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  • Writer's pictureCharles Golding

Presenting with Imposter Syndrome

I've been coaching and training for decades - but never heard of this..

This week I was asked by LinkedIn to join a group ‘of top experts’ to contribute a few articles on the subject of “How can you overcome imposter syndrome when presenting?” Feeling a little Groucho Marx-like about not wanting to join a club that would have me as a member, I wondered how I’d been selected. In any event I went ahead and wrote about 1300 words under six headings that they’d given us.

Imagine my horror having written six little pieces, when I went to slot them into the right areas, only to discover that the maximum size was 750 - characters! So rather than waste last the few hours, I thought I’d post it here. Be interested in your feedback and grateful if you’d share it!

1.      Acknowledge your feelings

The older I get, the more I realise that my late father was right about so many things. “The trouble with your generation is you think too much without getting on with what you’re meant to be doing”. He’d tell me that when you had to do something, obviously think about it before you start, and only then, afterwards, do your post-mortem, that was the key. Focus on what the task is, in this case, presenting. I have spent the best part of 40 years being a presenter, someone who presented on television, radio, at webinars and conferences. I took his advice. First make sure you know what you’re going to say, who you’re saying it to, and what you want to achieve by saying it. I admit that’s a bit simplistic but it’s always worked for me and my clients. I had to look up ‘imposter syndrome’; I admit I hadn’t heard of it before. According to the psychologists it’s a cycle of behaviour including six elements; perfectionism; super-heroism; atychiphobia (the fear of failing); denial of competence and; achievementphobia.

'No fancy words. No psychobabble. Just my practical experience'

I have a horrible feeling that this really isn’t a syndrome like other syndromes at all, but an amorphous group of words trying to describe why your heart beats fast, your tongue and mouth become dry, you start to shiver a little and your mind can’t focus when you’re about to address a room full of people or a zoom meeting of 20 faces staring back at you. So I’m going to try and answer every one of the titles that have been written out here, namely, how can you overcome “imposter syndrome” when presenting. No fancy words. No psychobabble. Just my practical experience having dealt with hundreds of clients over the years, and presented myself on almost every media and event. From wedding speeches, job interviews and internal board reviews to infinity and beyond.


2.      Challenge your thoughts

Being master of your subject is the thing. It’s not everything, since speaking in public involves so many different elements from how you dress, how you stand, how you move your arms and legs, hands and fingers to how you sound. But it’s the game changer. Get it right, and you’re half-way there. Too quiet, loud, too fast, too slow, too intellectual, too illogical and the list goes on. Presenting as I’m sure you know is all about confidence. Challenging your thoughts before you go to speak is probably in my opinion the worst thing you can do. You need to focus on who you’re talking to and what you wish to achieve. Is it an internal departmental meeting, heads of staff, a board presentation? Is it an external meeting, a conference a one-on-one virtual presentation or an in-person talk. Then you need to tailor your replies to that audience. It sounds that simple because it is. People want to understand you, so you have to learn how to help them. Knowing what you want to say and understanding your message is also key.

ensure your tongue is armed with the right ammunition

I was told once by a famous columnist and TV presenter that you should always write what you’re going to say as you wish to say it. Then go away and have a cup of tea. Then come back, and reduce it by two thirds. What you will be left with is the distilled essence of what you wanted to say. Finally, think about what you don’t want to say and practice your answers. Most people don’t do this and are often shocked when there asked difficult or awkward questions. It’s one of my specialisations. Journalists for example, haven’t come to take notes of your public relations exercise. Make sure you have something new, inviting, engaging, or just plain interesting that hasn’t been written before and isn’t known. Equally make sure you identify and understand your difficult areas and your responses. Often ignored but incredibly important is the preparation you make before you speak. As Disraeli wrote in one of his novels “before engaging on a verbal battle ensure your tongue is armed with the right ammunition”. Although this is not a battle, answering awkward questions might feel like it.


3.      Focus on your value

As I’ve written above in number two, I do not believe focusing on your value will in any way help you when you’re making a speech or presentation, especially if you’re suffering from “imposter syndrome”. Your true confidence comes with knowing that you can do it, and do it well. And that only comes with learning how to do it and preparing yourself. Every human life has value. Your value is not defined by how well you give a speech. Your value to the company may well be defined as what you may add financially, professionally or socially in terms of your talents. But your true value lies with how you are as a person. But focusing on your value is something you can do on a train journey perhaps, or while you’re out in the country on a long walk. See number three prepare and practice, for further advice.


4.      Prepare and practice

It sounds funny to start something on practice by telling you not to over practice, but it’s important. Practice by all means until you know approximately what you’re going to say and how you’re going to say it. But do not over practice. Do not spend your evenings looking at playback videos. I’ve only met one presenter in my entire life who was happy with their performance; that includes Members of Parliament, actors, other broadcasting professionals and people who see themselves on a smartphone video. It’s best to practice in front of a mirror. When your confidence is high, only then get somebody to video your live performance and look at that. If you look at what you’re doing on your own phone with no audience, it will do you no good, as it’s not the real thing.

do not spend your evenings looking at playback videos

Your preparation before you speak should include working out if you’re talking person to persons, or on screen like Zoom, Teams or even Skype if people still use it! There are technical ways you can improve your presenting like adjusting how you line up your laptop for a meeting, what you do with your notes if it’s live and choosing your broadcasting space. There are too many things to be able to tell you here, but they loosely divided into things to do when you deliver your speech or presentation, things to avoid, and general advice on what to wear, where to look, Inclusive gestures and many more.


5.      Celebrate and reward

Again reverting to the question “How can you overcome imposter syndrome when presenting?”, I see no place for celebration or reward in this. As cliché as it sounds, your true reward for giving an engaging, confident, exciting, challenging speech is knowing firstly that what you did was first class. Your output was exactly what you wanted it to be. Then after listening to people you trust, whose opinion you value, decide how you did. Make sure they don’t work for you because that is fairly pointless. (Of course, boss, you were wonderful). Use feedback and find out what others thought and if you agree with them, tailor your next beach accordingly. Your real reward for giving a great presentation will be your success that you achieved your intended outcome.


6.      Here’s what else to consider

Hopefully you will have read my other comments above, so you will understand when I say in summary that the trick is; to write a good presentation; to deliver it properly, making sure that your delivery does not interfere with your message but enhances it and; knowing that you have done your confident best. Whilst some may dismiss my views as simplistic, having been on both sides of the microphone, TV camera and newspaper, I know it works. Not all people who speak to groups of other people have had training in presentation or media. But most have. It’s a skill like any other skill and you can learn it.

The final thought I’d like to leave you with is, remember! It’s only a presentation!

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