While in Sydney last week, we were honored to be invited by one of the Sydney Opera House staff for a private behind-the-scenes tour of the Sydney Opera House including climbing stairs and ladders high above the theatre and having dinner in the green room, etc. before being wowed by the opening performance of Don Giovanni. Though I'm pretty green when it comes to the opera, I was blown away by the talent of the performers on stage. No microphones are used by the performers on stage, of course, and yet their voices — accompanied by the live orchestra — filled the large theatre with a big, natural sound. Amazing projection and stage presence, a kind of presence that never seemed forced, yet it maintained its power. The night at the Sydney Opera reminded me how important the art of performance is. We often talk about presentations being conversations, which is what I believe they are. But they almost always have an element of performance to them as well. The next day our friend at the Sydney Opera House (see photos on their site) reminded me of this talk below by the presentation maestro and Boston Philharmonic Orchestra conductor Benjamin Zander (I've talked about Benjamin and Rosamund Zander before; they're in the Presentation Zen book as well). Whether you like classical music or not, you will enjoy this TED talk by Benjamin Zander.*
Awakening the possibilities in yourself and others
Zander starts off by brilliantly and simply illustrating, in his own unique way, the power of getting yourself and others to "do it on one buttock." If you watched the presentation you get the point, but ask yourself this: How can you turn your presentations into one-buttock presentations? How can you turn your organization (company,school, church, etc.) into a one-buttock organization? Doing it "on one buttock" is not only for musicians, it's for athletes, teachers, artists, business people, and on and on. Leaders of all types must understand the need for doing it on one buttock.
What is your role?
Benjamin Zander is a master at awakening the possibilities in others (the name of his book is The Art of Possibility which he wrote with his partner Rosamund, the philosopher behind the core ideas). So, what's the role of a good leader then? Is it not to awaken the possibility of an organization (or a nation)? What is the role of a good teacher? Is it not to inspire and awaken the potential of each student? Is not the role of a good parent, among other things, to awaken the possibilities within each of their children?
How do you know if your connecting?
How do you know if you are "awaking the possibility" in each student, or each audience member, Zander asks. The answer? "Look at their eyes. If their eyes are shining, you know you're doing it." Zander goes on to say "...if the eyes are not shining you have to ask yourself a question: who am I being that my player's eyes are not shining?" This goes for our children, students, audience members, and so on. For me that's the greatest takeaway question: who am I being when I am not seeing a connection in the eyes of others? Zander's lessons go far beyond the world of music and the art of presentation, and although the ideas may seem simple, they are not easy. Some of the best ideas out there are the simple-but-not-easy ones. These are the kind of ideas that change things.
* The best part was what happened *after* the first 20 minutes — perhaps TED will put that up someday as well. In the mean time, checkout this 4-min video by Tom Guarriello, Ph.D from True Talk giving his impression of Zander's presentation (or watch the end of Zander's Davos 2008 talk). The final 15 minutes of Zander's presentation featured the audience singing Beethoven's "Ode to Joy" in phonetic German, and thanks to Zander's magic, kicking-ass while doing it. Zander also introduced the idea of BTFI (Beyond The Fuck It), an idea from The Art of Possibility. This is a simple idea: What would happen if you stopped worrying, stopped holding back, and stopped avoiding the possibility of mistakes and just said "Fuck it!" and then just did it. No thought of technique or of victory or defeat...just the moment.
• Benjamin Zander presentation at Davos 2008.