The magician, stands center stage as various assistants enter and exit. Usually a piece of exotic apparatus is introduced. The story line calls for the magician to don a hood. He does so, as do his assistants.
The magician grabs the leading lady by the arm and places her, usually bound, into the apparatus and locks it shut. The assistants make a great show of tying ropes around the box.
Once the box is thoroughly tied, the dancers strut around the stage. They turn the apparatus side-to-side and end-to-end as the magician walks around the box.
When the box stops turning, the dancers prance around it. At an appropriately suspenseful moment, the box is opened. Surprise! It’s empty. The magician takes his hood off. Surprise. It’s the assistant. But where’s the magician?
At this moment, the magician appears, to the breathless amazement of the audience, at the back of the theater and run down the center isle of the theater. He runs to the stage and receives a well deserved round of applause.
Magicians and presenters: two artists with more in common than you might think. This article series will explore the similarities between these two art forms and identify the lessons magicians offer presenters as we focus on hocus pocus.
The First Illusion
We don’t know when the first human magic was performed any more than we know who the first trainer was. We can however assume that the first “miracle worker” was viewed with awe and wonder.
In ancient times, conjurers were highly regarded as communicators to gods, predictors of the future and advisors to kings. As humanity grew to understand science, magic became a less relevant source of miracles. It became instead what it should have been all along, an entertainment art form.
Harry Houdini delivered the death knell for magicians as miracle workers. After Houdini’s mother died, Houdini attended séance after séance in a forlorn attempt to contact her. Unfortunately for the mediums, their tambourine shakings, bell ringings, table liftings and ghostly writings did not fool Houdini. He felt betrayed and conducted a single-handed crusade that destroyed the mediums and completed the transition from magician-as-miracle-worker to magician-as-entertainer.
Although presenters were never regarded as communicators to gods, they were once expected to deliver miracles. All a manager had to do was send a problematic employee to training and the trainer would work learning miracles. That perception is long gone, along with the vibrant economic times of that era. In today’s tighter budgets, traditional training is often viewed as the equivalent of the medium with the ability to do little more than rattle tambourines.
Magic and presenting both suffer what the psychologists call cognitive disconnect. We are suspicious of magicians. The very word “illusion,” originally Latin, means “to make fun of, and most people don’t like to play the fool. And yet magic’s lure remains. We may have lost our belief in the divinity of magicians, but not the desire to believe. We watch a fake, and knowing its fakeness, still fall for the illusion. Magicians have responded to this disconnect by downplaying the trick. Granted, magic is performed through trickery, but audiences rarely leave a magical entertainment bragging about how well they were tricked. The trickery is a tool, not an end in itself. People do not want to be tricked; they want to be entertained. And yet, in order to entertain, the magician must manipulate.
In a similar vein, adults often enter the training environment full of suspicion. Admitting the need to learn implies admitting a lack of completeness, in a strange room, in front of strangers, to an instructor who can exert control over the trainee’s fate. The trainer, like the magician, must present his or her art form to an often suspicious audience who deep down inside want to learn. Like the magician, the trainer must manipulate to teach.
In the next article, Hocus pocus focus part two, we will explain the illusion presented at the top of this article. We will then identify the ways in which presenters and magician are alike and discover how we can apply a hocus pocus focus to deliver more effective presentations.