Raising hands.

As a teenager I thought that a career in magic would be glamorous and exciting, with big stages, spotlights, beautiful girls, and exotic travel. As it turns out, it’s a little more like running a business. In fact the time I spend performing feels like a vacation, because in reality I work an 80+ hour week outside of doing a single card trick or pulling a coin from anyone’s ear. In this blog series I discuss tips and techniques I’ve learned as a professional magician that you can use in the business world.

 

Tip 4: Address Concerns First

Are you prepared when someone raises concerns about your pitch, argument, or presentation? Harkening back to Public Speaking 101, most of us prepare responses to potential concerns so that we aren’t caught off guard. It’s a good practice and one that will serve you well, but there’s a better technique available: don’t allow the concerns to be voiced in the first place.

 

As a magician I am tasked with convincing people to believe something that they know isn’t true. It is a lofty endeavor to say the least, and there are many potential objections to a magic trick. One of the most popular topics for ‘newbies’ on online magic forums is:

 

What do you do when somebody guesses the secret?

 

There are a host of standard answers ranging from “laugh it off” to “deny it” to a more subtle “Say, ‘That would be one way to do it.’ ” These are all reasonable ways to get past the uncomfortable moment when somebody guesses how a trick works. My question: Why give them a chance to guess?

 

Great magicians and indeed great speakers know that one of your best tools is to address the concerns before the audience has a chance to. In my opening trick during a strolling (social) magic set, I say:

 

Many people think that magicians use our sleeves, but you can see that I don’t. Instead, what I do is…

 

I don’t use my sleeves to do magic (most magicians don’t). But many audiences, when given the chance, will convince themselves that we do in an attempt to explain the trick in a logical way. The fact that their objection is wrong doesn’t matter. It is very hard to persuade someone to ignore their own concerns, even misplaced ones. Once somebody says, “It’s up your sleeves!” all I can do is deny it, which makes me look guilty, even when I’m telling the truth. The seeds of concern, once planted, can grow into a very large problem.

 

If you’re giving a sales pitch to a potential client, or a board room presentation to your superiors, don’t just prepare for objections. Address them yourself! Two things will happen:

 

  1. Acknowledging potential problems within your own argument makes you look honest and transparent, and people like working with honest people.
  2. By addressing the concern yourself you get the chance to frame it however you want. Don’t allow the audience to create the story for you! It’s your pitch, your argument, your performance – you create the story.

 

Near the beginning of my show I use the phrase “I know this might be hard to believe, but…” to great effect. It may sound like a throwaway line, but it puts me on the same page as the audience. They’re thinking to themselves “This is pretty far-fetched, does he really expect me to believe it?” and then I say “I know this is hard to believe…” At that point the audience feels like I understand what they’re going through, and it breaks down the audience vs magician vibe.

 

Addressing concerns before they are raised is one of the best tools available to you in business. Don’t take the easy way out by only preparing for objections and hoping that they don’t come up. Take the initiative and put them to rest yourself.

 

Brian Miller is a nationally acclaimed variety artist: magician, comedian, musician, and speaker. He maintains a schedule of 250+ events per year nationwide for corporate events, college campuses, and high end private functions. Visit www.BrianMillerMagic.com to learn more and view videos.

 

People talking on a plane.

As a teenager I thought that a career in magic would be glamorous and exciting, with big stages, spotlights, beautiful girls, and exotic travel. As it turns out, it’s a little more like running a business. In fact the time I spend performing feels like a vacation, because in reality I work an 80+ hour week outside of doing a single card trick or pulling a coin from anyone’s ear. In this blog series I discuss tips and techniques I’ve learned as a professional magician that you can use in the business world.

 

Tip 3: Talk to Strangers

 

This week’s tip is a simple one. Talk to everyone you meet, because you never know where the next sale, gig, opportunity, or referral is going to come from. Let me offer you a story instead of advice.

