You've heard the phrase "fake it 'till you make it," right? I personally have heard this easy-to-give, hard-to-follow bit of advice from a number of coaches and mentors I've worked with over the years. Acting like the leader I wanted to be was their solution to my self-diagnosed and situational confidence problems. Each time, I would take this simple phrase to heart and try.

The next time a big meeting came up, I'd repeat these words to myself before the start and then launch in and hope for the best. Sometimes the practice of acting like everything was cool and under control worked. Other times it didn't. These were missed opportunities to demonstrate leadership and vision.

The other day, I noticed these words were on the verge of tumbling out of my mouth onto the lap of someone facing her own confidence issues who was seeking my advice.

I stopped myself. There is more to "faking it" before you find yourself "making it." Breaking down this advice into its most basic components is more helpful than just flinging the phrase out and then leaving it to someone else to figure out exactly what that means. (This is true for all types of advice-specific wins every time.)

To start, there are a couple of important things to know. Everyone struggles with confidence issues from time to time. Feeling unsure is most common (obviously) when we're stepping out of a typical role and taking on a new one. The only people who don't have occasional flare-ups of self-doubt are either delusional about their abilities or are not stretching themselves very far. The idea is not to guard against ever feeling uncertain but to acknowledge the feeling and not let this temporary condition become your normal existence.

Here's how ...

Faking it requires preparation and practice. I don't know how I missed the memo on this one. Trying to psych yourself five minutes before a meeting starts is simply not effective. It's laughable to me now that I expected this last-minute approach to work. My excuse would have been that I didn't have the time, but, of course, I didn't make the time.

For a big meeting these days, I give myself a week. This doesn't mean prepping full time, but it does create space in my mind to get really clear on what I want and how I want to come across. Let's break it down:

  • Seven days out: Create and distribute the agenda (if you're hosting; otherwise request the agenda if one isn't provided).
  • Five days out: Send out read-ahead materials, or read those provided.
  • Four days out: Summarize the most important points you want to make in your personal notes.
  • Three days out: Jot down two examples (in case the conversation stalls and you need to move it forward).
  • An hour before: Remind yourself of your desired outcome.

For a client pitch, tough conversion with an employee, or big presentation, practice really helps. Really.

  1. Spend minimal time tweaking your slides. Invest instead in scripting out what you want to say.
  2. Select your main point and write it out three different ways. Sprinkle these sentences throughout your script.
  3. Turn on your phone and record a video of yourself first reading the script and then progressively working through the material, without notes if you're planning not to use them.
  4. Immediately delete all of these videos, because they will make you squeamish. I'm kidding. Watch portions of them quickly to identify any stumbling blocks, and then delete them. If your friends, kids, or spouse finds these, the laughter will never cease. Watch and learn, and then delete, delete, delete.
  5. At last, attend to the logistics, if needed. This means to make sure the outfit that you feel best in still fits (these things can change in a week, trust me) and it's ready to wear. Know where you're going or how to log in. Nothing will erode your confidence unnecessarily like pants that are too tight or being late because you couldn't find a place to park.

I'm not sure when along the way that the notion of faking it got conflated with lying about your abilities, as is mentioned in this piece. Faking it isn't permission to lie. Instead, preparing and practice are logical steps you can take as you step into the glorious role you are truly capable of while forcing your doubts to sit down and shut up.

Keep these steps handy with this free printable checklist. Reach out via direct message on Twitter if you want thoughts on how to apply this advice to a particularly tricky challenge you're facing at work.