Cabaret (Issue 671)

In which we are reminded that our relationships with clients enable them to hear us more clearly.

To escape the harsh new England winter (and to participate in a conference), I stepped to Scottsdale, Arizona much as architect Frank Lloyd Wright had done in the mid-1930s for health reasons. Long-time friend John and I toured Wright’s  compound, Taliesin West, nestled at the base of the McDowell mountains east of Scottsdale.

Tour Guide George, a HUGE Frank Lloyd Wright fan, shared tales of Taliesin’s founding, construction, and evolution, residents’ daily life, and Wright’s work. We learned, for example that Wright, famous for his work on magnificent structures like Fallingwater in Western Pennsylvania, was the first to develop floor illuminating aisle lighting for theaters, the first to embed lighting in overhead beams, and the first to develop “in roof” gutters to eliminate ice dams (something that those of you who live in warm climates don’t need to worry about).

As we reached the end of our tour, we descended to seats in the Cabaret Theater. During a trip to Europe, Frank Lloyd Wright took great delight in underground cabaret music venues; he decided he must have one at Taliesin West. George described the theater, a six-sided hexagonal space that slopes down to the stage set several feet below ground level, as “95% acoustic perfection.” Mr. Wright and his wife, sitting at their round table at the back of the theater,  could easily hear front row whispered conversations.

Among many then-innovative features of the theater, the stage is the crown jewel. The stage floor is constructed of wood bridged over an air-filled space excavated with great effort in the desert floor rather set directly on a concrete slab. The vibration of the floor over that space has much the same effect as the air-filled body of an acoustic guitar – the relationship between the vibrating stage floor and the under-stage air amplifies the volume of whatever is said or played on the stage.

George demonstrated this by holding up a thumb-sized, tiny music box. Turning the crank, he asked, “can you hear this?” Only very faintly, even in the front row. George then placed the music box on a nearby table top under which there were 3 feet of air space to the floor. He played the music box again; the sound was strong and rich, easily heard throughout the theater.

When we speak in our own sales “theaters,” the relationship between our stage floors and the space beneath us has a similar effect. If we have little or no relationship with our clients, if we are about pitches and transactions, our voices are faint or lost,  like George’s music box held aloft.  When we’ve expended the effort to “excavate space” – to create a context of relationship, that relationship “space” beneath us amplifies and enriches our message so that we can be heard and understood clearly anywhere, even at a whisper.

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