Showmanship and Presentation—-Final Excerpt

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Now how do you combat this “defensive resentment”? One method not for everybody is to have something sympathetic about you. If you are a youngster doing magic, not too precocious, you can often bypass the adult spectator’s defensiveness. He ALREADY feels superior by virtue of age and consequently does not feel threatened. He will feel sympathetic towards you and this gives you a distinct advantage. Similarly, if you are handicapped in some way you should not feel ashamed of exploiting this to win sympathy and disarm the spectator’s natural defensiveness.

Another way is to be humble-this is very soothing to the ego of the audience. If you have an air of conceit the spectators will doubly resent you. If you are modest your audience will build you up.

One way if it suits your personality is to affect an air of dithering or even incompetence. This can take the form of absent-mindedness or naivety. This will make the audience feel superior and more sympathetic towards you. However, as I have stated this style has to suit you.

Another method is to be friendly and human. You can even offer to teach them a simple trick if the situation warrants it. Get people to like you-their subconscious resentment will vanish if you are pleasant and HUMAN. I place special emphasis on appearing human; if you can do this, even making a slight mistake without appearing too incompetent, you disarm the spectator’s defences and he will grow to like you and liking you will help him to like your magic.

I once saw two mind readers appearing on  television within weeks of each other. One seemed ot give a far more polished performance than the other, doing what seemed stronger tricks, less long winded patter, and all the telepathy worked whereas the other fellow seemed to have a high failure rate. Yet strangely the slick performer did not get half the reaction that the less polished mind reader did. The reason I think was that the first telepathist was TOO impossible, TOO perfect and TOO slick. He had to fight all that “defensive resentment”. The second mentalist on the other hand seemed to have trouble getting his clairvoyance to work. However, when something did go right it got a sensational reaction from the audience. This, I believe was because the failures generated sympathy; the “defensive resentment” evaporated and when something did work it  caused an enthusiastic audience response.

A little more advice and then we’ll pass on to the next chapter.

1. If something goes wrong-never apologise. You will look weak and audiences dislike weakness. Rather, just make a joke about it and pass on to the next trick quickly. Very often people won’t know anything has gone wrong anyway if you follow my earlier advice of not explaining what is going to happen before it happens.

2.Try and see things from the audience point of view. This is not easy but it will help you considerably if you develop the ability to do this. You will be able to entertain people more effectively if you can attune yourself to their likes and dislikes.

3.Try and involve the spectators in your tricks. With many items you can do this automatically. Sometimes, however, you will have to use your imagination. Get them to blow on a card or shuffle the deck, ask them a question-but BRING THEM INTO IT.

There is a lot more advice I could give but there is no more space and perhaps it is best to learn by experience anyway, but I do hope the preceding guidance will be of value to you.




Showmanship and Presentation—-Final Excerpt


OK. Here is more from the chapter.

But how do you develop this capacity for showmanship? Well, we’ll come to that but first, here are a few general tips:



This rule should be obvious to most readers although some beginners feel tempted to show how smart they are by revealing the secret. This is a mistake for instead of impressing people with their cleverness they have lowered their standing with the spectator. Once the secret is know the viewer’s opinion of the performer’s ability will decline since the secrets of some tricks are so simple that the spectator will think, “Oh, is that all there is to it?” and give the matter no more thought, whereas if he is in the dark he will puzzle over it and be impressed simply BECAUSE he doesn’t know the secret. Remember, a good trick is like a precious diamond; protect it and it will give you much joy. A secret exposed is like a burst balloon-there’s nothing left.




This, like the above, is one of the standard rules of magic. There ARE a few exceptions since there are a tiny minority of tricks that are actually improved by repetition. By and large, though, it is not wise to repeat a trick for the simple reason that the audience is more likely to figure out the secret on the second showing. The first time a trick is performed the audience does not know what to expect; the magician might make a card disappear or he may change the four of spades to the four of hearts; perhaps the pack of cards will rise mysteriously in the air without visible means of support; in other words, anything could happen. The point is that the spectator doesn’t know what is coming so he is at a disadvantage when trying to figure out the secret. On the other hand, if the trick is repeated, the onlookers have far more chance of deducing the method since they know in advance what is going to happen and consequently are on their guard. They are in a better position to know what to look for and as a result are often able to work out the secret after proclaiming so in a loud voice much to the magician’s discomfort.




For the reason outlined in rule two it is unwise to let people know what is going to happen in advance. A possible exception to this would be just before the climax of a trick when all the secret moves and preparation have been completed. It may then be in order for the purpose of showmanship to announce the climax of the trick. Generally speaking though, the less said about what is going to happen the better.




As I stated in the first chapter, even the simplest card illusions require practice. For some of the more difficult tricks and sleights that follow in later chapters I recommend practice in front of a mirror. This will help you to judge the effect as the spectator sees it. However do not overdo the use of a mirror since too frequent use may cause you to get lost in front of an audience. You will be so used to seeing things from the point of view of a mirror that it’s absence will feel strange and you will flounder.


Another possible argument against injudicious use of a mirror is one that I have not personally come across. However, since various authorities in magic have stated this view I will give it for what it is worth. That is that frequent use of a mirror will cause the magician to develop a nervous habit of blinking whenever a secret move is executed. This may or may not be true, but I would certainly say that used sensibly a mirror is a useful asset to the budding performer.