Thursday, November 10, 2016


I've walked out in the middle of two musical events in the last month because of irritating patter by the performers, even though leaving one of them meant that I would miss more music by a favorite singer/songwriter.

I happened to attend both events with a friend who doesn't know a lot about music, other than what she likes, but knows a lot about theatre. (Her niece is a well-known playwright and her daughter was a theatre major.) In one case, I said, "I can't take any more of this." In the other case, my friend decided when she couldn't listen to more "babbling on and on."

Some patter is good. Your audience wants to feel they know you, so a personal line or two? Great.

Some patter is desirable, even useful. I coached a duo on a song for several weeks before I learned they'd written it in Colorado, not in the Northeast where they were performing. If they'd told me Colorado in the beginning, I would have heard (and coached) the song much differently. When Dan Dockery tells the story that inspired his "Streets of Gold," I hear much more in the song.

But why would I want to hear a singer/songwriter tell me, "I'm lazy?" (He really did say that.)  Unless I'm an idiot, when he finally stops talking and begins to sing, won't I be thinking that the song can't be that good because he was too lazy to spend time on it? Would he walk into a job interview and announce to the person behind the desk that he was lazy?

Why would I want another singer/songwriter to announce that she couldn't remember the lyrics, and then balance her smart phone on her knee so she could remember them? Am I likely to think her songs will be memorable to me? Actually, I do remember one line because she cribbed it from Joni Mitchell.

Then there was a guitar-playing singer/songwriter who announced up front that he was neither a guitarist nor a singer.

A lead singer who told insider jokes (I'm guessing they were jokes) to members of the audience he knew, leaving others in the audience feeling somehow deficient because they didn't get the joke anymore than I did. After we felt left out of the patter, how was the band going to bring us into the music?

Bottom line: Two members of the audience left musical events early, not because the music wasn't good, but because the patter didn't allow us to appreciate the music.

Creative Learning

I recently attended a series of  5 TEDx lectures with a friend. The next day, I realized that I remembered every point on of the lecturers had made in his allotted 20 minutes, even though I had not taken notes.  I checked with my friend, who is only peripherally interested in public speaking, and she, too, remembered what he'd said.

Strangely, I thought, neither of us had a strong visual memory of what the man looked like, what he wore, how he moved. We had the same response to another of the lecturers—we didn't remember him, we remembered his general message.

The purpose of most lectures is to provide information, information that we will remember and think about. Why was one of those 5 speakers so successful that I still can almost quote his speech?

Granted, he owns a business that requires presentations on a regular basis. But what principles had he learned in the process of creating a successful international company?

He began with a "hook," a $50 billion mistake that took 10 years of his life. He had our attention right away.

He next mentioned his state of despondency as he tried to find a new path. An emotion that everyone in his audience could relate to, a state that seems to be necessary before any creative breakthrough. Now we were with him, ready to follow his thinking.

Then a bit of history about his field—when and why the $50 billion mistake, which had seemed progressive at the time, had its origins. Although I was familiar with that history, he added a perspective that had never occurred to me.

His first slides gave us visual images of the "old way" of thinking about the problem, and then the "new way." Without printed labels, without any horrible power points. We were free to respond emotionally, and to agree with him that his new way was the right one.

His last point was about change—When we change one aspect of a problem, we create the necessity of change in every process connected to it. That point reminded my friend of a change she had made in the same system our lecturer was talking about.

I think that, if we were young enough, both of us would have applied this week for a job in his company.

I began writing this post with the question: Why wast the lecture memorable, while the speaker was not? I thought the answer was: Because he focused completely on his message and not himself.

Then I realized that every one of the arguments I'd been making to support that answer involved our responses as audience members. So perhaps the answer to my question was: The speaker thought of himself as the conduit between his message and his audience.

Then I looked, belatedly, at the title of the lecture—"Designing for Learning in the Creative Age"—and realized that the audience had been taken through the creative process itself in 20 minutes.