Learning From Other Disciplines

They may forget what you said, but they will never forget how you made them feel.

–Carl  Frederick Buechner

Dear Friends:

Tobias here, writing from my Wizard’s Corner!

Jeff, Larry and I have just returned from the National Speakers Association’s Influence conference in Phoenix. Jeff’s mainstage performance opened the first general session with a standing ovation response. We got to present a miniature version of our Magic for Speakers and Presenters workshop, make some new friends, and to attend several of the sessions at the convention. The performance and presentation went very well, and I’m looking forward to seeing some of those who attended at our class for speakers & magicians in November.

We also got to see a number of magician friends who were attending. Pretty much universally, they asked us “not to tell everyone” they were there—or that they are making quite a good living doing magic as speakers. I expect they’re having too much fun, making too much money, and really don’t want too much competition from other magicians! We’re going ahead with the class in November, anyway. It’s not just for magicians who want to learn how to build and deliver great talks using their magic, but for people already doing speaking who want to learn our “magicians’ secrets” for doing better presentations.  As those of you who have attended any of our classes know, “magicians’ secrets” include a lot more than just how to do various tricks.

I’m a rank beginner in this world of professional public speakers, and therefore something of an outsider. I think that can actually be an advantage. As a beginner, I get to see the whole experience with the eyes of an outsider, and take different insights away with me. Here are some that I think you might enjoy:

  1. The true “stars” of the public speaking world are not primarily public speakers. The general session on the opening night featured a magician, a stand-up comedian, and an impressionist–and each one won a standing ovation from the crowd! So: If you really want to make it in the world of professional speaking, perhaps you need to succeed in some other area first. This reinforces one of the big principles in my book, The Wizard’s Way to Powerful Presentations: Every great talk has to succeed on at least two different levels: first, as a sale (more on that later), and second, as a great show. The “stars” of that first night’s presentation were each great entertainers.
  2. In the breakout sessions I attended, one presenter after another repeated, “It’s not enough just to be entertaining. You must be an expert. You must have an interesting experience to relate. You must have a point of view, if you want to succeed in this business.” I’ve seen too many magicians who decide they’ll move into “motivational speaking,” but really have no original thoughts or insights to offer.

So: I know that most of you don’t want to become speakers, and may not be interested in the world of speakers. Still… in the past couple of weeks we’ve endured (or loved, depending on your proclivities) two national political conventions, with the chance to view many and varied speeches before large crowds–and those speeches varied widely in terms of their purpose, content and entertainment value. I generally dislike almost everything about politics—but if you can step back for a moment and look at the whole thing as a big game, with lessons to be learned for all—a campaign is certainly a great time to observe what makes a great talk, and what doesn’t. Not only that, but with this country as polarized as it is, it’s fascinating to observe that the things which make a great talk for one side, with their perspectives, make for a terrible talk for the other, with theirs.

What, you may be wondering, is the relevance of all this when it comes to magic, magicians and those who love magic?

I think it is extremely relevant. A talk is a presentation, and so is a magic show. What makes one great, probably applies to the other. Just as a talk needs to have a clear purpose—a thing that it is selling (I told you we would come back to that)—so does a show. Just as a talk must have a good through-line with a clear beginning, middle and end, so does a good magic show. Just as any good speaker knows, their talk must take facts and logic and wrap them in stories and experiences involving their audiences—so must a magical performer make their tricks into a show that will actually move an audience and be remembered.

So, over the coming weeks and months, I hope you’ll take some time and make an attempt to step out of the fray; that emotional cauldron that is our political system, and watch talks by each of the candidates before various audiences. They each have distinctive styles and messages. Each commands audiences in a different way. As performers, what can you learn from each of them?

Remember, one of the great principles of true wizards—those who make a larger “dent in the universe” than others– are those with the ability to view any situation from multiple perspectives. When you can view even a highly emotional event like a political speech from many different points of view, there is much to learn. For most people, the campaign is a time to align with one candidate or the other, and they limit their experience of the campaign to doing that. There is, however, so much more to be learned by observing the process with different mindsets. Observe not just what each candidate has to say, but how they appeal to their particular audiences. What kind of stories does each one tell? What sort of experiences do their talks provide for the audience in attendance? Are the talks calculated just to affect the audience in front of the speaker, or are they also consciously tailored for the opponent’s audience, to give a different experience? Have they thought to make them effective not only for the live audience, but also for the one watching on video?

In this day of YouTube and on-demand video feeds of all kinds, it’s easy to watch the same speech, or parts of that speech, several times. I think it might pay to do that, and to consciously try and see the talk from a different point of view each time you watch it. First, just watch it as yourself. Then try and see it as someone from the opposite political camp would. Then as if you were a director, hired to help the candidate better reach his or her audience, perhaps a fourth time through. You’ll want to watch as though you were a viewer living in Europe or elsewhere.

This is something I do with a magician’s performance when I’m directing. I generally don’t fully “get” a performance until I’ve seen it at least twice… and my notions of how to improve it often don’t fully kick in until two or three days of rehearsals and viewings. It is only when I’ve had a chance to fully understand what is going on in the performance on several different levels that it becomes clear how we can best change that performance in order to improve it. Often, we don’t know until we’ve seen that particular performance in front of several different audiences.

I hope I’ve made the case that there is much we can learn from speakers—our fellow performers, in many ways. I also hope you’ll join us for one of our upcoming events, whether that be the 7-day Master Class in August (1 slot left), for our new class on business and marketing for magicians, called Money is the Best Applause, or this year’s Magic & Meaning Conference celebrating 25 years with our Dean, Eugene Burger, and with keynote by our good friend Bob Fitch–or any of the other rapidly approaching events here at the McBride Magic & Mystery School. Oh… and, especially, do consider Magic for Speakers & Presenters, which is slated for early November. Whether you’re a magician looking to add public speaking to your repertoire, or already a speaker and you want to learn some magician’s secrets (including tricks!) that will enhance all your future talks, it promises to be a great way to expand your current abilities!

A couple of quick reminders before I go: Our subject on Mystery School Mondays this month is “Paper Prestidigitation,” and our opening, all free episode is Monday night, August 1, on www.mcbridemagic.tv. Also: if you know someone else who would enjoy this Museletter, please let them know! The link to sign up is here: http://www.mcbridemagic.com/join/

Best wishes for a magical August!


Tobias Beckwith




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