As magicians we have the unique problem of having to approach groups of people and convince them that they want to watch us perform.
When the waiter at the restaurant approaches your table, he doesn’t need to say something clever or do something awesome to win you over, you want him there!
He might put in some extra work to try to earn a tip, but overall he can introduce himself take your order and leave.
As magicians we’re kind of like sales people, except we’re selling entertainment often for free, since most often we’ve been payed already (unless you’re hustling for tips).
We’re selling awesomeness in exchange for attention. All we have to do is convince people that they want to spend their attention on us and of course deliver the awesomeness.
As good speakers or writers know: the first few seconds of an introduction buys you for first minute, your first minute buys you your first 5 min and so on.
In other words: first impressions matter!
I’ve heard ton’s of great advice from magicians all over the world about how to open up a walk around set (restaurants, cocktails, or similar events). Most often it’s a 1 sentence canned line.
Now usually, I’m not for canned lines, because they sound…canned. But I actually don’t mind a prepared line for an opening. Since your mind is going to be occupied with a million other things, especially starting out, it’s not a bad idea to offload creativity to before your performance, so the lack of ideas doesn’t act as a barrier to approach.
The good news is, by the end of this blog post you will have a framework to come up with your own lines to open up any set at any walk around or restaurant gig anywhere, anytime.
In my exploration, I’ve noticed that while the actual things people say varies from performer to performer. All introductions take 1 of 4 forms, or mix and match: questions, honesty, comedy, and magic.
In the next few paragraphs I’m going to explain each, including some benefits and some pitfalls, and how to combine them for a great approach anytime, anywhere.
If you’re approaching a table or a group one of the most natural ways to introduce yourself is a question. It’s easy, and it’s standard. When a stranger talks to you on the street or on public transit or something of that sort, they will often ask a question to see if they have permission for their actual question: “can I ask you something”.
Opening with a question is very powerful. It promotes conversation and interaction. If you’re performing magic for small groups, my bet is you want to appear interactive. Questions are great since it introduces the back and forth of a conversation early, instead of them just watching you perform.
Ex: “Hey, how’s your evening so far?”, “My name is Jonah, how do you know the bride and groom?” “Have you guys met the magician ?(points across room)”
Warning: As Jay Sankey once explained (I’m paraphrasing) “An audience member is not qualified to tell me if they want to see magic or not”. From performing experience I know this is absolutely true! They really need to see some sort of performance before they tell me that do or do not want to see magic, so it’s our job to
trick them perform, instead of asking if we can, since it’s so easy for them to say no.
For that reason, I don’t ask “Do you want to see some magic?” because if they say no, then I have nothing.
As a matter of fact, If I ask a question I try not to make it a Yes/No answer, in fear of them saying no. Or if it’s a Yes/No answer I make it one which they will obviously say “Yes” : “How’s your evening so far”, “Are you friends or family of the bride and groom?”
There’s a topic which I first read in How to Win Friends and Influence People by Dale Carnegie. For the sake of this post, I’ll call it the Yes, yes, yes rule. If you can get someone to say “yes” to something 3 times then they’re more likely to say “yes” to the 4th.
This strategy is very common in infomercials: “Do you often struggle in the kitchen” (YES), “Have you ever cut yourself cutting vegetables” (YES), “Do you hate washing cutting boards because they don’t fit in the sink?” (YES!). Then you need THE AMAZING VEGGIECUTTERTHING…..
You get the idea.
The same thing can be true in an approach. If you can get positive responses from your audience, you have a better bet that the whole performance is positive. They don’t need to say the word “YES” specifically, as long as the responses are more positive than negative. Positive responses promotes more positive responses.
Most of the lines or bits that people use are just that: a line. However if your style is not comedic, or you want to be more honest, you can open with the truth, and explain why a well dressed person is bothering people who didn’t know they were going to be bothered.
In one sentence you can basically say who you are, what your job description is, and what you are going to do. There is no beating around the bush, and its very direct. Most importantly you can explain what’s going on, which is often exactly what they’re thinking. The experience of being approached by a stranger either at a meal, or at an event is often strange. By explaining what the situation is and what you’re doing there as soon as possible, you’re giving them information that they are wondering.
Think about what a waiter says when he approaches a table “ Hi my name is Dan, I’ll be you’re waiter, these are the specials, etc. He gives you the answers to the questions you didn’t even know you had: a very holistic approach.
Example: ” Hey, my name is Jonah, I’m the magician for the evening, how are you?” “Hey, my name is Jonah, I’m the in house entertainment here at The Keg how’s your evening?”
