbal, vocal, and visual mistakes in #videoessays and #interviews

How to avoid the three most common types of #videoessay mistakes – verbal, vocal, and visual 

How can you utilize video to stand out from other applicants? I created my YouTube account in 2008. Still, it took me until 2012, four years, to figure out how to use video to differentiate myself from other admissions consultants. You don't have four years. How can you use video to stand out now? 

First, please understand why schools want to see your video. 

Why do schools ask for videos?

As with written essays, schools ask for video responses because they want to get to know you. The schools are seeking to see how you present yourself visually and with little time to prepare or polish answers. They are testing articulation and presence in a way that essays can’t and at much less expense than interviews. In that sense, these videos are a pre-interview screening device in addition to a way to learn more about your likes and dislikes, achievements, dreams, goals, and challenges. Schools want to accept students who reflect well on them. 

How to avoid the three most common types of video essay mistakes 

1. Verbal mistakes (what you say)

(7% impact)

2. Vocal mistakes (how you say it)

(38% impact) 

3. Visual mistakes (what you look like)

(55% impact)

Understand your impact 

I recently came across a study that claims that what you say (verbal communication) only accounts for 7% of the impact of your message. Your tone of voice (vocal communication) accounts for 38% of your impact. Perhaps most surprisingly, your visual communication (non-verbal physical behavior) conveys 55% of your impact. While I cannot verify these statistics, I do know that what we say is often less important than how we say it. Others do not always perceive us the way we wish to be perceived

(found at https://books.google.co.jp/books?id=bZbPjMPec1kC&pg=PA13; accessed 2015/10)

1. Verbal mistakes (what you say)

(7% impact)

Vague answer


Describe a unique perspective, skill set, or life experience you have. Articulate how it might benefit your classmates, enhance discourse in the classroom, and/or contribute to our school community.


Unorganized answer 


Describe a unique perspective, skill set, or life experience you have. Articulate how it might benefit your classmates, enhance discourse in the classroom, and/or contribute to our school community.


Unprofessional tone

Avoid slang or profanity 


Negative first impression – is your opening warm, classy, and engaging? 

Always introduce yourself – opening (name and location) and closing (thank you)

Compare early VincePrep videos and more recent ones


Abrupt closing

Say something like, "Thank you for watching this video. I hope to see you on campus."

2. Vocal mistakes (how you say it)

(38% impact) 

Do you sound articulate?  

Minimize verbal junk

What is verbal junk?

Verbal junk includes "umm," and "uh"

Why do we use verbal junk? 

We sometimes make noises to fill the silence as we think

This verbal mitake happens when are are unprepared 

Why is verbal junk problematic: too many "umms" and "uhs" detract from presence. We sound unprofessional. We appear to lack confidence 

Solution: think for a few seconds before you reply and then minimize pauses that we tend to fill with “umms” and “uhs”


Are you too quiet? – we cannot hear you 

Be sure your room is quiet and you are loud (but not too loud)


Are you too loud? 

Your voice sounds distorted, like a singer in a punk or metal band

If you can see the sound wave of voice in an audio recording software, you want to be just slightly in the red zone 


Are you speaking too fast? – we cannot follow your ideas 

We often speed up when unprepared 


Is it possible to speak too slow? 

Speak as slowly as you can (show Mr. Aluminum sample)


Describe a unique perspective, skill set, or life experience you have. Articulate how it might benefit your classmates, enhance discourse in the classroom, and/or contribute to our school community.

3. Visual mistakes (what you look like)

(55% impact)

According to psychologists, visual communication (what you look like) accounts for more than half of the impact of your message. Is your presence weak or unconvincing? Is your physical appearance unprofessional? Are your hand gestures natural? Are you making eye contact? How are your facial expressions? Are you recording your video in the best location, with proper lighting? Is your camera placed at eye level?

Is your presence weak or unconvincing? – we cannot believe you  

You look scared, not confident 


Is your physical appearance unprofessional? – would we want to hire you?   

Dress neatly, as you would at a job interview 

Follow any dress guidelines the school provides

Women, put on light make-up and minimal jewelry. If you wonder if your attire is too revealing, it is

Men, get a haircut and shave. Trim that beard or mustache, if you have one

Never let them see you sweat

Max the AC in the room where you will record but turn off all AC / fans when recording to avoid hum

Your video is only one minute; you should be able to finish your recording before the temperature starts climbing 

Bad posture – you look scared and small 

Sit up straight and lean a little bit forward


Unnatural hand gestures – are you using your hands to emphasize your main points? Do you look like you are drowning? 

