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Asked to speak about a topic? You may actually be an imposter… just not for the reason(s) you think.

You've been asked to speak... but are you a presentation imposter?
feeling like an imposter

I’ve seen a lot written about “imposter syndrome” on LinkedIn recently.  In short, imposter syndrome is when you doubt your own abilities, especially when you’re asked to publicly show them off.

My colleague, Heather, wrote about this phenomenon among L&D professionals last year in this blog post.

I’ve worked with a number of people – from early career professionals to senior staff – who express doubts about what kind of wisdom they could possibly have to offer others. It’s quite a natural sentiment.

The truth is, however, that I’ve seen more actual imposters among those who have been asked to share their expertise with an audience and who feel confident in their wisdom and their experience. I’ve seen imposters among doctors, lawyers, tech executives and learned academics (among others). They’re smart people, to be sure, but where they come across as true fakes is in their ability to actually present in a way that is respectful to their audience.

It can be both flattering and humbling to be asked to share thoughts, ideas, skills or expertise with a group of people, and it’s definitely a boost to the ego! But with great power, comes great responsibility… namely the responsibility to present in a way that is engaging. Your audience shouldn’t have to work too hard to want to pay attention to you.

Different presentation forums, room set-ups and audiences can call for different strategies, but no forum, room set-up or audience should be an excuse for not adding engagement strategies to your brilliant message. Following are three ideas to keep your audience mentally engaged:

Storytelling with Structure

Who doesn’t love a good story?

Actually, busy people may not love a good story… unless it has something to do with your content. I work with a lot of trainers and presenters who looooooove to tell their stories. Their stories are (often) quite interesting, but when I have other things to do, I don’t want to work too hard to follow along or make the connection between their stories and their content.

Last Monday I offered the S.T.O.R.Y. model for storytelling. Telling a story with intent and structure can help keep everyone on the same page while offering some real-world examples of how your concepts or content play out on a daily basis.

Top 5 List

Not every situation or presentation calls for a story. Sometimes you simply need to share your information (aka: lecture). Even though lecture may be the best method to share your information, it doesn’t have to be dry, boring or meandering.

A simple “Top 5 reasons that…” list can be an easy solution.

  • The top 5 reasons that people struggle with…
  • The top 5 reasons we’re switching IT systems
  • The top 5 reasons endothelial cell transplants will change the world
  • The top 5 things you can say during an interview that can lead to a lawsuit

Offering a listed approach to your lecture helps give it structure, helps book-end your key points, and allows your audience to know what’s truly important (and why).

Put the Audience at the Center

This is the guiding principle that should be at the heart of any presentation design. You’ve been asked to share your knowledge, skills, experience or expertise with others for a reason… and that reason typically isn’t because people like your voice so much that they should just appreciate hearing you talk.

Taking an audience-centered approach means you’re designing your presentation by asking: what can I do to help make sure the audience leaves smarter and more capable? How can I help them solve a problem they have?

The first two ideas above follow this strategy, though they are more passive approaches to audience engagement and still depend on the willingness of your audience to stay mentally engaged with you.

You can also put them at the center by getting them actively engaged with you. Strategies for this can be basic, like simply asking people to turn to the person next to them before your next presentation and share what their biggest challenge is related to your topic. In doing so, you’re forcing them to think about their own situations in relation to your topic.

You can also go crazy and get your participants engaged through any of these 18 activities.

Whichever strategy seems to be the best fit for your own comfort level and the context of your situation, keep in mind that if you were asked to present, someone clearly thinks you know your stuff… just don’t be a presentation imposter by failing to design your presentation with maximum engagement in mind.


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