ARE YOU WATCHING CLOSELY?
Magic tricks are brilliant. From that one card trick your uncle always does at new year, to Penn & Teller catching bullets. There isn’t much I enjoy more than having my brain fried by a bit of friendly chicanery.
One of my favourites goes like this:
A magician introduces three large silver coins. Has them checked over. Then one by one, at his fingertips, they jump invisibly from one hand to the other.
It looks incredible. A baffling little mystery, a visual treat for the eyes and taken on its own, the trick is impressive.
But as performed by master magician Eric Mead, it becomes so much more.
See for yourself here:
I’ll confess something now. I really like magic. I even know a few tricks, but I don’t have a clue how this thing works. So those of you reading hoping to find out the secret, I hate to disappoint you. But here at WABT, we are all about strong comms that leave a lasting impression. So, with that in mind here is what I can tell you.
You see a nice magic trick with some coins, here is what I see:
The ways in which an expert communicator can take a simple (in concept) magic trick and turn it into something special for his audience…
PLAY THE COURSE YOU'RE ON
Magic tricks, for the most part, are a universal language. Someone shows you an empty hat, waves their hand over it theatrically, and pulls out a rabbit. No explanation needed (Context is important obviously. If someone was to just start doing this at a funeral, for example, then an explanation may be justly requested…). Clearly something supernatural is afoot!
However, there is another way.
In the video above, Eric Mead is performing at the Entertainment Gathering Conference. With an audience consisting of artists, educators, writers, engineers and hosts of other creatively minded professionals and thinkers.
Instead of giving a brief introductory note then going through the motions of his party piece, Mead instead tells a story. Tying it to the specific interests of the rest of the folk in the room, his talk centres around the origins of film, its technologies and early applications.
The trick does come, of course. He is a magician. The audience know he’s a magician and so to leave without saying abracadabra at least once would be confusing and be ignoring his greatest strength. But it comes last. After he has said what he has to say and when a significant amount of interest has already been generated. It arrives as the punchline and it doesn’t come in the ‘normal’ sense that we usually see magic tricks – grandiose pomposity with the performer showing and telling you every 2 minutes how clever he is. It comes in once, at the end, with a punch designed specifically to reinforce the message:
Motion pictures are magic!
The trick is an amazing addition to a presentation, as opposed to it being the only reason for being there.
For his audience, then, the travelling coins carry more weight. All the adults in the room are aware that magic isn’t real. But by engaging with them directly, Mead gives them more to grasp on to. He helps with the suspension of disbelief by making the performance about more than the coins. Making it relatable and relevant, he helps people care about something they may not have given their full attention to otherwise.
THE DEVIL IS ALWAYS IN THE DETAILS
Tailoring to your audience doesn’t mean simply throwing in a casual reference for them here and there and nodding at them every now and again during a presentation. It means doing the work. Gearing your whole presentation style towards the group. In this instance Mead doesn’t settle for just likening his trick to special effects. He’s done his homework. He gives us the big picture. Telling us about everything from the early days of moving images in revolutionary France and the surprise discovery of editing techniques all the way to his own attempts at home video.
It’s engaging and perhaps more importantly specific. Relevant and well informed. Thorough without overstaying its welcome. It is clear that a lot of research, craft and care went into preparing this talk for this audience.
An investment made on behalf of the audience that pays off in spades.
KNOW YOUR STUFF
Now, of course, all this wouldn’t count for much if the trick was a total dud. The performance would just meekly peter out if that was the case. Forgotten just as quickly as it happened. Thankfully this isn’t the case. Mead is a performer of the highest calibre. One of the best and as a result the build-up gets the big pay-off it deserves.
Sometimes, dazzling musicianship can mask the lack of a good tune, and virtuoso camera moves can make up for a lacklustre script. But the sweet spot is when all the elements come together. Having one without the other just won’t cut it.
When you can seamlessly mix high-quality practical skills and technical expertise with first-class presentation and people skills, you are on to a winner. You stop being just a source of vanilla information and start being an expert. An authority. A thought leader. You build trust and credibility with your audience and as such, your power of influence increases and your messages get stickier and stickier.
The often forgotten point is that how you present your message is just as important as the message itself.
Make sure it isn’t lost. Your presentation must stand out. You could have the best idea in the world, but what good is it if nobody is paying attention? If a good idea falls in the woods and nobody is there to hear it, is it still a good idea? Giving people something that they will take with them is the whole point. Above all else, you want your material to be memorable. Something that people won’t forget the minute you’re out of sight.
You will notice that at no point did I say that this was easy. Crafting an effective comms strategy is a major undertaking and takes a lot of pre-work and work. At WABT we put in that work. We are expert listeners and our bespoke comms solutions cover some of the most challenging subjects facing businesses today.
We’ve seen the results and we know what works.
Why not get in touch and see if we can help you.