Communicate your vision

How to overcome Impostor Syndrome

Public speaking fear and impostor syndrome

At certain times, all of us doubt our own accomplishments. Since starting out my communication coaching a decade ago, I have carefully listened to hundreds of smart and successful people confide in me their fear of public speaking or a generalized anxiety of speaking up.

One version of this fear and anxiety in public speaking is the so-called Impostor Syndrome. It presents itself in both young and mid-aged professionals. I believe that it affects men and women equally, although more women talk about it. Michelle Obama even admits she had it, in her latest biography called Becoming. A lighter version of the Impostor Syndrome is often found in "generalist" jobs that abound here in Brussels where I live: in policy or public affairs jobs, consultant and communication professions just to name a few.  

It is actually getting more common for professionals to talk about things without being experts. We change jobs often these days (or clients if we are consultants) and this requires us to present an organization and even a sector that we may know little about. I remember working on a “sustainable energy” communication campaign back in 2009.  I was in my late 20s and feeling on top of the world but I didn't have a clue about “sustainable energy”. I had to present the campaign to audiences around Europe, crowds of specialists and enthusiasts on the topic. How did I manage? I just put on a brave face and hoped nobody would find out.

Good communicators are not mythical beings with a talent for bragging. One sign of a good communicator is precisely the ability to be comfortable with talking about things we are not an expert in. The good communicator finds their own unique angle to approach any topic, and highlights what they DO know and think. They learn fast and, what they do learn, they make sure to show. Sometimes they feel fake as well, but they don’t allow that to ruin their chances. They know that “a bit of faking it, is the key to making it”.

So here are my three main tips to deal with Impostor Syndrome, if it ever catches you in its claws:

1. Make sure you are the right person for the job, and if you are not, that , at least, you want to become the right person for the job. This will involve being curious, extending your network and learning everything (relevant) about the new job, organization and sector. Find spring wells where information and knowledge flows abundantly. Then drink from it.

2. Scan the environment of your organisation, team and workplace for any people or situations that may bring you down, criticize or simply make you feel insecure. Stay away. Look for those people and situations that build you up and allow you to grow in your role and confidence.

2.  Use simple coping statements to help you feel better when you are inclined to find fault with yourself. For example:

  • Uh-oh I made a mistake. I have to think ahead!
  • This is new to me, so mistakes are to be expected
  • It’s ok to feel anxious. I just have to concentrate on it not letting it take over.
  • Some situations are going to be harder than others.

In summary, be good to yourself, try harder and learn to cope. Keep smiling. And remember: overcoming Impostor Syndrome is the key to becoming a good communicator.

If you want to learn more and get some training for your team or individual coaching please contact Masha at mt@target-talk.com