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.
Too many people operate under the assumption they deserve respect rather than making a conscious and consistent effort to earn it. Magicians, like mimes, clowns, and ventriloquists, know all about lack of respect. The prevailing public opinion is that magicians are self obsessed know-it-alls who are constantly pestering their friends and family to “pick a card” and showing lame tricks at inappropriate times. According to commercials, sitcoms, and movies, magicians are friendless losers with nothing better to do than pull colorful scarves out of their sleeves and coins from little kids’ ears.
Likewise, salesman have a reputation for being sleazy and deceitful. Given that reputation, how could you ever approach a group of strangers and command enough respect to take control?
The first and most important thing you can do is simply: smile. You won’t believe how far smiling goes to erasing preconceived notions and winning people over. Too many magicians are so eager to dive into their tricks that they forget to connect with their audience. Similarly, too many salesmen are so focused on the potential sale that they forget to shake the snake oil stereotype before starting. What’s worse: when you launch into a trick (or pitch) without properly introducing yourself or connecting with your audience, it plays right into the self-obsessed stereotype, confirming the audience’s worst beliefs and putting up brick walls before you’ve even begun.
Once you have connected with the audience, the next most important thing you need to do is establish the rules and context of your performance. Whether you are a magician or a salesman it is your performance, your stage, your rules. Where most people get into trouble is trying to control a situation when they haven’t first connected with the audience, as discussed earlier.
I am constantly reminded of a magic lecture I attended as a teenager from a world renowned performer named Max Maven. He performed a feat with playing cards during which at one point he handed a card face down to an audience member. Unbeknownst to the audience, he has switched the card they thought it was for a different one. When he later explained the workings of the trick to this room of magicians, one magician asked, “But what if they turn the card over and see that it has been switched?” Max replied, “They don’t.” And the magician continued, “But why not?” To which Max replied:
They don’t turn the card over because I don’t want them to.
Max had so won over the crowd and established the rules of his performance by that time that no one, even though they were free to do as they wish, would have even considered doing something that wasn’t explicitly asked of them. That is control.
Thus taking control is about two things, primarily. The first is being kind and friendly, thus making people feel comfortable enough with you that they are willing to hand over the reins. The second is establishing the rules and context of your encounter. This is done largely through actions, rather than words. Acting confident, but not arrogant, is the key here. Much more could be said on that, and will be addressed in a future blog.
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.