Better Living Through Card Tricks

Atlanta Magician – Mentalist – Speaker Joe M. Turner | News and Comments from the Chief Impossibility Officer

Archive for May, 2010

Event planners: Explorers, Expanders, and Exorcists

Posted by Joe M. Turner | on May 24, 2010

How Magic Works in Corporate Settings

Part One: Focusing on Client Experiences and Needs

When clients are considering magical entertainment or magic-enhanced speaking as a possible addition to their event, they are often venturing into unfamiliar territory.  Though every situation is different, my experience is that most event or meeting planners who are considering a magical speaker or entertainer fall into one of the following three categories: Explorers, Expanders, and Exorcists.  Each group is asking a different kind of question.


Explorers - trying to find the way to a new idea.

Explorers:  “What new thing can I find?”

The first group of clients are those who have never have worked with a professional magical entertainer in any venue.  Many times, these people have either devised a magic theme themselves, or they have been presented with an event theme (“The Magic of…” or “Vegas Night,” etc.) decided upon by their team or another event planner.  In the case of un-themed events or events without a specific magic theme, the use of a magician, mentalist, or magical keynote speaker has usually been recommended by another planner.  (And if you ever wanted a short summary of my business model, that’s it.)

I find that these Explorers – companies, groups, and planners – are usually wide open on the creative side of applying magic to multiple events during a conference, though almost always with a careful eye to budget constraints.  These clients value experience, creativity, and cost-consciousness.  It’s a new world for them, and as a performer I appreciate the trust that these clients place in me to be their guide and navigator.

Being the initial experience for an “Explorer” is also a big responsibility, because the result of this experience will transform this client into one of the other two types – either an Expander or an Exorcist.  It’s important to dream big and deliver for these Explorers, but it’s equally important to be realistic about what you can really do well and where your expertise lies.  Stretch your skills, not the truth.

Expanders like to see where previous ideas can be creatively reapplied and repurposed. Look at this idea, combining a laptop case with a book, even down to the bookmark detail. Is there a message here?

Expanders:  “Where else can I use this idea?”

Another possibility is that a client has worked with a magician or mentalist on a previous event, but the client is only familiar with that single aspect of how mystery entertainment can be integrated into multiple parts of an event.  The previous entertainer may have delivered a quality show for one venue, but did not indicate a level of versatility or creativity in providing a broader range of experiences.  These planners are “Expanders,” ready to expand their understanding of what magic performance can bring to their events.

Expanders are often enthusiastic about magic, and are excited to hear different ways that they can create exciting, high-impact experiences for their audiences.  These clients are anxious to hear success stories about how a different approach worked at other events, and if you have a creative twist on that idea for them, so much the better!

The risk, of course, is that given the open mind of an Expander, the over-enthusiastic provider will conclude that he has a hammer and the event is comprised of nothing but nails.  Sometimes the Expander gets in on this game and also wants to add magic to every single element of the event.

Experienced planners and providers will resist this temptation.  Less is often more.

Exorcists:  “How can I end this and avoid another horrible experience?”

An unfortunate third possibility is that a client has worked with another provider in the past who delivered a low-quality program that did not inspire confidence in future use of mystery entertainment at all.  They are the “Exorcists,” and they are actively excluding magic from consideration in their events.  It’s not quite casting out demons, but this client has been burned by a bad experience and understandably wishes to avoid that in the future.

Exorcists are like the Ghostbusters - "Okay magic guy, get in the box and don't come out."

Strangely, after a planner has a bad experience with a caterer or vocalist, he or she will not swear off caterers and singers forever.  With magic, though, the fact is that a poor performer creates an obstacle that can be difficult for other providers to overcome, regardless of quality.  While it can be a challenge to get in the door, these clients can become some of your most vocal cheerleaders when you deliver a successful new experience to overshadow the old.

In this series, I will discuss a variety of creative ideas for incorporating magic and mentalism entertainment into different corporate environments.  Planners who fall into each of the categories above will find ideas and insights that can help them use corporate magic, mentalism, and (sometimes) message-driven entertainment to ensure the success and lasting impact of their events.

Stay tuned!

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged: , , , , , , | 1 Comment »

A final comment on Martin Gardner

Posted by Joe M. Turner | on May 24, 2010

In March 2005, I was asked to contribute my thoughts on Martin Gardner to a book which included a section on his contribution to the magic world.

Here is what I submitted.  It represents how I will remember the life and work of this fine American mind.

