Fake it until you become it: Lessons from the Healthcare Businesswomen’s Association leadership conference
by Eileen O'Brien
As one of the 2 million people who watched the video of Dr. Amy Cuddy’s TEDTalk, I was looking forward to hearing her speak at the 2013 Healthcare Businesswomen’s Association (HBA) Leadership Conference in Boston. Little did I realize that one of the themes of her presentation would be a key theme of the conference: “Fake it until you become it.”
Our bodies can influence our minds: our thoughts and feelings. Dr. Cuddy’s research demonstrates the impact of "power posing"—standing in a posture of confidence (such as the “Wonder Woman” pose) even when we don't feel confident—can change our hormone levels. Her data showed that faking body posture increases testosterone and decreases cortisol levels, which increases our appetite for risk, causes us to perform better in job interviews, and allows our brains to cope well in stressful situations. Only two minutes of power posing can lead to feeling powerful.
Feeling like an imposter
When Dr. Cuddy was 19 years old, she was in a terrible car accident and sustained a traumatic brain injury that decreased her IQ by 2 standard deviations. She was told that she would never finish college; however, after 8 years, she graduated and was accepted into graduate school at Princeton University. She felt, “I am not supposed to be here, I am an imposter.” The night before her first presentation she called her advisor and tried to quit. The advisor said, “You are not quitting, you are going to fake it and continue to do it, until you become it.” Dr. Cuddy, who currently is an associate professor at Harvard Business School, noted she was pleased to realize a few years later that she was no longer faking it.
You are the message
During the conference, I also had the opportunity to see Jana Sue Memel, an Academy Award winning producer and writer, speak about presentation skills. She also recommended, “Fake it until you make it, as the audience will pick up on your nerves. What I think of you is how I process your message. We decide if we are going to like somebody in the first 3-6 seconds.”
“If I like you, what matters to you will matter to me,” said Memel. “Use your voice and facial expressions and be sure to look people in the face."
She also advised thinking about the nonverbal cues, such as your attire. Your wardrobe should make the audience feel comfortable without making you feel like an imposter. Dress helps the audience answer the question, Is this person part of my tribe, do I feel comfortable with them?
Keeping cool under fire
Continuing with the theme of speaking and presentation skills, Marianne Fleisher principal of Fleischer Communications, explained during her workshop that, “performance anxiety is typically only a 90-second response”. Understanding that this bodily response will be brief can help us control our reaction. Fleisher also highlighted the importance hormones play. “Under stress men secrete more testosterone, while women secrete oxytocin, which makes women want to work things out.”
The idea of feeling like a fraud is one that resonated very strongly with me. Several years ago I was given a new “stretch” role. I did not have experience or skills in several key areas of this job. On most days, my inner monologue consisted of reminding myself that I was smart and if I just kept at it and worked hard enough I would figure it out. Well, I did. And I even got an award from my employer. And another stretch assignment! This revealed to me that to be learning and challenged in my job I was going to have to volunteer to do things that scared and intimidated me.
Over the summer I read the excellent book Lean In by Sheryl Sandberg, COO of Facebook. It fascinated (and somehow comforted) me to learn that even with all of her accomplishments Sandburg is also occasionally uncertain of her experience and doubts her abilities.
Something I try to ask myself occasionally, and one of my favorite quotes from the book, is the question, “What would you do if you weren't afraid?”
If you haven’t heard of the HBA, it is a nonprofit organization committed to empowering more women as business and thought leaders in health care. They have chapters all over the world and host educational and networking events. If you are a woman working in the pharmaceutical/biotech world or related industries, I strongly recommend joining.
Eileen O’Brien is Associate Partner of Paid, Owned & Earned Media at Rosetta. She can be found on Twitter at @eileenobrien.
Posted: December 2013