In Part 4 of this overcoming communication and public speaking anxieties, we talked about how a subconscious sense of over-responsibility can add unwanted stress especially when the stakes feel high. I mentioned that experts are often facing this fear before speaking. Today, we’re going to discuss another underlying stressor: Imposter Syndrome.

I’m convinced that everyone has a bit of this that gets triggered at one time or another and sometimes chronically. The underlying fear is that you don’t know enough to make your claims and that you’ll either say the wrong thing and negatively impact others or be found out.

This can come into play whether you are a born expert or not. By this I mean, some speakers are talented “bridges” who are able to relay information from expert to decision-maker (company, policy-maker, judge, etc.) They are not the expert, though. And, since they aren’t an engineer or scientist, the subconscious sometimes believes they aren’t legitimate or worthy of the role they are playing. (And, sometimes experts don’t “believe” subconsciously they are experts as well. That’s another subject briefly addressed below.)

Although this is not entirely a presentation example, it clarifies what I mean by bridges. Fidelity Investments loves to hire “non-financial” types who are good communicators for their customer service representatives and client presenters and train them on the financial side of the business. I know because I was one of them (first job out of college; English major, student government leader; historically avoided anything related to finances).

Being a “non-financial” type, helped me to relate to the customers. My process of learning the financial side led me to craft a language I could use with them.  I didn’t care anything about being a fund manager or expert-knowing the details and understanding the market at that level was of no interest.

Meanwhile, a fund manager or other expert is typically more passionate about those details and decisions (actually managing the fund) and less interested, understanding, and patient with customers. It comes so naturally to them that it’s hard to slow down and explain the details in lay terms. (Like the Calculus V teacher I had in college who attempted to teach pre-calculus but missed a bunch of steps.)

Litigators are another example of bridges-sure, some gain expertise in a certain area of the law, but typically with each new case, there is more to learn. Being able to confidently bring yourself up to speed and to draw information out of experts is key.

If the subconscious is questioning whether this is enough to be of value, though, you will be anxious and stressed. You can also apply this to policy experts who have to team up with scientists, doctors, engineers, economists, etc.

Note: This is not intending to say all born experts are worse at teaching or communicating. It’s just to point out that everyone is passionate about and good at different things, and there’s a reason why companies often hire non-technical experts to be the client-front person. Some people are experts at relating to people and communicating. (Sometimes, you are both an expert and a communicator.)

Here’s the key: Your role as a bridge is just as legitimate. Your gift is creatively responding to your audience and confidently knowing when to table or defer a question that requires more detailed expertise. Often times, teaming up the two types allows for an easier exchange because one can be a translator while the other can fill in the missing blanks.

Technical experts often also experience imposter syndrome, even though they have a gift that comes easily to them.

  • We often unwittingly “learn” in school that only hard work is valuable; yet, when using your gifts, the work is easy and even more valuable.
  • Training your subconscious to trust your expertise gift and releasing any residual fears of failure and/or of not working hard enough (left from the time when you were graded in school) is key. 

This is super easy to do with a process called Bridgenosis. If you want to learn more about imposter syndrome and how to easily overcome it, check out this video.