Ben Zander is a master at making the abstract both concrete and compelling. Let’s explore some of the things he does well:
0:14 While this opening vignette is well known, his delight in it conveys that it’s worth repeating.
0:36 The line “Glorious opportunity, they don’t have any shoes yet!” is punctuated with a gleeful expression, suggesting how the audience should receive the content.
0:38 Links opening vignette to his core topic.
1:05 “It’s not really an experiment because I know the outcome.” He’s barely into the talk’s second minute, and it’s clear he wants to have fun—and so do we.
1:25 He makes the abstract concrete by imitating a seven-year-old pianist. His exaggerations (tongue hanging out, head-bobbing, grunting, etc.) are playful and underscore his point.
1:52 As with time-lapse photography, we see and hear three years of progression in less than a minute.
2:18 Says the unexpected, but truthful: “At that point they usually give up.” His pause and smile create the space for the audience to enjoy the humour.
2:50 Here, Zander reveals his magic of how he made an abstract idea—the reduction of impulses—tangible.
3:31 “One buttock playing” is a vivid description and metaphorical lesson that is simple and inspiring. Notice how this sequence of demonstrations allows him to ratchet up his credibility.
3:53 How about this for audience interaction? He has already developed such comfort and trust with the audience, he can literally move them.
3:55 As he says, “Suddenly the music took off,” his voice and his hands do too.
4:05 He weaves in the notion that his work creates results, engendering more confidence in him and his ways.
4:12 “I wanted to tell you about you.” Talking about your audience is an instant way to capture their attention. He then keeps it by bringing to life the different segments, not in a dry academic way (As in “The demographic and psychographic composition of the classical music listener…”), but by creating rich composites of the various segments: “A little Vivaldi in the background doesn’t do any harm.”
5:22 He preemptively disarms the tone-deaf argument by providing a succession of simple and plausible counterpoints. This makes his assertion, “You have a fantastic ear” possible and therefore exciting.
6:21 Everything up until now has been stage setting for fulfilling his mission of having everyone love classical music.
6:24 He opens the hood on leadership: Conviction is important to inspiring followership.
7:47 He playfully confronts our drifting attention, “I don’t think we should go to the same place for summer holidays next year.” He pops up from the piano bench for some animated commentary and then sits.
8:45 “The job of the C is to make the B sad” pulls back the covers and makes classical music accessible and interesting.
9:23 More audience participation made possible by Zander’s trusting environment.
9:48 Specifically cites Act 1, Scene 3 in Hamlet, which subtly shows his command of Shakespeare. Uses the Hamlet comparison to underscore the need to postpone the anticipated ending and create the space for the rest of the piece to live.
10:54 Defines and demonstrates “deceptive cadence” with an animated facial expression.
11:18 Imitates the relief of the gentleman in the front row.
11:22 Simplifies Chopin: “This is a piece that goes from away to home,” and gives a simple roadmap for listening.
11:57 To join the B to the E requires the pianist to stop thinking about every single note. Similarly, great presenters don’t lose “the long line” of their presentation in the weeds of their bullets. He anchors the importance of being mindful of the long line by applying the concept to Mandela’s inspiring example.
12:29 “Bird and fences” metaphor is simple and vivid.
13:07 “You’ll hear everything that Chopin had to say.” Delivered with certainty to make us believers.
15:47 He summarizes by enumerating “listening, understanding, and being moved by a piece by Chopin.”
16:17 He uses the unexpected example of a boy’s reaction (”It felt really good to cry for my brother.”) to illustrate what is possible for all of us.
17:12 “How would you walk?” scenarios nicely bookend to his opening vignette.
17:22 Uses the conductor-as-leader metaphor to tighten the connection between classical music and his audience’s aspirations.
18:27 Repeats the question, “Who am I being that my players’ eyes are not shining?” to reinforce its import. And lo, man in the front row writes down the question.
Please forward The Joy of Presenting to anyone you think might be interested.