 

—–

I sat on a plane in Hartford, CT heading to Minneapolis, MN en route to North Dakota for a one-night performance at a college campus. It was very early in the morning and I was already exhausted, and more than annoyed at the looming prospect of flying/driving all day to do a show the same evening. A middle aged gentleman sat in the window seat next to me wearing a tweed jacket. We exchanged pleasantries and I asked the standard, “Business or pleasure?” He replied that he was going to a convention, and that he was a philosophy professor at Connecticut College. I perked up because I have a philosophy degree, and we ended up chatting the whole flight. By the end of it I had been invited to speak with his senior seminar on the philosophy of humor.

 

Fast forward to the seminar, where I met the chair of their philosophy department, who then invited me to give my interactive presentation “Magic, Philosophically Speaking” to the entire humanities department.

 

Fast forward again to that presentation, a standing room only event that went exceedingly well. After it was over a kind lady approached to tell me how much she enjoyed it. She then informed me that her husband is the director of an acclaimed museum, and asked if I would be willing to customize a similar interactive philosophy lecture specifically about The Wizard of Oz for the museum’s annual Wee Fairy Village. I was delighted.

 

Later that year, weeks prior to the museum presentation, I found myself sitting next to a sharply dressed woman on another very early flight. Despite my usual chatty demeanor, I had no interested in talking to anyone. I was basically asleep when I hear, “I like your hat.” I looked up and barely replied, “Oh, thank you.” She said, “I noticed it in the terminal but didn’t want to be awkward. But since we’re sitting next to each other, I thought I would tell you.”

 

I introduced myself and soon discovered I was conversing with Dr. Zoe Chance, a Yale University professor and renowned marketing expert on influence and persuasion. In a crazy twist of fate, she is a lifelong lover of magic, and we talked the entire flight. I invited her to the museum engagement.

 

Dr. Chance did in fact show up to the museum presentation and followed up by inviting me to give a performance and speak to her graduate seminar “Mastering Influence and Persuasion.” It was a resounding success, and has since become a recurring engagement. My involvement with Dr. Chance and Yale University has put my reputation in a new class of elite respect that I had never imagined.

 

Additionally a different Connecticut College professor also attended my museum presentation and has since invited me multiple times to speak to his senior seminar on the topic of Secrecy throughout history.

—–

My point should be crystal clear: talk to strangers! You have absolutely no idea who you’re talking to or what might come of it. My above story took place over the course of 4 years. Networking should not be reserved just for “networking events” and it doesn’t need to be blatant. I did not go into any of those conversations with the intention of making professional connections or advancing my career. It happened due to a combination of friendliness, open mindedness, and circumstance.

We often hear that “luck is what happens when preparation meets opportunity.” My former manager used to say, “Luck happens by design.” I say talk to everybody. You will be amazed by what comes of it. Worst case scenario: you have a pleasant conversation with a fellow human being. In the best case you might find yourself in new career positions that were never previously available.

Brian Miller is a nationally acclaimed variety artist: magician, comedian, musician, and speaker. He maintains a schedule of 250+ events per year nationwide for corporate events, college campuses, and high end private functions.

Neil Patrick Harris briefcase prediction at the Oscars

As a teenager I thought that a career in magic would be glamorous and exciting, with big stages, spotlights, beautiful girls, and exotic travel. As it turns out, it’s a little more like running a business. In fact the time I spend performing feels like a vacation, because in reality I work an 80+ hour week outside of doing a single card trick or pulling a coin from anyone’s ear. In this blog series I discuss tips and techniques I’ve learned as a professional magician that you can use in the business world.

Tip 2: Get to the Point

 

How many words does it take you to make the sale? How much of your most precious commodity, time, do you spend making a point?

 

Amateur magicians love to collect things: props, tricks, books, DVDs, and one-liners. To be fair, hobbyists in almost any field enjoy the process of collecting new ‘toys’. There is nothing inherently wrong with amassing a collection of ‘things’ when you are learning a craft. The problem begins when you try to enter the professional world of your former hobby and take all that baggage with you.

