Believing We’re Not Phonies

One of the biggest misconceptions we have about public speaking is that it is reserved for experts. That belief is supported by the idea that anyone who attempts public speaking who isn’t an expert, an influencer, or a celebrity should be prepared for impending doom and disaster. If you’re not the best of the best already, don’t even bother. This fear-mongering perspective sets us up for our own demise. It builds a nasty mindset: if I can’t be perfect, then I shouldn’t try public speaking. In the world of public speaking, experts might be seen as keynote speakers at conferences as well as members of the National Speakers Association, TEDx talkers, podcast mavens, or social media influencers with a lot of followers. By believing that we have to be highly paid keynote speakers right off the bat, we have defeated ourselves before we even begin.

Imposter syndrome is our belief that we’re fooling the world and will be found out. Another thing that works against us is backfiring. Like Imposter syndrome, we’re comparing ourselves to other people in a harmful way. We look to experts, to define the only way to be successful. We believe that if we’re not doing their craft like them, it probably isn’t worthy. We’re not worthy. With public speaking, we may look toward people we see giving keynotes for £20,000 a pop. Maybe we look at performers who fill a stadium to perform effortlessly in front of thousands of fans. But that’s not reality. It’s not helpful to look at packed conference centers and platinum albums as the only way to achieve success.

More than looking to experts, it’s important for us to see everyday examples of public speaking in the people all around us. Think about ministers, podcast hosts, or your confident coworker who presents so well in meetings. Consider your favorite college professor, the friendly server you recently had a restaurant, or the attractive swagger in a kind and present date. We can look at the people we admire as “experts” in the everyday banter, small talk, and self-presentation that we all must do. Experts can give us pinnacle examples of how to do something, but use your next-door neighbors as attainable, perfectly wonderful examples that you can emulate. 

Looking toward experts as examples of powerful public speakers can be helpful when we look for the specifics of what they do well. We can pick out things that we like about their style: their delivery, their tone, how they connect with an audience. But when we look toward experts as the only way to do something, it can really backfire. You’re not going to Gary Vanderchuk your business on day one, or Oprah Winfrey your career year immediately. Most of the time, someone is an expert because they have put in grueling hours of time and effort, have experienced many failures, and have learned from experts who came before them. We have the tendency to consider celebrities and influencers as “overnight successes” when, in reality, they had been chipping away at their passion for years before their time arrived.

What is it, then, that we are seeking when we look toward experts? Their ability to know their content and be the master of their domain? Their confidence? Their charisma? Or is it their status, and where they’ve landed in life? I think what we perceive in proficient and confident presenters is that they’re okay with themselves. They may or may not be, but we want what’s underneath their words: we crave their level of comfort. We want to be able to talk about our passion, ourselves—whatever it is—with fluidity, clarity, and ease.

In reality, we’re surrounded by a community of people who share our fear (and remember, fear is often just telling us to pay attention. That’s a good thing). Also keep in mind that fun little fact that the fear of public speaking and the fear of failure are on equal playing fields—meaning, they are considered two of the most debilitating fears for all adults. If that’s the case, statistically speaking, you’re in good company! So, realize that you’re connected to something greater, a normalizing force that others are feeling, too.