Power Strategies for fighting Imposter Syndrome

We are all familiar with imposter syndrome — that feeling of exposed inadequacy, although we really do know our stuff. Whether the potential exposure happens in front of one person or many observers, it is a public thing. And the biggest “I don’t know what I’m talking about” moments often happen when we’re public speaking. By the way, business meetings, presentations, sales calls and even job interviews are all forms of public speaking. You can see that imposter syndrome has many opportunities to sabotage you. You can do something about it.


Inevitable Feelings

The reason that public speaking makes us so vulnerable to the imposter feeling is because of the real forces that are ever-present. Everyone is certainly familiar with what triggers imposter feelings. Most would describe it as an overwhelming sense of being judged. But that sense of judgment is triggered by a force even more powerful when we’re public speaking — the energy of attention. I can not stress enough that the energy of attention is real. We know this because we all feel it. No one is immune. Even in a one-on-one conversation, you can feel the energy of your listener’s attention. Add more listeners, and that feeling gets that much stronger. Those speakers who appear to be unaffected have simply learned to habituate with what is ever-present. It’s like the weather; you can’t change it, so you have to deal with it.


Recognize The Trap

Public speaking is a setup; it’s a trap that’s far too easy to walk into. The problem is that you often don’t have a choice. The best way to promote yourself and your ideas in business is by public speaking. It might also simply be an obligation of your job. Since it is inevitable, public speaking is the perfect breeding ground for feelings of anxiety, perfectionism, self-doubt and fear of failure.


The trap is set in the first twenty seconds of you stepping into the spotlight. The sudden “vacuum of silence” is eerily quiet, and so is the realization that no one else is responsible for what happens next but you. This can make even the highest level of preparation fly right out the window. It also holds the door wide open for the imposter feelings to come in.

It is true that you wouldn’t have been asked to present your perspective if you didn’t have a level of expertise and experience worth listening to. However, simply reminding yourself that you’re “good enough” won’t cut it, because the energy of attention is relentless. It also doesn’t care if you happened to have a good day the last time. With all of this running through your awareness in that opening moment, you have to rely on your body to pull you through.


Get Physical

You have to establish who you are right at the beginning of your presentation, not with credentials or information, but with behavior. It is essential that you memorize your first sentence and deliver it looking to one side of the room and then to the other. Take an initial, deliberate breath and gesture as you deliver this opening. To everyone listening, this behavior will lend gravitas and personal importance to whatever it is you’re saying. What’s more important is that you will feel like you’re grounded in your body. This grounded feeling will also come through in your voice, giving you the vocal presence of someone who is driving the bus. It doesn’t hurt that over 50% of your message is actually conveyed through your body language. In reality, adjusting your behavior benefits you more than it does your listeners. This consistent approach to public speaking will help you hold imposter syndrome at bay.


Dont Play Doctor

Nothing good comes from trying to take the temperature of everyone in the room. Waiting for your audience to give you obvious positive responses puts you in a very reactionary position. I challenge anyone to be able to tell the difference between someone listening closely and someone judging you negatively. No one can do it, so don’t bother.


Make It A Habit

Remember that everyone is vulnerable to the feeling of being an imposter when they get up to speak. Don’t wait for those crucial moments to be your personal testing ground. Imposter syndrome can not compete with muscle memory. Practice deliberate breathing, gesturing and inclusive eye contact as you prepare for a presentation or a meeting. Don’t be satisfied with playing a good game in your head; there’s too much going on in there, anyway. Be aware that your body language can and will rescue you, if you let it. Don’t let imposter syndrome own you when you’re public speaking; change your behavior, and you will change the way you feel.

Paul Geiger
Paul Geiger, president of Public Speaking Advantage, has spent the past decade specializing in effective business communications. He has consulted with over 3000 executives, helping them improve their clarity and delivery when under pressure. Companies like Viacom, Google, Citi, Twitter, Bloomberg, NBC News, and Nasdaq turn to Paul and his Public Speaking Advantage as their public speaking insurance policy. #BetterBusinessSpeech #SpeakingTips2Go #PSACoach