Do You Feel Like an Imposter When Presenting Something?
The importance of preparing for your presentations to boost your confidence and control your nerves
When it comes to feeling like a fraud or an imposter in front of an audience, I think I had my fair share of that feeling. I think all of us felt that way at some point. Many high-achieving professionals struggle with the imposter syndrome when presenting their work.
What you need to know is that it’s not personal and it’s nothing to do with your performance or level of expertise. It’s an internal monologue that makes you feel as though you don’t belong and that you’ll be exposed in front of everyone! It’s not a secret. Everyone is terrified of presentations to an extent — some of us more than others. Some of the very seasoned speakers still get nervous when they speak publicly.
I used to get nervous every time I was about to go on stage, even virtually, no matter how familiar I was with the audience. The worst thing I did to myself was to ignore it and deny it. Unfortunately, that has solved nobody’s problem in the past.
Even though most of us know that we suffer from it, it still feels crippling. We all know that if we’re not able to present ourselves and our work, we may not be able to follow our dreams and achieve success.
To combat the fear of presenting publicly, I followed this approach and it has worked for me very well. The first thing you need to do is ask yourself this question:
Why do I sometimes feel like a fraud?
We mostly feel the pains of the imposter syndrome before a big event or when we compare ourselves to others. We start doubting our own abilities. Our thoughts are not crazy thoughts; they’re mostly irrational.
- Why is what I am saying more important than what other people said?
- Am I really an expert in this subject?
- Are people going to listen to what I am about to say?
- Does anything I say have any value?
Unfortunately, there isn’t one particular reason why most people experience these thoughts. However, I find it important that people understand where they’re coming from. For example, most people are scared of failure or looking silly in front of others. At other times, they’re conscious of wasting people’s time and not bringing any value.
How can you address the imposter syndrome when presenting?
Overcoming the nerves when presenting can be as simple as taking a deep breath and getting out of your own head. It can, however, involve some exercises before, during, and after every presentation. In many cases, you might have to practice and fail then learn from your own mistakes to get better at it. Consider the following ways to work through your fear:
(1) Use the right body language
With most of us working from home, it’s really hard for us to use our body language to our advantage. The audience is surrounded by an endless amount of visual stimuli that it’s becoming harder to get their attention. I found that sitting straight or standing up makes your voice much more deeper and grounded. I’ve also been told that if you’re presenting, make sure your feet are touching the floor. It makes your voice much more powerful and attractive to your audience.
(2) Observe and learn but don’t compare
I have to admit; it hard to not compare ourselves to others. We do that because we are looking for a frame of reference. However, oftentimes, this turns into an apples-to-oranges situation. Everyone’s personal experience and intuition is unique to them. Your comparison will likely be inaccurate. So, instead of trying to benchmark, try to observe and learn from others. Look at other people more objectively in terms of their strengths and weakness. Whenever possible, try to imitate the people who are great at presenting and do better at one thing at a time. Before you become a leader, remember to be a follower! Read more about the importance of imitation in doing creative work in this article.
The Creative Curve of Presentations
Anyone can craft good presentations if they follow this four-step process
(3) Remember what you bring to the table
Is there a way you can sum up all your knowledge, experiences, and accomplishments and tally them? I know that most of us create resumes to apply for a job or to present themselves to others; however, I took it upon myself to remind myself of what I know and what I am passionate about. Consider putting more information about yourself on LinkedIn and whenever you’re doubting yourself, look back at what you’ve achieved and remember the great things you did that put you in that position. If the source of your fear is that you’re new to the area you’re presenting about, remember that nobody was born a pro and we were all newbies at some point.
(4) Practice. Practice. Practice more!
I can’t emphasize this enough. If there’s anything I want you to take away from this, is that you have to practice. It takes a lot of effort for something to look effortless. It takes a lot of work to stand up in front of people and present the topic at hand. The best way to overcome the fear of presenting is to practice presentations. What’s holding most people back is the fear of failure. So, if you fail and make mistakes, you’ve successfully beat fear at its own game!
(5) Learn about the topic as much as possible
There are two things you need to remember about learning the topic you’re presenting: (1) you might be an expert in the topic but you’re experiencing the curse of knowledge, or (2) you haven’t learned enough about it and you’re scared that people might find you out and call you out on it. What do you do in this case?
I find it very useful to go back to the basics of the knowledge and experiences and try to explain it to someone who knows very little about it. One of the keys to being confident while presenting is to prepare for the topic and read as much as you can before your presentation. There is no shame in telling people that you do not have the answer to a certain question and that you need to do more research before you can answer them.
(6) Use visual aids
There’s a reason why people are so obsessed with presentation slides. Most people rely on presentation decks as visual aids. I think they are great at helping people organize their thoughts and structure their presentations in a meaningful way.
(7) Remember to have fun.
Someone once told me that the more you enjoy the presentations, the better the experience you provide to your audience is. We all make mistakes. Most people are forgiving because they can relate to how you feel. Before you even start to think of what you’re going to present, think of how fun it would be to talk about something you’ve been building or working on. Be grateful that you’ve been given the opportunity to speak stage. People have dedicated time in their day to listen to you and talk to you. Even when you think, “I could’ve done better”, you should know that you’ve got this!
What’s missing in the way we learn to present?
Most of us out there in the world never received a professional training before starting to present professionally. Even though presentations are not just for the workplace, we were mostly self-taught. Nobody told us how to create a deck of slides. I, for the most part, experimented before starting to educate myself.
Unfortunately, not all of us can afford coaching just as not everyone can afford a career coach or a life coach. Instead, we experiment on our own. That itself leads to amplifying certain voices in our heads that tell us that we’re not as smart as other people think. We lack the validation of an expert. My advice for you is to search for online content by experts in the field to get a better perspective.
You are more than you think
I realized after many months of practice that we all suffer from the same self-doubting thoughts. The advice I can offer you is:
Constantly remind yourself of where you started from and how far you’ve come. We tend to forget the progress we made to get where we are. If you’re still new to the field of public speaking, remember that nobody was born a pro and we all need to practice to get there. The more I practice public speaking, the more I realize that learning to speak in public is a critical skill in life and business and we should all learn to get better at it.
Good is always better than perfect
Perfection is not something you acquire by experience. People with expertise are not perfect and they don’t seek perfection. They seek to provide value to other people.
“Lower your standards of perfection. You don’t have to attain perfection to be worthy of the success you’ve achieved. If you continually set the bar at a level of perfection, you will always feel disappointed. Set the bar at a realistic level so that you don’t always fall short.” — Lauren Feiner, PsyD