Fear. It’s the biggest roadblock to leadership.  Whenever there is an opportunity to step out of your comfort zone, your head starts running scenarios of what can and undoubtedly will go wrong.  It’s what’s underneath the Stories We Tell Ourselves.

When I blogged about it in October 2015, I acknowledged that speaking to colleagues, your administrators or in front of parent groups is not the same as teaching students.  You fear you will sound shaky, your knees will wobble, and everyone will know you are a fraud.  Certainly not a leader.

In that blog I was reassuring, pointing out the fear of public speaking is common and surveys have shown people fear it more than death. You don’t have to speak to large groups to become a leader.  There are many quiet avenues to leadership.  All that is true, but the more you become a presence in your school and district, if you step up to volunteer on the state or national level, at some point you will inevitably have to address a large group.

Before discussing strategies for coping with this fear, it might help to become acquainted with what often lies under the fear.  It’s something called The Imposter Syndrome and it mostly strikes high performing people—women more than men.  I have experienced it personally, and I know many of my colleagues who are regarded as leaders have moments when it hits them as well.

The Imposter Syndrome is the voice in your head that says, “What am I doing?  I am such a fraud, and everyone will know it.”  It happens when you get up to speak before colleagues and think, “Everyone knows all this.  Why should they listen to me?”  I heard those words in my head when I started writing books for librarians and thought, “Why would anyone take my advice?  I don’t have a doctorate degree. I have no formal research to back up what I am saying.”

The American Psychological Association in a post described it as it affected graduate students. They offer six ways to deal with it:

  • Talk to Your Mentors – If you don’t have one, speak with a trusted friend about your uncertainties. They will point to your achievements and remind you of why you have reached the place you are now in.
  • Recognize Your Expertise – In addition to what your mentor or friend said, reflect on your journey to this point. Recall what you have learned, the challenges you faced, and the solutions you found.  Others will benefit from your experiences when you share your knowledge.
  • Remember What You Do Well – We all have our strengths. It can be using social media or being ahead of the curve on current with technology. Me, I have learned a lot about leadership and advocacy.  We all have something to offer.
  • Realize No One is Perfect – You may see one of the leading librarians and think I am nowhere as knowledgeable. Yet that same leader has undoubtedly felt the Imposter Syndrome at time. As someone once said, “Don’t judge your insides by someone else’s outsides.”
  • Change Your Thinking – Your mindset controls much of your actions and behaviors. Remember, “If you think you can or you think you can’t –You are right!” Reframe how you are approaching the public speaking experience.  The audience wants to hear what you have to say.  If they didn’t, they wouldn’t be there.
  • Talk to Someone Who Can HelpThey recommend speaking with a therapist if the Imposter Syndrome is crippling, but I believe if you start small – doing a professional development workshop for your teachers or talking to a parent group, you can become more confident and trust that the Imposter Syndrome is just background noise you need to tune out.

But how do you deal with the basic fears you have about public speaking? There are loads of websites with advice on how to deal with it, further proof you are not alone.  Here are my tips:

Know Your Audience – In preparing your talk, consider what your audience already knows.  What do they need to know about the topic?  You neither want to overwhelm them with information above their heads nor do you want to talk down to them.  Think about how you prepare a lesson for your students. You always know where they are and where you want to take them next.

Rehearse Your Speech.  Don’t memorize it.  You will panic if you forget a line. PowerPoint presentations help keep you on track.  Don’t use text heavy slides, they overwhelm everyone. I mostly use only a few words to highlight the point I am making.  I also have notes for each slide, but I allow myself to digress and add comments that strike me in the moment.

Be Personal. As appropriate, share your personal experiences.  It’s an extension of your relationship building.  By letting them know who you are, they are more accepting of what you are saying.  Think of it as a variation on “They don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care.”  I have let my various audiences know about my failures as well as my successes.

Arrive Early – You need time to breathe. Check the layout of the room.  Make sure any equipment you need is set up and working – including internet connections.  Greet those who are there.  This means you won’t be speaking to strangers. They will be rooting for you.

About That Shaky Voice – Once you are past your opening, it will disappear.  And your audience never knows you are that nervous.  Have some water nearby.  Take a drink now and then.  I have had people fall asleep.  I tell myself it isn’t me – they were tired before they got there.

What’s been your experience with public speaking? Are you afraid of it?  Do you have the Imposter Syndrome at times?  When does it show up?


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