Perception is Everything (or “Fake It ‘Til You Make It”)

Cameron Olthuis gave me that gem of a tip: “Fake it ’til you make it.” Have you ever looked at someone in our industry and thought “How the hell is this person speaking at conferences?! He’s a moron!”, or “There is no way this person has actual clients”? I sure have. In fact, I’m sure people look at me and wonder how on Earth I get speaking spots and am well-liked in the industry (hint: I’m adorable).

Well folks, perception has a lot to do with it. Neil Patel plays the fool, and everyone loves him for it, yet somehow he mysteriously has a load of clients and gets featured in The Wall Street Journal (or, as Neil himself referred to it, “a Wall Street Journal”). I shake my head at the thought of certain industry folks getting repeated speaking spots, yet they do and the audience eats it up. Why is this?

Because, as Cameron so handily put it, they faked it until they made it (note to Neil, no, I don’t think you’re actually a dumbass, but you play a damn good one on TV). If you convey confidence in what you do, it doesn’t matter that you’re not Danny freakin’ Sullivan in terms of SEO knowledge. People love confidence. They love charm, charisma, and easygoing people, and quite often they’d rather work with someone likable than a boring, stuffy expert in the field (not always, of course, but I’ve seen it happen a lot).

Was I terrified to speak at my first conference? You bet your balls I was, not necessarily because I’d be in front of a large group of people, but because I was nervous that I wouldn’t know how to answer the Q&A questions and people would think “What the hell is she doing up there? She’s a moron.” But you know what? I learned pretty quickly that if you’re confident and make it seem like you’re a somebody, people will think you are a somebody. Then, you “fake it” while you acquire those mad skills and knowledge necessary to actually be that somebody. Ta-da, self-fulfilling prophecy.

I’m not saying you should lie to people or pretend to be something you absolutely aren’t. It’s not like I tell people I’m a supermodel (thanks for giving me short Asian legs, Mom!), and I also don’t lie to people during Q&As (if I flat out don’t know the answer, I won’t answer it or I’ll tell them I can look into it for them). My point is that if you’re starting out and are new, just be confident. People pick up on that and will respect you much more than if you’re a Nervous Nelly all the time. Believing in yourself means that people will believe in you, and soon you’ll become that expert you were half-pretending to be in the first place.

Oh, and don’t go overboard and be a pompous prick. You may win over clients, but your more experienced colleagues will see right through that schtick. Just fake it a little until you make it, because a little perception goes a long way.