What Are Your Assumptions Costing You?

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I just got back from a speaking engagement in DeFuniak Springs, Florida (“Home of the Second Roundest Lake in the World!”). I spoke there on Saturday night, delivering my signature keynote presentation, The 5 Best Decisions the Beatles Ever Made…and Why You Should Make Them Too! Because of a combination of inclement weather and a mix-up in the printed schedule, attendance was much lighter than we anticipated. Let’s just say that well over 200 of the 300 available seats were unfilled.  Or, to be more accurate, let’s say that well over 250 of the 300 available seats were unfilled. Now, I generally speak to audiences of anywhere from 300 to 2,000, so an audience of fewer than 50 (okay, 40) wasn’t exactly knocking my socks off. And, although I hate to admit it, there was a second or two when I thought to myself, “Okay, let’s just get this one over with.” But then I realized something. These 40 people (and by 40 I mean 30) had somehow deciphered the incorrect schedule and braved the weather to come hear me speak, and to find out how the success secrets of the Beatles might apply to their lives. They had made an effort, and they deserved my best. I instantly changed my attitude (yep, we can do that!) and stepped onto the stage.

And we had a blast!

We laughed, sang, and danced together. Several audience members came up on stage with me and played Beatles trivia. We formed a band and rocked out to Twist and Shout. We had fun! It was one of the best times I’ve had in my speaking career.

And I could have missed it all. If I hadn’t changed my attitude and given them the 100% they deserved, I would have deprived both them and me of an amazing experience.

What happened is that, for a moment, I fell into a trap that we all fall into from time to time. I made an assumption. For a brief second, I assumed that because this presentation was for a small audience in a small town, it wasn’t important. It didn’t count. That somehow these 30 people (and I’m rounding up here), because they were few in number, weren’t worth as much as the people in an audience of 2,000. Now be honest, hasn’t something like that happened to you? Maybe you’ve been dragged to a party or networking event that you just “knew” was going to be horrible and boring. Or the phone rings, you glance at the Caller ID, and think, “Oh no, not this idiot!” Or you get introduced to somebody new, mutter a quick “hello,” and walk away because he or she “couldn’t possibly have anything to say that would be of interest to me.”

I once sat next to an elderly woman on a five hour cross-country flight without saying a single word to her until the obligatory “Is this your final stop?” on final approach.  It was only then, in our last five minutes together, that I found out she was heading back home to Russia where, in her youth, she had been a pianist and music teacher, had been a friend and neighbor of Stravinsky, and had watched him compose part of his groundbreaking score to The Firebird, one of my favorite pieces of music. Oh, the stories she could have told me—if only we had a little more time. Well, of course we’d had five hours, but I’d made an assumption. Because she was an elderly woman with an accent, she “couldn’t possibly have anything to say that would be of interest to me.” What a waste! And yet I almost made the same mistake again on Saturday.

What assumptions are you making about the people in your life? What assumptions are you making about your customers? What amazing experiences might you be missing out on simply because of your assumptions and your attitude? (And, not incidentally, how much money might you be leaving on the table? Of the twenty-some people in my audience on Saturday night, two immediately booked me for upcoming events—one later this year and one in 2010—and one other couldn’t wait to recommend me to her national conference planning committee. Do you think any of that would have happened if I had “phoned it in”?)

What are your assumptions and attitude costing you? The good news is that we can change both of them in an instant.


About the Author:

29-time Emmy Award winner and Hall of Fame keynote speaker Bill Stainton, CSP is an expert on Innovation, Creativity, and Breakthrough Thinking. He helps leaders and their teams come up with innovative solutions — on demand — to their most challenging problems.
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