Before every keynote, workshop or breakout session, whether I’m presenting to eight people or 1800, I have a ritual that I go through on my way to the event.  Though I’ve been a professional speaker for years and often over-prepare for my talks, I still get slightly jittery and excited just before a presentation.  To calm my nerves, I repeat this mantra:

“It’s not about you…it’s about them.”

This does two things for me.  It forces me to brush off my self-centered anxiety and helps me remember to respect my audience.  After all, these people have taken time out of their busy schedules, voluntarily or not, to listen to what I have to say.

If you think about it, this mantra can be applied to all aspects of our professional and personal life.  John Maxwell, leadership author and thought leader, recently wrote about this topic as it relates to connecting with people.

“Finally, I understood what had been missing from my own communication—and from my interaction with other people. I saw how selfish and self-centered I’d been. I realized that I was trying to get ahead by correcting others when I should have been trying to connect with others…  If you want to connect with others, you have to get over yourself. You have to change the focus from inward to outward, off of yourself and onto others.”

Like Maxwell, I haven’t always employed this philosophy.  And even now, I have to work hard to apply this thinking in all aspects of my life.  As a leadership coach, I get so caught up in ensuring my clients see me as “value-added,” that I bend over backwards to over-deliver, without pausing to consider what really matters most.  It’s not what I bring to the table, but whether I’ve impacted my clients’ ability to deliver their gifts.

I doubt that Maxwell and I are alone.  I think most of us fall into this egocentric pattern.  It’s not that we’re bad people, but the deck is stacked against us.  Our culture and our business climate culminate in a competitive atmosphere that has taught us to “look out for number one.”  In effect, we’ve been trained to be essentially greedy and mistrustful of others.

Yet this concept of making it about “them” has proven so effective that many networking groups are moving toward the concept of helping others first.  I am a member of a networking group that doesn’t allow members to arbitrarily pass out business cards.  Instead, after hearing brief introductions about others and what they are looking for, we can jot down leads on our cards and give them specifically to the people we can help.  It’s amazing how this process facilitates the idea of giving first and building relationships.

Not surprisingly, the same concept holds true for how you approach social media.  Even the rock stars of social media, like Chris Brogan, say it’s about helping others first and foremost.

As with many of my speaking engagements, I’d like to end this blog entry with a quote.

“I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.”

Maya Angelou