A Real Expert

There is a stumbling block to getting started as a speaker that is rooted in the impostor syndrome. It sounds like this: “But I’m not a real expert so why would they want to hear from me?”

The question then is, what is a real expert?

I believe you can credibly present yourself as a real expert on a given topic if you meet the following conditions:

  1. You have lived the subject matter. You have started the initiative, tackled the problem, and attempted the solution.
  2. You have a story to tell about #1 that includes a compelling historical narrative (what happened, why it happened, your lessons learned) as well as all of the ways it has made you more curious about what might happen next (your new questions, your hopes and plans for the future).
  3. You care about helping people. You want to share something with others to make their life easier, to save them a little time and smooth their road just a little bit more.
  4. You have the ability to present yourself confidently, you can speak clearly, and you are willing to say, “I don’t know” when someone asks you a question the answer to which you do not know.

Finally, speaking is about storytelling. Stories are how we connect and how we learn. Images, quotes, everything that went wrong, how you got out of a jam, moments of truth, these are the things your listeners are hungry for.

real expert is someone who commits themselves to being the expert of their own experience and who trusts that there’s always an audience for someone who is willing to share it.


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Things I know nothing about

I won’t bore you but the list is long.

I used to think I had to be perceived as knowing things even when I didn’t. That facade was grueling to maintain and so easily pierced.

Today, I enjoy saying, “I don’t know” or “That’s cool, tell me more about that” or “Beats me, what do you think?”

It’s so much easier, so much more conducive to meaningful connection and I also end up learning a lot. Maybe that’s maturity and a little bit of the hard-earned wisdom that comes with it. I also think it has to do with being clear and confident about what I do know and being invested in helping that to grow in new ways.

The byproduct of clarity and purpose is a sense of ease and composure. In that space it’s easy to acknowledge what I don’t know because I am so energized by what I do.


DAVID BERRY is the author of “A More Daring Life: Finding Voice at the Crossroads of Change” and the founder of RULE13 Learning. He speaks and writes about the complexity of leading in a changing world.