Magifest 2020: Two Magic Convention Secrets
By Joshua Jay - Wednesday, August 14, 2019
Andi and I are in the process of organizing our tenth Magifest convention—we’ve organized 24 magic conventions together in total. In that time we’ve made virtually every mistake you can make, but we’ve also hit upon a formula that works well for us. I’m not going to share our full playbook here, but I will point out two qualities about our conventions that I think make them top tier events. I’m proud that our conventions often run smoother and test better than the bigger budget, larger conventions we compete with. I think these two points are a big part of why.
If this blog post makes sense to you, and you think you’d enjoy attending Magifest, I encourage you to register soon. We sell out every year and we’re already nearing capacity.
We Think About How to Use Talent
Most convention organizers think only about talent in terms of who, but we like to think of magicians in terms of both who and how. The “who” is the easy part: we book great acts. But how those acts are displayed is a big part of the equation.
This year we welcome Mike Pisciotta to Magifest. Mike is a sensational bar magician who performs nightly at the Magic Castle. I’ve worked with Mike at several conventions, where the organizers have put us both on a big stage with one overhead camera. In this situation, my act suffers because one overhead camera isn’t how my act was designed to be seen. Mike goes over well anywhere because he’s Mike, but he destroys when he has a hightop bar in front of him, and about fifty people watching.
Rather than stick Mike on our stage for his show, we’ve built him a bar station at the convention, so you can see him in his natural habitat. You’re going to see him in the same way you would if you ventured to the Magic Castle.
David Williamson, our guest of honor, is also going to be given the time, space, and tech he needs to be his best, wackiest self. We’re working hard with each act to make sure they have the right setting and tech to be their best.
Attendees and talent approach us in equal measure, asking why acts go over so well at Magifest. “Is it the friendly midwest audience?” Maybe that’s part of it. But the real reason is that we spend time on how an act is presented.
Space in the Schedule
Our biggest secret is one I’m happy to share, because I wish more conventions would adopt this common-sense rule for their own events. For every hour of programming, we offer an hour of free time.
That’s it. Do that, convention organizers, and I guarantee your registrants will have a better time. If there’s a lecture from 9am - 10am, then there’s nothing from 10am - 11am. This allows people ample time to buy items from the lecturer (which makes the lecturer and the attendees happy). It allows people a chance to revisit their rooms, use the restroom, grab a snack, or peruse the dealer room (which makes attendees and dealers happy). It increases the attendance at the next event, since people don’t have to choose between a bathroom break and a show (which makes everyone happy).
This space in the schedule also solves problems. Invariably someone runs overtime, or there’s a tech glitch that takes a few minutes to fix. With an hour buffer between every event, the Magifest never runs late. Our schedule is reliable, and we start every event on time. This space also means we don’t have to overcrowd our schedule and overbook talent. We can lean in to the talent we do book, and give them more time. Let’s face it: whether there are five or ten lectures at a convention, you’re only going to remember the best five. So let’s just agree to have five great lectures and enjoy them in an un-rushed manner.
The best feature of having space in the schedule is the hang time. Magicians are social creatures. When you give them time to jam and make friends, they do! Magifest is widely considered among the most social, lively magic convention crowds, and that’s entirely because we provide people the time and space to spread out and spread magic.
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