I am about embark on a college tour, during which I’ll be speaking to over ten thousand parents and college freshmen around the nation. I love speaking to college students and inspiring them to spend the next four years of their lives writing new scripts.
But there is one thing that happens to me at almost every college I speak at. To quote my friend Dave Coleman, it’s called projection error.
The students come into the auditorium in their jeans and basketball shorts, see me in my dress shirt and slacks, and assume one thing about me: that I’m another boring speaker, come to lecture at them. Based on their past experiences, they assume they know me and my keynote, and they project their perceptions over who I really am and what I really have to say.
That’s why at the beginning of my keynote, I always say, “Whatever you think is about to happen — you are so wrong.”
I don’t think there is any better way to understand projection error than through this video. Watch it and see how a homeless man is transformed to look like a CEO within minutes. It’s all in his appearance.
You can’t control who responds to you with projection error. People will look at the size of your body, color of your skin, the clothes you wear, the number of piercings you have, and the way you speak, and, for better or worse, assume they know something about you.
But you can control how you treat others based on your perception. The sales clerk who miscounted your change doesn’t deserve to be treated like she’s stupid and the overweight guy eating at the table next to you doesn’t deserve to be talked about like he isn’t a real person with real feelings.
Every person is the star of their own show, and no show is flawless. Focus on yours and don’t judge someone’s act two against your grand finale.
And, please, the next time you’re at a conference, don’t assume that the speaker is going to be boring or stuffy. You never know, he may end up teaching you how to juggle, eat fire, and inspire you with real messages. (But if he is boring and stuffy, my number is 513-229-3626.)