They moved around the stage as if they were animated and all of their intricate dance steps were perfectly diagrammed and allowed to play out with almost otherworldly precision. Three people stepping and whirling and moving about with a blurred intricacy that was a marvel to watch.
As I sat in my seat at a local college production of “Singing in the Rain,” I was mesmerized by how good it looked, how the actors’ dance steps were near perfection. Upon leaving the theater that night, the four of us who had attended it thought that they made it look, effortless.
My wife is a planner and an organizer. When we plan for a funeral, as we need to, because we do work for a church, and people do pass away, my wife leaves nothing to chance or assumption. If she is unsure of anything, she respectfully reaches out to the family and asks.
When the day of the funeral arrives, the tables are set for the number of estimated guests, people helping to serve have assigned duties, and everyone knows their role and has had all of their questions answered. When everything is done and the family and all the guests have left the scene (I didn’t want to use “departed” there…) someone will no doubt remark to us, that everything flowed and went smoothly. It appeared to be, effortless.
A speaker gives a riveting talk about a relevant topic. The stories are perfect, the research is current and adds to the speaker’s credibility and knowledge of the topic. There are references to the speaker’s work in the field, excerpts from their published papers and possibly from a book, and everything flows from a place of experience nourished by wisdom, curiosity, and exhaustive research.
For 25 or 30 minutes or even longer, the audience is silent, respectful, and hanging on every word. This is not a droning, draining recitation of memorized facts, it is an important, impactful, and interesting dialogue with the audience. Even if the audience remains totally silent throughout the entire event. The speaker made it sound, feel, and seem, effortless.
And you all know of what I speak. If it looks effortless, if it flows and seems to not just be choreographed, but digitally mastered and seamless, it took a lot of work to get there. I
have done theater, and the best way to give riveting, believable performances is to have worked your hindquarters off in preparation. Some of the best preparation is repetition, working on voice inflection, tone, emotion, and timing. Over and over and over again. “One more time… this time, could you do it with a little less, anger…” or a little more emotion, a bit less volume… whatever. You do it again, sometimes you clench your teeth because you can’t possibly know that it can be any better or smoother. But you do it again.
The actors that I referenced above from “Singing in the Rain” worked endlessly on that scene. It showed. I know one of the actors, and he said that they repeated it so many times, they could do each other’s parts. It looked frantic and fast-paced, but when they all flung their ways out and all flopped into separate chairs – you knew that it didn’t happen by luck or happenstance, it took a lot of time and effort and mistakes and grace and repetition. Good things, great things, are like that.
We have all been in a place where we didn’t prepare as we “should” have. Or the presenter didn’t. Maybe they were pressed into performing because someone unexpectedly didn’t show up, or there was a miscommunication. We can tell when something was thrown together at the last minute, or an attempt was made to do something off the cuff. It doesn’t appear effortless, the sweat might betray the speaker’s demeanor. The process becomes forced, halting, and difficult. It takes a lot more effort.
And this brings me to a reminder of the week that we are in, here in America. Thanksgiving. We need to be thankful. (That last sentence was my attempt to make a “should” statement without saying “should.”) If you hear someone speak, and it appears effortless, tell them. Get up on your feet and applaud them. A lot of work went into making it look effortless. If you are attending an event, or even a funeral, or something that clicked with stunning efficiency, poke your head in the kitchen, whisper if you cross the path of someone responsible, and say “Thank you, everything was wonderful.” Send a thank-you note – tell people what you liked and why you liked it.
If it’s reflexive to send a sharply worded email or make a phone call to whoever is in charge when something doesn’t meet our expectations, how about making it a thing if something knocks our socks off and blows us away? Looking and feeling and seeming effortless is not effortless. It takes a lot of work, preparation, going over details, and repeating things endlessly.
Right now, a lot of us are edgy and cranky and ticked off. (I wrote about being ticked off last week, maybe it’s a thing with me right now.) We need calm and smiles and appreciation. And we need to be seen and heard and appreciated. Everyone deserves to be appreciated, even if it’s just doing their frickin’ job and doing what they are supposed to do. There are varying levels of competency, and when someone does it right – tell them! Better yet, send a note addressed to their manager or supervisor, and if you can take a stray nanosecond here or there to write their name down, you can call them out to their team leader. No good deed needs to go unrecognized. Sloppy and unprepared doesn’t have to become our default setting, if we applaud what’s done well, it has a better chance of being repeated.
Thankfulness needs to become a default setting.