Warning: If the first thing that comes out of your mouth isn’t a question, you might want to make sure that there is a question at the end of the sentence, or a trick at the end, if you’ve won them over.
We want to make sure that we’re talking to our audience and not at them. Especially when walking around, it’s more important than ever that you interact with your audience. You can ask them where they’re from, what the occasion to come to this restaurant, how they know the bride and groom, or any other honest question, or something funny. At the end of the day, you need to get a verbal or non-verbal signal from them that they want you to stay there a little bit longer. This is considerably harder to do without asking any questions.
Opening with humour is always a great idea. If you’re a funny person feel free to make a situational joke about whats going on or what you see. In the case of comedy you can have a comedic statement, or a comedic question. The point of either is to get your audience laughing, and interacting.
Just like before, interaction is key. Laughter is something that we do together. We rarely laugh to ourselves when were all alone, but when were watching a movie with friends we laugh out loud. Laughter gives a sense of togetherness and community.
Also, it’s unexpected. Usually when a stranger approaches or interacts with you, they open with kindness. “sorry to bother you…”, “excuse me, can I…” “ Pardon me ma’am, would you….” By opening with something funny, and a laugh they will immediately know that you’re different.
Trust me, when someone knows that they’re about to be entertained, and it’s going to be interactive, they act much differently then when they think you’re going to ask them for a favour or a question.
Example: “I was hired to bother you how am I doing?”, “My name is Jonah, and I’m a professional interrupter, am I doing well?”, ” If you see the magician, tell him he’s ugly okay? I hate that guy”
Warning: BE FUNNY – That sounds like bad advice but it’s good. If you find statement that gets laughs, stick with it, if it doesn’t get laughs throw it away.
Remember, were talking about the opening line, the first few words that we say to a group that we approach. First impressions are important, but magic is AMAZING. If you’re doing awesome magic then you can bet that by the end of your set, nobody is going to remember the opening line. Be daring, grasp attention by the horns, and once you have something that works stick with it.
At the end of the day, we’re magicians. It’s okay if we open with a magic trick. It’s quite common to open with something that maybe looks like just a random question, but its for a magic trick.
A common trop is to ask a group if they’ve seen something that you lost, or if they lost something that you’ve seen, or anything else that’s visually magic (or represents magic). It’s a great “in” to do a trick with a random prop like a button or a colour changing knife (what year is it?).
One of the biggest benefits of this is a common theme in magic: “show don’t tell”. People will realize very quickly who you are and what you’re doing without you having to say a word. Of course you should (or could) explain who you are after the introduction. But the point, and the unique part of the of this introduction is that it in itself is a magic trick, or a magical thing that get’s their attention.
And it WILL get their attention if its visual enough!
Eric LeCleric presents it often as a challenge. He will approach a group, point to someone and tell them that he knows exactly what number they are going to think of between 1 and 100. You can imagine how invested a group would be at that!
Example: “Did you lose this button, (change) what about a dime?, (change) what about a quarter?.. Never mind (vanish)”
Warning: Get to the magic quickly. This isn’t the time for long drawn out magic, people will get confused and bored. If you’re opening with magic I totally recommend what you say to be surprising, out of the ordinary, or outlandish. The point is that people will first be shocked and taken aback by the strangeness that was going on, but the realization of magic, when the magic moment comes goes a long way in the other direction.
The hard part of this introduction is the guts, and the delivery. To me, it takes guts to start speaking to an audience with a magical concept immediately. It’s going to be a little bit strange to open with something that is out of the ordinary, and does not sound like what a regular person might say. It’s already weird when someone approaches you, at a restaurant or at an event. If he doesn’t explain who he is, everyone could be thinking the same thing: “who is this guy, and what is he doing here”.
Of course as we’ve seen already, between these tools you can mix and match. A comedic question, comedic magic, comedic honesty, magic and honesty, an honest introduction while doing magic… There are tons of ways to mix and match these things to make them special to you or unique to you.
My advice is to find 1 or 2 introductions that work, and stick with it for at least a little while, until you can get your grounding.
Most importantly: do whatever you want that will allow them to want to continue listening to you.
Like I explained earlier, the first few seconds buys you the first few minutes, which buys you however long you’re at the table. To put it simply, that is what the introduction does. It’s not that you want to get over it quickly, but its the appetizer, the hors d’oeuvres to the main event of magic.
The truth is, don’t stress so much about the intro. Just pick something, and get out there and try it, once something works, hold onto it for a little while.
What are your thoughts? Do you have an opener that doesn’t fit in these categories? Do you find one category better than others? I’d love to find out in the comments below!