 

The same is true in business. When you first start out giving board room presentations, or sales pitches to prospective clients, you spend way too much time talking in an effort to hide your insecurity and inexperience. As you gain confidence and flight time, however, you find that you can make your point or make the sale with fewer, more carefully chosen words and actions.

 

Comedians know that the punchline of a joke must be proportional to the time it takes to set it up. A very quick setup can withstand a mediocre punchline, but a joke that takes 5 minutes to set up had better pay off HUGE. Magicians know the same for tricks: the longer it takes set up a trick, the more incredible the resulting illusion must be. Neil Patrick Harris, a respectable magician by every account, should have known this going into the 2015 Academy Awards. Yet he allowed his briefcase prediction trick to take over 3 hours to pay off, at which point the live audience and viewers around the world collectively sighed, “Who cares?”

 

There was a time as a budding close up magician that I would take 100 tricks to every gig. Now I show up with 5 tricks, and probably only perform 3 the whole night. I am no longer weighed down, literally or figuratively, by all the baggage of insecurity and inexperience. My end goal is to entertain the audience, and I can accomplish that goal with less than ever before.

 

Take this idea and put it to work in business. If you focus your energy on finding the shortest, most efficient route to your end goal, you will surely reap the rewards. You will make more sales, better arguments, and waste less of that limited resource: time.

 

Brian Miller is a nationally acclaimed variety artist: magician, comedian, musician, and speaker. He maintains a schedule of 250+ events per year nationwide for corporate events, college campuses, and high end private functions.

Brian Miller: Corporate Entertainer

As a teenager I thought that a career in magic would be glamorous and exciting, with big stages, spotlights, beautiful girls, and exotic travel. As it turns out, it’s a little more like running a business. In fact the time I spend performing feels like a vacation, because in reality I work an 80+ hour week outside of doing a single card trick or pulling a coin from anyone’s ear. In this blog series I discuss tips and techniques I’ve learned as a professional magician that you can use in the business world.

Tip 1: Know Your Audience

 

This tip may sound self explanatory but it takes a great deal of practice, dedication, and self restraint to pull it off. As a budding magician I made the mistake that nearly all entertainers do at the beginning: focusing on myself. I would rehearse my tricks and memorize all my lines for hours, alone, in front of a mirror. That night I would get in front of an audience and deliver my performance at them. Occasionally I hit a home run; most of the time I struck out.

 

The problem is that an audience’s personality varies greatly from night to night, venue to venue, and city to city. Even two shows the same night at the same venue can yield drastically different conditions. And the key is this: just like each person you meet has a different personality, history, set of experiences, and expectations, so do larger groups of people as a whole. Whether your audience is a board room of 8 people or a corporate theater of 1000, if you start to pay attention you will discover that a group of people has a unifying personality that sets them apart from every other group of people.

 

What entertainers learn through experience, and that only flight time ‘on stage’ can teach you, is that it’s crucial to adjust your performance to your audience. The way that I deliver my act to a room of millionaires at a fundraising gala in Connecticut is very different from the way I deliver the same material to an audience of college students in Iowa. It may sound obvious when put in extremes, but the same applies to each group of people, or individual person you meet, in the business world.

 

So try this: Before launching into your speech or sales pitch, or even just a casual conversation, spend a minute getting a sense of the feel of the room. Pay attention to the energy level in particular. Too many entertainers hit the stage hard and fast and leave their audience behind in the process. Similarly, many speakers and salesman launch into their pitch as if they’re speaking to the bathroom mirror.

 

My mentor once told me: Bad magicians perform at their audience. Good magicians perform for their audience. But great magicians perform with their audience.

 

So get out there and speak with your audience. Treat each group of people with the individual respect they deserve. Adjust your delivery to suit their energy, needs, and background.

 

Brian Miller is a nationally acclaimed variety artist: magician, comedian, musician, and speaker. He maintains a schedule of 250+ events per year nationwide for corporate events, college campuses, and high end private functions.