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.
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