Is Impostor Syndrome Keeping You from Submitting a Conference Proposal?


Tina Rettler-PagelEngagement Committee Co-Chair

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“I’m not “expert enough” in (fill in a topic).”

“The work I am doing isn’t important or critical enough to share.”

“What if someone attending my session knows more than me?”

“Why would someone want to hear what I have to say when they could listen to industry experts instead?”

“I highly doubt I have anything of value to share that attendees would find useful.”

“I don’t think I belong as a presenter at a national conference.”

Does this sound like you?  When OLC announced the call for proposals for the OLC Accelerate conference, some of us started making a list of session ideas for proposals we planned to submit.  Others (perhaps you?) immediately identified twenty reasons why they could not or should not speak on a topic at an OLC conference. If you fall into the latter group, it could be that you are struggling to manage impostor syndrome or are experiencing the impostor phenomenon.  

Dr. Pauline Clance and Dr. Suzanne Imes identified impostor syndrome (also spelled as imposter syndrome) as an “internal experience of intellectual phoniness in people who believe that they are not intelligent, capable or creative despite evidence of high achievement.”¹ In other words, those who have impostor syndrome tendencies and experiences have feelings of doubt and inadequacy, believing their achievements, successes, and accomplishments are the result of luck, and not because of skills, competence, and accomplishments. At its strongest, impostor syndrome is the feeling that you are severely under-qualified for the task ahead of you, or that you’re secretly the most incompetent person in a room full of assumed geniuses.  

When we deal with impostor syndrome, submitting to present at conferences may not even seem possible. We believe that we will not or cannot bring something of value to the table, buying into the disconnect between our successes and how we personally perceive them.  We might be doing important, meaningful work, but impostor syndrome convinces us otherwise.  Instead, we tell ourselves that our achievements, successes, and experiences are just due to luck, rather than skill, perseverance, and hard work.  We dig in even further, telling ourselves that nothing we are doing is that significant, believing our true incompetence will be exposed at any moment if we were actually selected to present.

Impostor syndrome is quite common, with about 70 percent of the U.S. population having experienced the phenomenon², including many successful, high achieving, and accomplished people. Actress Tina Fey, Actress Lupita Nyong’o, Musician David Bowie, Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz, First Lady Michele Obama, Poet Maya Angelou, Athlete Serena Williams, Author John Steinbeck, and Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor, to name a few, have all admitted to feeling like impostors and waiting “for people to find out at any moment.”  Impostor syndrome is sometimes a symptom of success.

Which brings us back to submitting that session proposal for the OLC Accelerate Conference.  If you believe you do not have something worth sharing at the conference, despite any accomplishments or successes, it is likely impostor syndrome could be causing you to self-select out of the conference session proposal process. And quite frankly, it’s disheartening, because we need you!  When feelings of self-doubt and fear result in you choosing not to share your voice, your stories, your experiences, your wins, your failures, and your work with the OLC community, we all lose! The Accelerate conference needs unique and new perspectives to keep the program alive and organic.   It needs you to share your work!

If you think impostor syndrome has been holding you back from submitting a session proposal in the past, consider these suggestions for working through it and submitting that proposal anyway.

    1. Use the OLC Conference Presenter Services.  The Presenter Services team has templates, a sample submission, and a recorded webinar on creating a winning proposal, all of which can help you to put your best foot forward.  Another approach is to consider reviewing session abstracts from previous conferences for inspiration (rather than intimidation) to note how sessions might be structured.
    2. Focus on what you bring to the situation, rather than what you do not.  Write down areas of expertise and connect them to your work.  When we focus on the experiences, expertise, skills, and abilities we bring to the table, we flip the script on some of the self-doubt and negative self-talk inherent with impostor syndrome.  For a conference session proposal, focus this flipped script on helping other attendees solve a problem they are also experiencing or providing a solution to a common issue we all struggle with in online teaching and learning.  
    3. Lean on trusted colleagues and mentors.  Ask someone, perhaps who has presented at national conferences, to review your proposal and offer feedback.  They may suggest changes or modifications that will strengthen the overall proposal.
    4. Check your perceptions at the door.  Sometimes, we create pictures in our brains that are not representative of actual reality.  Remember, no one is an expert on everything, and it is likely that how we define “expert” is really variable and dependent on certain topics. No one has the same exact experiences you have had. What you bring to the table is unique and can add value to the conference program!  
    5. Know that you are not alone. Seventy percent of people have experienced impostor syndrome, including some of the speakers at OLC conferences.   In fact, some of these same speakers note they actively work to address their feelings of impostor syndrome by submitting conference proposals!
    6. Be mindful of your words. Our words influence how we think.  Filmmaker Leslie Birch suggests being aware of using statements that sell ourselves short, including disclaimers such as, ‘I’m not an expert on this, but…”  Program Officer at the Center for Internet & Society Noopur Raval, suggests to presenters, “If you know some of the typical questions that make you feel like an impostor, prepare responses to them in your head.” Finally, identify assertive, confident phrases to help champion ideas and your message.
    7. Find a co-presenter.  Sometimes submitting a session proposal can be scary if we go it alone.  However, it can seem less scary to submit with a colleague or friend who might share similar interests, expertise, or experiences.   
    8. Leave perfection at the door. Conference session proposals do not always have to focus on what is amazing, wonderful, successful, or groundbreaking in our work. Some of the best conference sessions I have attended have been about what did not work and what was learned from those failures.  This reflective and informative sharing of failures are important lessons and voices that need to be present at OLC conferences.  Consider sharing these perspectives if you have them!

Stop waiting until you feel confident to take advantage of opportunities in front of you. The pervasive nature of impostor syndrome often times is neither forgiving nor rational and can rob us of the very nurturing and supportive moments that help us grow as professionals.  Own your confidence by taking a risk and submitting a session proposal for the 2019 OLC Accelerate.  The OLC community is welcoming, engaging, and supportive.  The many voices that make this community great are the same voices that want to learn from you!  

Learn more about the CFP and submit before June 3, 2019.




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