Communicating with Magic: The Speaker's Guide to Magic, the Magician's Guide to Speaking by Dr. Earl L. Reum & Lindsay E. Smith
Reviewed by Jamy Ian Swiss (originally published in Genii January, 2003)
Magic has always been a form that has adapted to venue. When Vaudeville drew to a close in the 1920s, magic moved to the bars of Chicago and smaller night clubs; when the Depression hit, magic moved to hotel dance rooms. Magic made the jump to television (Dunninger made his mark on the radio), and to the trade show floor. Many successful professionals make their living by being able to say "yes" to any proposed booking, be it a kid's show or a corporate cocktail party. For every specialist who sticks to one particular area, be it comedy clubs, cruise ships, or trade shows, many a career has survived by way of sheer adaptability.
One of the more recent additions to the magician's range of opportunities is the "speaking engagement." Here a magician might provide a keynote speech. using magic to illustrate some of his points and anecdotes. Or he might take part in a workshop kind of business conference, inspiring attendees to take a more active role in breakout sessions and problem-solving workshops. Magicians might also work hand-in-hand with "corporate trainers," bringing new skills to a select group of business workers, be it the sales force or the customer service team.
This kind of work is challenging, and as with trade shows, your mastery of conjuring tools represents only a small portion of the requisite skills. You need to be able to plug yourself into your client's message and concerns, you need to be able to adapt your vocabulary of magical imagery to the client's needs and priorities. You need to be adapt-able, and you need to be a compelling and effective communicator. Not every magician is cut out for this kind of work.
But the benefits are substantial, and two features come first to mind. One is the money: because you are appearing under the rubric of "intellectual content" rather than mere "entertainment," you will find yourself in a different price range perhaps twice or even five times what your other already well compensated corporate work brings, and maybe even more. And second, because of that intellectual rather than novelty label, you will generally be treated far better than you are accustomed to. As is recounted in the pages of Communicating with Magic "I did not arrive at this elegant meeting room by having to climb up the back steps ... I handed my car keys over to valet parking and walked through the front door ... people have been helpful in finding space for me to secure illustrative props ... I did not have to show a trick to the chairperson's small son. I am being treated as if I were a dignified and respected adult. ... I am not wearing a performance costume or even make-up. I am wearing my best suit ..." And there is more to this arresting litany, but younger the idea.
Earl Reum is an educator and magician who was way ahead of this curve when he wrote Magic for the Civic Club in 1968, reprinted here in this paperback volume. At that time he specialized in speaking to civic clubs, and his talk, "Magic of Miracles," is reprinted here in full, and provides an excellent example of the form. You can imagine how Earl tied magical effects into his talk, when you consider this paragraph (emphasis per the original):
You (and your civic club) have PRODUCED a spirit, a membership, a cause. You have ANIMATED a group of men with purposes ... You have VANISHED problems of ignorance and indecision.... You have PENETRATED to the heart of some community problems and RESTORED order to charitable giving. You have PREDICTED some of the problems our community might have to face .... You have looked into the future with vision and supported the TRANSPOSITION of people, good and ideas for the benefit of your community and world. You have LEVITATED the spirits of business, and the hopes of the men in the community. You have TRANSFORMED individuals, your group, your city, your ideals, your nation and your world ...”
Well, you get the idea. And I would add that there are more effects in that one paragraph than I have used in an entire 40-minute presentation. But the authors have prepared an efficient little starter manual for how to think about this kind of work; Dr. Ream speaks from decades of experience, and his chapter of anecdotes is as entertaining as it is informative (oddly enough. your task as a speaker). Allegedly intended as both "the Speaker's Guide to Magic" and "The Magician's Guide to Speaking," I think it probably does a far better job of the latter, which it frankly admits to in the course of the WM.
For people who are professional speakers, this might have been sub-titled "The Speaker's guide to self-working sight gags," and that's a fine proposition. But for magicians this is a more valuable work, including some organized lists that link up various general kinds of effects with the types of ideas you might be expected to communicate, as well as suggestions for specific tricks (trade show workers will also find this of value). It is this effect categorization that the creative reader will find helpful in finding his own tricks and material for not only matching with the client's message, but for, one hopes, setting himself apart from the norm lest he end up as just yet another Paper Balls Over the Head and Professor's Nightmare worker, doing stock "comedy magic" in the name of professional speaking. Certainly one can make a living this way, and perhaps that is enough, but I, for one, fail to see what is interesting or challenging and therefore rewarding in such rote exercises.
If you're seriously interested in using magic as a communications tool, there are other volumes you will want to consult notably Barrie Richardson's Theater of the Mind (reviewed November, 1999 Genii), Michael Bailey's The Magic Business (reviewed September, 1998 Genii), and perhaps David Ben's recent Advantage Play but I highly recommend this exceedingly practical book as a starting place.