You had to be there.
I remember the first time I saw Cirque du Soliel in a tent show about 15 years ago in San Francisco. I had never seen anything like it! When a version of the same show was on television a year later I said to my mother: “You have to see this! You will be amazed.” As we watched it, I was disappointed. It just wasn’t the same at all. I found myself using that oh-so-common phrase:
“I guess you just had to be there.”
I recently posted on “Why I Never Take Pictures”. Writing that piece got me thinking about why it is that even the most spectacular media piece often falls short of a live experience…
Portland theater company Pixie Dust Production recently put on “Legally Blonde.” I attended with my husband, daughter and a friend. Before going to the show we watched the movie and we were reminded of how hysterical parts of it were, and of the excellent casting. We set off to the live show (adapted as a musical) with the expectation that it would be “fun”, but obviously not as professional as the movie – I mean the movie cost millions to produce after all! How wrong we were. The cast of young professionals (many from local universities in the area) showed such passion, enthusiasm and talent! The songs were captivating. We laughed so hard at points we had to wipe tears from our eyes (one song centers on the question: “Is he gay or European?” – hysterical!) Well, I guess maybe you had to be there.
And that’s the point. Sometimes there really is nothing like being there. It’s the indescribable experience of a live performance. It may not cost millions of dollars to produce, it may not use the best effects, it may not even showcase the most talented people out there, but we forgive all of that the moment we become caught in the magic of an experience that touches us in some way.
What makes a live performance work?
Often, the real value in a live performance is a moment of connection we have with the performer that leaves us feeling understood. The need to be understood is a powerful driver for every human being, and one of the greatest gifts that we can give to another person.
Lately, Randy and I have been struggling with how to improve our presentations. We are often asked to give a keynote speech – sometimes alone and sometimes together – and we want to continue to raise the bar on our own performance. In a recent conversation we started down the road of what sort of media we could create to kick off a speech – maybe a great video or engaging interactive piece. The more we talked, the bigger the bells and whistles became, and soon we had a media piece in mind that rivaled Disney’s budget. No one can accuse us of not thinking BIG – haha! Unfortunately, our budget is more like a flipcam in the basement sort of production than Pirates of the Caribbean.
That same week Randy was asked to give a keynote on Evolutionary Leadership and he quickly whipped together four photos that his brother had taken – one of a tree, another of Hong Kong, one of an outdoor gathering of people, and one of food. As he always does, he slipped off his shoes and began telling stories. Great stories. And at the end of the presentation he received a standing ovation from the crowd. Some of the folks in the line to buy our book after his speech commented: “I never realized until now that I am an Evolutionary. How can you understand so much about how I feel?”
The unique power of the live presentation is to be able to connect with people and share an experience together in the moment that gives the gift of understanding. Really, the photos could have been of almost anything, the magic of the day was in the live interaction, more than the media. Yes, yes, I know what you are thinking: “Not many people can do what Randy can do!” And you’re right. But one thing we can all do is better use our live interactions to deepen understanding.
The Evolutionary Potential of Sawubona!
Sawubona is a greeting used by the Zulu culture in Africa. It is a primal word from a time when it was believed that we could truly “see each other.” Sawubana means “We see you.” The use of “we” is intended to represent all of the ancestral history that has come before, as well as the here and now. The exchange of “We see you” followed by the response, “Yes, we see you too” indicates that you are a witness to the presence of, and affirm the reality of, the other person and he or she does the same for you in return. It is an invitation to investigate mutual potential. We are saying that if we are seeing each other we must also ask: “What has this moment together given us to do?” (For more on the meaning of sawubona, watch the video here.) Sawubona is our way of giving consent for a conversation with the purpose of achieving understanding. It requires letting go of our self-interests, and opening our hearts to a mutual state of existence in order to achieve a higher cause – namely the freedom to be who we are.
Evolutionaries are experts at using the spirit of sawubona to ignite dialogues for strengthening relationships and driving change. In our book Evolutionaries: Transformational Leadership we explain that Evolutionaries are committed to a cause larger than themselves and understand that nothing truly great is accomplished in this world without groups of people working together.
What Sawubona teaches us is that the first step to creating Evolutionary relationships is seeking to understand one another. And what “you had to be there” teaches us is that, for whatever reason, this kind of understanding is most potent when the communication is real-time, one-of-a-kind, in person.
See you at the next show!