People who aren’t comfortable speaking in public have dozens of reasons why they can’t or won’t do it. For some it’s a really debilitating fear; for others it’s just laziness or a reluctance to work that little bit harder to achieve something that doesn’t come easily. The fact is that no matter what your fear or where you think it comes from, it’s possible to overcome it. The question to ask is, “What would my life look like, how would it be improved, if I weren’t afraid?”

Let’s imagine a few typical scenarios.

You’re in line for a promotion in your company that requires you to lead your team and make presentations to potential customers as well as in-person reports at in-house conferences. However, your fear of speaking in front of all those important groups makes you shiver in your shoes at the thought. What are you afraid of?

Your best friend wants you to be his best man. You never have a problem sitting around with your buddies drinking beer and telling stories, but you’re terrified that, in front of the wedding party, you’ll forget what you want to say, the audience won’t laugh at your jokes, you’ll feel like an idiot and embarrass your best friend and his new wife. No way! Better to decline the honor than to risk making a fool of yourself.

You’ve started a business and want to network to promote it, not just 60-second intros but actually get up in front of your target market to tell them how terrific your product or service is. However, you’re afraid you won’t say it right, you’ll forget something really important, and you’ll be so shaky and light-headed that you’ll rush through your speech. Everyone will see how incompetent you are so they’ll automatically think your product or service can’t be any good, either.

What is the one simple common denominator in all of these scenarios?

If you’re thinking it’s the fear… think again. It’s not the fear…it’s the focus.

When you get up to give a speech, what should you be focusing on? What should you really be thinking about?

Not your fear of being judged and failing or feeling you’re “not good enough,” whatever that means. Not the memory of a previous speaking experience where you were laughed at or corrected, told to shut up or ignored completely, or punished in some way that was devastating at the time. Not whether or not the audience is listening or falling asleep.

When you speak to a group of people, any group, the trick is not to focus on yourself or how you feel at all. The trick is to focus on them! More specifically, focus on the gift you’re giving them…about how much your gift is going to benefit them.

Your gift is your message. Your message is your knowledge. Your knowledge is unique and how you deliver it is unique. The audience wants your message. They want to learn from you. They want to know more when they leave the room than they did when they came in.  They’re like baby birds, mouths open, chirping away: “Feed me! Feed me!” You’re the parent bird, bringing food to the open mouths that depend on you.

When you focus on giving your message, you can’t at the same time think about yourself. The way our minds are constructed, we only have room for one thought at a time; we think sequentially. When you’re focusing on the benefits of your message to your audience, you don’t have room in your mind to think about yourself. You can’t be afraid because you can’t focus on being afraid. You’re too busy focusing on giving them what they came for.

Remember, whenever you speak, you have the opportunity to influence and to inspire. You’ll be so busy influencing and inspiring your audience with the gift that is your message that you won’t have time to think of anything else. When you focus on the gift you’re giving, and not on yourself, you’ll forget to be afraid.