Public Speaking and the Impostor Syndrome

Your Past Doesn't Define Your Future

Often, when coaching new students in my public speaking and leadership courses I hear of their hopes and fears related to acquiring these new skills. They often voice absurd absolutes such as:

  • I can’t speak in front of a large crowd
  • I don’t have the experience for leadership roles
  • I’ll never rise to the level of a professional speaker
  • I’m just a middle manager

Truth be told, often our internal dialog is a reflection of our deeply held beliefs. When we reflect into our negative beliefs we often see them as shallow and powerless over our ability to change them.

Self-Doubt and Impostor Syndrome

Self-Doubt is lack of confidence in our own abilities and capacities. We fear that we essentially lack something, something necessary but not yet attainable. We unjustly fear we are not good enough. Often this psychological phenomenon is termed the impostor syndrome. Despite all of our external evidence of intelligence, insights and accomplishments we tend to perceive ourselves as unworthy. This unfortunate and incorrect belief is quite common.

Impostor syndrome was first coined by clinical psychologists Pauline Clance and Suzanne Imes in 70’s. Their work showed that statistically more than 70% of the population has experience this feeling at one time or another. My practice as a public speaking and communications coach shows this trepidation to be a consistent affliction. If you doubt the existence of the phenomena, just check out this list of wildly talented and amazing people who report it: Tina Fey, Jodie Foster, Don Cheadle, Denzel Washington, Kate Winslet, Meryl Streep, Maya Angelou, Michelle Pfeiffer. This self-doubt is an entirely common human experience. Thankfully, these brilliant people did NOT heed this limiting voice but challenged it. You should too!

Choosing a New Positive Habit

We can choose to practice new habits, espouse new beliefs and grow in very new and positive directions. But no matter how lofty our goals — it is changing our own self talk that is vital. One exercise I use to begin on the path to challenging those beliefs is to own your inner critic. In this practice we:

  1. Give your negative internal voice a name
  2. Let is speak freely without censor
  3. Write what it says down
  4. Now address it by name and question its validity
  5. Ask is my negative internal dialog reasonable and sensible? Should I listen to it?

In this simple exercise we learn to question our own self-imposed limitations rather than blindly accept them as truth. This is a vital step in personal growth and a very empowering move toward the future.


Imagine how productive, kind and compassionate the world would be if we embrace the notion of self-esteem and self-compassion. Rather than wasting our energy on negative limiting beliefs we can move forward in life toward our highest aspirations.

We need to fundamentally recognize our own talents, skills and achievements. Of course, this requires we recognize limitations and opportunities for improvement — but not with our common counterproductive response of fear, denial or obstruction. We need to treat ourselves as we would like treated. Our culture and religions encourage us often to worry more about how we treat the “other” and not ourselves. It is my strong belief that we can’t rise to our best selves if we don’t start with treating ourselves with kindness and compassion. Only then can we expand this to all others. Once we arrive at this place of personal growth, it becomes much easier to embrace our infinite potential.

Now go out and create the world of your dreams, one thought and action at a time. Don’t let the impostor syndrome hold you back from your dreams. Believe in yourself, acknowledge yours strengths and opportunities for improvement – then with self-compassion, pursue your infinite potential with unending vigor. You are brilliant, now go show the world what you are made of!

Joseph Guarino is a professional public speaker, trainer and owner of the Institute of Public Speaking a Boston based international public speaking & leadership training organization. As a seasoned public speaking trainer & professional speaker he enjoys helping other succeed in this worthy and rewarding craft. The Institute of Public Speaking offers a variety of public speaking courses for individuals (1 on 1 training), executive speech coaching, one day public speaking bootcamps, advanced public speaking bootcamps and public speaking seminars for corporations & groups of any size.
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