Issue #15: Public Speaking, Freaking Out, and the ever-present Impostor Syndrome
Spoiler Alert: Preparation is Key
Hola friends! 👋
By the time you’re reading this, I’m probably on a plane to Dublin, half-freaking out, wringing my hands, and counting the minutes til the plane lands. Because on Tuesday, I will be speaking in the Industry Conference about Product Leadership, and I am in between feeling holy-craptasticaly-excited and internally kicking myself for signing up to speak in the first place. A duo of feelings I am familiar with because they’re usually around whenever I do anything new in my career.
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While I do have experience speaking in public, most of them have either been in person, but small audience OR big audience but via VC. So this would be my first time being on the main stage, standing in front 400+ attendees! 😱
While a bit daunting, I know my inner-pop star would be able to handle the stage fright. 🤣 If Taylor Swift was able to open her Eras Tour to 69,000 people, I can handle 400.
What’s really making me gaga at this point are the following:
Product/Thought Leaders I look up to talking about Product Leaders and I’m wondering if they’re low key talking about me (even though I am 100000% sure they aren’t. They don’t know me, how could they?).
I would be talking about Product Leadership to a very diverse set of audience. Some of them Product Leaders themselves. Would they raise an eyebrow at what I’m saying? Would some of them come up to me and tell me I’m full of shit? Worse, would they just talk between themselves about how I’m full of shit? Especially since one of them would be John Cutler (the guy who tweeted above tweet), who is speaking in the conference as well.
And lastly, remembering a dinner I had with friends awhile back and how some, if not at all, of them were able to confidently say that they were good people managers. And me agreeing that they were. I didn’t say anything about me and my being a people manager. And to this day, I find myself holding back from saying that about myself, out loud. Wondering if I do, would people agree or disagree?
Yes, people. My Impostor Syndrome has arrived. Just today, 2 days before I’m set to go on stage. A bit later than usual, but here nonetheless.
And while I am having a lot of feelings, it kind of feels like watching a scene play out in front me instead of it all being in my head. I can feel the feelings, but I also feel detached to them. I can acknowledge that they are there and they are strong, but I also don’t feel paralyzed or overwhelmed by them.
So now here we are, writing about how I’m managing all of these feelings so I don’t end up having a heart attack before Tuesday.
For all the people who are about to do something scary right now, this one’s for you too.
Remember My Target Audience. Focus On My Goal.
When I was preparing my presentation, I knew that I wanted to talk to new and struggling Product Leaders and those who wanted to be one. My goal for my presentation was to share my story + framework so struggling Product Leaders have something new to try on Wednesday when they go back to work, so new Product Leaders have a new framework to help them take action, and for those who might be interested to be Product Leaders to have something that can help them prepare for their big move to leadership.
I was only talking to a percentage of the audience so I wasn’t there to please everybody. I certainly wasn’t there to get validation from the Product Leaders who knew their chops already. If I can get tips from them on how I can be better as a Product Leader, that would be a bonus.
But my goal was to help. And if I can manage to help at least just one person sitting in the audience, that’s all the validation I need.
There’s No One To Tell Me That My Story Is Wrong.
When doing presentations like this, I always prefer to share stories in lieu of sharing processes, best practices, or a laundry list of things to do. Instead I always prefer to share a personal story in this framework:
The conflict I went through. What were my challenges and what was their impact, such as: how they made me feel and how they blocked me from achieving my goals.
The actions I took and which ones solved my challenges.
The resolution and what I learned.
A story very much rooted in my personal experience, concluding with my learnings turned into actionable framework that other people can try.
What I like about telling stories is that there’s nobody really who can tell me what I went through was wrong. They can have opinions about it. Perhaps they may think that I can have a better approach. And that’s great. I can learn from that too. But that’s it.
How does one challenge what another person lived through anyway? Impossible. And I guess in that sense, I will always be right. 🥸
Confidence Is Being Afraid to Do Something and Doing it Anyway.
I can say, in all honesty, that I am absocrapsolutely scared. For all the reasons I have mentioed in the beginning. And also for reasons I actually have no words for.
There’s a very very uncomfortable feeling at the pit of my stomach and there’s a voice at the back of my head telling me to fake being sick to try to get out of doing the talk.
But I’m going to do it anyway, standing in front of 400 people and doing my talk. Because of the good it might do for my target audience, yes. But also for the good it might do for myself.
Being confident does not mean being 100% fear free. Being confident, for me, means believing that I am the best person to get my story across. And that even if I was scared shitless, the potential impact I may have after I’ve told the story is such an exciting prospect that it’s worth the risk of falling flat on my face on stage. So I’m doing it anyway.
So dear reader, if you’re also freaking out about one thing or another right now a few things to remember:
It’s ok to be scared. Feel your feelings. It’s what makes us human.
Remember what you are doing and who you are doing your thing for. Not everybody will like what you’re doing. But the goal has never been liked, has it? The goal is almost always to provide value for whoever you want to provide value for.
Embrace your story. You’ve grown so much from your challenges. You are inspiring as you are amazing. It has never been about being right.
So go forth and be scared; but do what you set out to do anyway.
Got questions, feedback, violent reactions? Or other learnings you want to share with other human beings? Leave them in the comments below👇
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Your talk was one of my top three from the whole conference! I’m in a very similar situation that you described in your talk. My manager has gone on maternity leave, so I’ve taken on more responsibility - major impostor syndrome! The experience you shared made me feel so seen!! Thank you for sharing your journey!