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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.

 

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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.

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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.