Combating Imposter Syndrome

October 2022
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Picture this: it’s the night before a new business pitch to a prospective client, or you’re burning the midnight oil trying to make the presentation just perfect for your client-side executive. 

You’re exhausted, and your team is exhausted, but you know you just have to make this perfect (however “perfect” is defined).

Fast forward to the next day, when you’re in the physical or virtual room with your prospective client or executive. The energy is low. There’s no pacing. The delivery is off. 

The feedback after the presentation isn’t great. You didn’t get the business or didn’t get the sign-off on the project. 

As you reflect, do you focus on the output specifically? The words used in the presentation? How clean the slides look? The order?

While those could be the issues, I suggest you consider the three hours of sleep you had instead. The inability to discuss with your team how you will present the materials. The lack of cohesion and chemistry you have with your colleagues. How confident do you and your team appear in delivering the material?

Experiencing self-doubt

We forgo considering these reasons because we’re so focused on the output and often to our detriment. And that’s because of “Imposter Syndrome,” a psychological feeling of self-doubt and “not being enough.” 

Data shows 70% of us have experienced imposter syndrome in our careers. Even if you don’t consider yourself to have imposter syndrome, you work with someone who does. 

Experiencing imposter syndrome can significantly impact our well-being, which flows to the team. 

Recently, I hosted a workshop on this topic with nearly 300 PR professionals. More than 80% of them identified as “the perfectionist,” one of five different personas of imposter syndrome (along with the super person, natural genius, soloist and expert). 

How this relates to public relations: Perfectionists can be perceived as micromanagers, have challenges delegating, and feel their work is never “final.” Sound familiar?

One example I’ve witnessed during my career is preparing a request for proposal (RFP) to a prospective client. Flying into a new city, meeting a new group of people, working days and nights refining a presentation, all to show up to a room and not having any chemistry with my colleagues. And we didn’t win the business because the prospect could see it themselves!

Taking time to prepare

This month, I’m asking you to try something different that might positively impact your mental well-being and be good for your business. Set a hard deadline for finalizing a presentation or other output well in advance. Give you and your team 48-72 hours ahead of time to focus on what’s completed. 

Use that time to get to know each other. Get prepared for the questions you might receive. Get prepared with worse-case scenarios; technology doesn’t work, someone gets sick, the client adjusts who will be in the meeting, etc. 

Think about how this will positively impact your and your team’s mental well-being before heading into a meeting. I realize this goes against all our experiences, but I have a feeling how you deliver information in the room will be more important than what’s in the document. 

And that’s the best way to overcome imposter syndrome. To activate the confidence I know all of you already have. 

Be safe. Be kind. Be well. 

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