Martin Gardner

Martin standing by every word he ever wrote: the six shelves consist entirely of his own publications, dating back to 1930. Photo by "Card Colm" Mulcahy, Spelman College.

Martin Gardner’s long and continuing influence in magic is – if you’ll pardon the pun – puzzling.  After all, some of the most common advice we magicians give ourselves is to “perform magic” and not just to “do tricks.”  We are encouraged to enchant and mystify our audiences by creating a theatrical experience, and to lift them above the perception of magic as a “mere puzzle.”

And yet, Martin Gardner remains one of the most cited and revered names in our field.  Martin Gardner!  His Encyclopedia of Impromptu Magic is guaranteed to show up in any poll of magicians’ favorite magic books.  His magazine columns are the source of endless fascination among magicians as well as actual human beings.  Throughout his work we find items which bear frighteningly close resemblance to — gasp — puzzles!

Why does a mathematician with a predilection for impromptu tricks and puzzles command so much attention that magicians jockey to get invited to a convention named in his honor?  It must be more than simply the prestige of telling other magicians you were there.

Perhaps Martin Gardner, for all the perception-twisting puzzles and tricks he has created, has a clarity of perception with regard to magic that transcends even what magicians understand our art to be.  Magic is more than the special effects we see on a stage or in the practiced hands of a trickster, however talented.  Martin Gardner shows us that magic, like mathematics, may in fact be an intrinsic and often surprising part of how the universe is put together.  Just when we think we’ve got something figured out, he shows up with a different way of looking at it and we are surprised by the very thing we thought we knew – whether it’s a mathematical principle, a deck of cards, or a piece of string.  Martin Gardner reveals the surprising in the familiar, which – if one wishes to create the illusion of magical powers – is a skill devoutly to be wished.

Plus, there’s always that little thing about him being a bloody genius, which may have something to do with it as well.

For those interested in a peek behind the scenes, here is a clip of Martin teaching me his card sleight, “The Wink Change.”

Posted in Uncategorized | 1 Comment »

On the passing of Martin Gardner

Posted by Joe M. Turner | on May 23, 2010

I learned yesterday on Twitter that Martin Gardner has died.Joe with Martin Gardner

He has already been and will continue to be eulogized by the many people – and the many kinds of people – that he influenced.  Google News already reports over 200 published articles about his passing; here’s the NY Times obit.  Mathematicians, puzzlers, magicians, skeptics, philosophers… not to mention the millions of ordinary Americans who read his column in Scientific American for thirty years.  (Scientific American’s Philip Yam has published a short remembrance here.)  He introduced the American public to the concepts of flexagons, tangrams, and dozens of other nifty little pieces of a delightfully strange and enchanting universe.

One of the great afternoons of my life was spent kneeling with him on the floor of his small room at a retirement home in Norman, Oklahoma, showing each other card tricks.  He gave me a personal tutorial on a classic move he invented decades ago.  I showed him a trick I devised with a piece of string and a finger ring… he claimed to have been fooled and wanted to know if I would teach him the trick.  Me, teaching Martin Gardner!  I was hanging on his every word, and never expected those words to include, “You’ve got to show me that!”

That was one of Mr. Gardner’s special qualities – an unselfish willingness to admit the existence of a limit, in order to find a way to grow beyond it.  Never egotistical.  Always exploring.  Always learning.  Always giving.

After that visit, he shared a quote about my work that I’ll always treasure:

“He certainly does beautiful magic. My head is still spinning.
He’s very inventive and has very good ideas.”

Earlier this year I had the honor of being a featured performer at the Gathering for Gardner in Atlanta.  This is an invitation-only gathering of a few hundred of the world’s top minds in mathematics, puzzles, magic, geometry, technology, and associated fields.  The Gathering – and the world-class population that it attracts –  is tribute to the lasting effect of Mr. Gardner’s work and influence.

Rest in peace, Mr. Gardner.  I consider myself so lucky to have met you!

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a Comment »

Illusions and effective messaging

Posted by Joe M. Turner | on May 5, 2010

If you’ve followed my work at all then you know that one of the key points I build my business on is this:  magic and illusion are effective at increasing attention and retention of messages, commercial or otherwise.

This video from KLM shows an effective use of illusion to generate interest.  Look at the reactions, then call me to discuss how we can put this kind of creativity to work for you and your message – at your next trade show, product launch, or other event.

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged: , , , , , | 2 Comments »