A Magician’s Guide to Approaching an Audience When Performing Magic
Why is this word one of the most difficult things for a magician to say?
Is it rejection? Social anxiety? No matter the answer, when performing magic, it’s difficult for anyone starting out.
I have found, after years of performing magic, this is one of the biggest trouble areas for a new magician. It’s something we learn when we are really young but forget as we get older.
As we dive into this article, please understand this is geared toward strolling performances, where you are paid (or expected) to be there, rather than approaching people on the street.
Performance Tips: Clean Up Your Act!
The very first thing anyone is going to do when you are performing magic is… look at you. So let’s start there.
This is stuff that should go without saying, but you should have your hygiene game on point—showered clean, hair combed, deodorant applied, teeth brushed, fresh clothes and hands looking sharp. You’re a magician; take care of your hands! People notice!
Your clothes should also project something about you. I find a nice suit jacket, shirt and tie, including nice shoes and a belt, are good for most occasions when I perform. Keep them clean and fitted (so I don’t swim in them!). Also don’t wear card ties, a “tip your magician” badge or other items, which are seen as “cheesy”—you are a magician, not a TGIF server! Project confidence and cleanliness.
Basically, my thought has always been, if you want to get paid, dress like someone who makes money. The saying “dress to impress” should resonate with everyone in performance mode. Look at some of the magicians who are top earners and then look at low earners in your area. I bet their clothing is drastically different.
Lastly, smile and smile a lot when performing magic. It just helps you appear friendly. I’ve seen some guys approach groups and get turned away almost every time because they looked tired and expressionless. If you’re there to show people a good time, look like someone who is there to give them a good time!
That is all non-verbal communication, which tells people a lot about you before you approach them. They will see you coming and judge you before any words come out of your mouth. When I walk up they are asking themselves, “Would I want to be seen with this guy?” If you are dressed nicely, look clean and friendly, there is no reason they won’t at least allow you to say hello.
Performance Tips: Getting Attention
“But I Left My Clown Nose at Home…”
Then there’s the tricky part when performing magic: Getting their attention.
A great way to introduce yourself without approaching a group is to have a poster. There are a bunch of great shops online doing these for cheap now. If you have your promotional material in check, this would be a worthy investment down the line.
If you are fortunate, you can have the host introduce you before you start performing magic. Sometimes before a strolling event, I like to have the host introduce me to the whole group, so I’m no longer just a random guy—I’m there for a reason.
I actually write something for the host to say on an index card and have them read it before taking over and saying a fast hello. If time/location permits, I also perform a small stand-up bit with the person that just announced me.
If you are less fortunate, you may have to introduce yourself to groups cold. I always like being direct and giving people an honest hello.
Shawn’s ‘Good Old Standby’ Intro:
“Hello, I’m Shawn and I’m just checking how everything is going tonight.”
This allows me to feel out the group. If they are in a serious conversation, I let them be, but if they look like they are up for a good time, I continue with:
“I’ve been asked by the management/staff/host (insert important person’s name if you can) to show everyone here one quick piece of magic.”
This lets them know I’m not going to take up too much time and I’m there for a reason. I take a brief pause here.
If they don’t want me to show them anything, this is when they will say so. If they don’t say anything, I just start asking for someone’s name:
“And your name is?”
“Hi, Bob, it’s great to meet you. I’m Shawn… Would you like to see something real fast?”
This puts this person into a really interesting situation. They have to answer for the whole group if they want to see something or not.
If it’s a couple I ask for the guy’s name first, then the girl, and ask the girl if they would like to see something. More times than not, they will say yes because they don’t want to ruin it for anyone.
If there is a long pause I just say again:
“Here, I’ll do the fastest thing I can and you guys can decide if I stay or go on to the next group.”
Then I do just that: I go into something very fast that’s simple.
(TIP: A card force/reveal is simple and good or even just producing a coin from nowhere can work. Just be honest with what you told them.)
Oh yeah… and this is really important…
When performing magic, DON’T overstay your welcome.
Performance Tips: Dealing With Rejection
She’s Just Not That Into You…
Now the important part: Dealing with rejection.
When someone rejects us, it could be for a THOUSAND reasons. I’ve only been turned away rudely a few times in my career and those people were jerks. If you’re polite and upfront with people, the only rejection you’ll likely get is, “No, thank you,” “Not right now,” or some version like that.
For both cases I say:
“Okay, thank you very much. If you change your mind just let me know and I’ll be sure to make my way back. If not, I hope you have an awesome night. Enjoy.”
I don’t want to be a jerk and to try and press the matter. I’m a stranger to their group and it’s their right to say, “No thanks.”
Don’t take it personally, you don’t know what you have just walked into.
(I’ve walked up on people talking about serious surgeries, divorce and even a guy whose car just caught on fire.)
Performance Tips: The Bottom Line
The bottom line: Act like a professional.
You are selling yourself every time you step out the door, so give them your best.
Now it is your turn….
Magicians…what are your favorite ways to approach a group when it’s time to perform magic? Leave a comment below and let us know your opinion!