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.
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