Zoom meetings are a common anxiety trigger. And that looming virtual presentation just builds up agitation and panic during the preparation phase. In this guest post, Beau A. Nelson of FHE Health dives into the reasons why you may experience anxiety and how to beat the impostor syndrome in a Zoom presentation.
It’s just another Zoom call with the marketing team, with one exception. This time you’ll be giving a presentation on SEO content strategy at your boss’ request. You know this material well; you’ve also prepared as much as you can and have dressed for the part, so this sudden onset of anxiety takes you by surprise. If these feelings could talk, they’d say things like:
- “You’re not qualified to give this presentation.”
- “You’re not up to the expectations of your boss and colleagues.”
- “You are an amateur and don’t belong here.”
If you can identify with this experience, you are not alone. Most people — 70 to 82 percent, according to psychologist Kelifern Pomeranz, PsyD, CST, in an October 2022 article for the publication Real Simple — have dealt with impostor syndrome at some point in their career.
What Is Impostor Syndrome and What Causes It?
Impostor syndrome is a deeper level of insecurity or sense of inadequacy about one’s skill set and accomplishments. Some people describe it as feeling like a fraud.
Generally, we are our worst critics. Often our mindset goes to what we can’t do, how we’re not good enough, or how we are not smart enough. Unfortunately, we can lose perspective as we have these negative thoughts about ourselves and as we make unfair comparisons to others. It is far easier to give other people a higher ranking based on this thinking style than to realistically take stock of oneself and one’s situation based on the facts.
The Nature of Impostor Syndrome in a Zoom Presentation
Think of being in a remote environment like being on television. You’re staring into a camera, you cannot read the audience, and it feels like you are under the spotlight. When we are together in person, it can feel more comfortable, like we get more interaction — so the focus is not directly on us the whole time. (Of course, presentation anxiety or public speaking anxiety is very common, even in an in-person gathering.)
Impostor syndrome in a Zoom presentation stems from the lack of that conventional type of surroundings. The difference with Zoom or other videoconferencing platforms is that the naturalness of being with other people and being able to read the room is not there as much. Some of us have a sixth sense for reading a room of people, and that can often help to challenge or offset our own negative thoughts about our performance.
In the remote environment, there can also be a feeling of isolation and aloneness that may amplify feelings of being “on the spot.” This detachment from regular social interactions in an in-person environment might also add to the weight of giving a presentation virtually.
How Impostor Syndrome Can Manifest in an Online Presentation
You may suffer from impostor syndrome if you’re engaging in negative self-talk about the online presentation you’re about to give and saying things like:
- “I am not smart enough to do this.”
- “I’m going to make a mistake, and that is unacceptable.”
- “Everyone is watching and hanging onto every word I say.”
- “I must be 100% correct and factual and must know everything about this subject.”
- “I’m going to make a mistake and people will think I’m stupid.”
- “Others know more about this, and I am not qualified to speak on it.”
- “I am not good enough.”
It’s easy to see that these kinds of thoughts would increase the pressure and make you feel more worried, nervous, and anxious.
5 CBT-Inspired Self-Affirmations
Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) is a good tool to use when you are experiencing impostor syndrome caused by a Zoom presentation. You can liken CBT to the way that you would talk to a friend if you were trying to be supportive and they had the same problem. You would generally not tell your friend that they’re going to make a terrible mistake and get fired because of this presentation unless, of course, you don’t like the person.
Generally, if our friends were about to give a presentation, we would offer supportive comments when they expressed fears and worries. If we can learn to do something similar for ourselves and make these new thoughts believable and truthful, we can reduce the anxiety that comes along with impostor syndrome.
Being more supportive of yourself might mean using one or more of these self-affirmations:
- “I am going to prepare and do the best that I can, and that’s good enough.”
- “If I make a mistake, it will not be catastrophic. When I’ve been in presentations before as an audience member and have seen something go wrong, I generally feel bad for the person but do not criticize them.”
- “This is one presentation in the course of my entire career; it doubtfully will be the most important presentation that I ever give.”
- “My boss wouldn’t have asked me to give this presentation if they didn’t believe I could do it. After all, I just got a raise.”
- “Perfection is an unrealistic expectation, but I do have unique and helpful contributions to make and will treat this experience as an opportunity to grow and learn.”
How a Virtual Work Context Can Intensify the Effects of Impostor Syndrome
A Zoom meeting or presentation may be the most common remote work context in which impostor syndrome shows up. Being prepared for it can help ease the discomfort. Accepting anxious thoughts and feelings, rather than judging or stigmatizing them, can also provide relief.
Bear in mind that the effects of impostor syndrome can be amplified by working in a full-time or even part-time virtual context. When the same article mentioned above went on to explore how working from home affects impostor syndrome, it found the effects of impostor syndrome were greater in a virtual work environment in at least two ways:
- Virtual work is more isolating, and that isolation intensifies anxiety.
- High-stress situations like COVID increase self-doubt and other feelings of impostor syndrome.
If you experience impostor syndrome in Zoom presentations, there is nothing to feel ashamed about. It happens to most of us at one point or another. If you’re struggling with severe anxiety in remote meetings and presentations, consider reaching out to a mental health professional for support. They may be able to help you develop some coping strategies and more personalized self-affirmations for managing the anxiety and conquering impostor syndrome for good.
Dr. Beau A. Nelson, DBH, LCSW, is Chief Clinical Officer at the national behavioral health provider FHE Health. He is a nationally sought-out expert on issues relating to mental health and substance abuse, having contributed to numerous publications and, more recently, the Netflix documentary series “Addiction Revealed,” which will air an interview with him this fall.
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