Keep your hands in neutral position 

Practice using them to emphasize certain points 


Weak or inconsistent eye contact  – you are not sure where to look

The little green dot is your best friend


Too much (or too little) breathing – you sound out-of-breath, and/or I can hear your exhalations 

Remember to breathe naturally


Wrong facial expression – do you look like you are in pain? 

Remember to smile

I know it is awkward speaking to a machine

When I record VincePrep videos, I put a photo of someone who makes me smile just above my computer’s camera


Wrong location – we can see your dirty laundry 

What is a good background? Also, check continuity (a viewer of one of my HBS videos noticed the Stanford alumni directory on my bookshelf)


Wrong lighting – we cannot see your face 


Grab every portable light in your apartment / office and flood your face with light. You will feel strange, but look GREAT for your audience


Have the window in front of you, not behind you 


Wrong camera placement  – we are looking up your nose 

Place the camera at eye level

If you are using a laptop to record your video, put it on top of some large books

How to practice 

When I first starting making VincePrep videos, I found the experience very unnatural. I hope I’ve improved with practice. You can too.

If you feel quite nervous about the video exercise or about speaking in public, consider joining Toastmasters and forcing yourself to speak publicly. You will improve your “presence” and gain confidence. Hopefully, you are reading this blog post months before you need to record your admissions video. If not, then please follow the steps below to practice with the time you have. 

When recording your sample, put yourself in the exact setup you plan to use for the real thing. 

Practice questions

What are some typical questions you can practice now? While you may not be able to prepare for a specific question, you definitely can and should prepare. Practice answering sample questions in 60 seconds or less. Then view the video. Did you avoid the verbal, vocal and visual mistakes listed above in this post? Once you have recorded a video that represents your best effort, contact your Agos Admissions Consultant to arrange a one-to-one session. Be sure to share your video as "unlisted" and include the URL in your email to your consultant.  Here are a few sample questions to get you started:











The real thing

Expect the worst. Our clients have reported system malfunctions and delays. 

How to share your video  

Send your Agos Admissions Consultant the link to your video. Be sure to make the video "unlisted," not "private." Please upload your video to YouTube. We recommend that you use the "Unlisted Video" setting so that only individuals who have the URL can view it. Only those who you send the link to will be able to view it. It isn't searchable. It won't be password protected but the only way it can be shared is if someone posts/shares the link applicants send, which we obviously won't be doing. Please click this link to learn more about creating “Unlisted” videos in YouTube: http://support.google.com/youtube/bin/answer.py?hl=en&answer=181547   

Bottom line

The biggest mistake is simply not making a video. This video is an opportunity. Take it and make the most of it

Vince Critiques his own sample videos

What was well done, and what could be improved? Check the changes across four versions of my Columbia Business School essay tips recorded from 2012 to 2015. 

First attempt (Jul 2012)

Link ▸ https://youtu.be/tR5uKrfX-8E

Well done

▸ Original analysis (good content)


Could be improved

▸ Very long (one hour!)

Bad body language 

learning back in chair

touching face

not smiling 

Second attempt (Jun 2013)

Link ▸ https://youtu.be/PTcaniPIC0o

Well done

▸ Clear content, well structured

Could be improved

▸ Monotone (I sound low energy)

▸ Not smiling 

▸ Not well lit 

▸ Noise in the background (low grade hum probably caused by the AC unit running while I recorded the video)

Third attempt (June 2014)

Link ▸ https://youtu.be/LurfX3xpXpM

Well done

 ▸ Clear content, well-structured

 ▸ Personal insights combined with school-specific data points 

Could be improved

 ▸ Less monotone than second attempt from 2013 but still some awkward pauses

 ▸ Strange lighting and echo (shot at friend's apartment, not an ideal set up)

Fourth attempt (June 2015)

Link ▸ https://youtu.be/jWQCDunkfzE

Well done

 ▸ Higher production value (opening music, titles) 

 ▸ Clear content, well-structured

 ▸ Vocal delivery sounds relatively natural, especially when compared to 2012 and 2013 videos

Could be improved

 ▸ Audio inconsistent between opening theme music and Vince's spoken words

 ▸ Text on screen hard to read

 ▸ Could have created some visual aids to demonstrate key points 

Information is subject to change. Please verify all data with the schools.