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

Archive for May, 2011

Foreground, Background, and Perspective

Posted by Joe M. Turner | on May 23, 2011

Amazing Randi Face Vase Illusion

The Amazing Randi
Face Vase Illusion
created by Victoria Skye

Last week I tweeted: “Hobby Lobby: where others see a craft store, I see a magic shop!” My friend Jeff Glaze (of MostCool Media) commented that he sensed the beginning of a blog post on perspective. Turns out he was right.

A major theme of my recent writing has been that reassessing and recombining the skills and resources that you have right now can uncover new, creative ideas and capabilities that you never suspected you had. Part of the process of finding the new capabilities is to change your perspective.

There are dozens of familiar optical illusions where different ways of looking at the image produce vastly different interpretations. One of the most famous of all is the face/vase illusion in which the contours of two faces in profile create the boundaries of a vase. By alternating your perspective with regard to which parts of the image you consider to be the foreground and background, the image looks like either a vase or like two faces. (The illusion was developed by Danish psychologist Edgar Rubin in 1915, and you can find out more about it here.)

The optical illusion to the right is a variation on the face/vase theme. It was created by a magic friend of mine here in Atlanta, Victoria Skye, and features the face of famous magician and author James Randi. Victoria’s illusion was used as the background art during one a recent performance by Mr. Randi, and a photograph of that event appeared in an article in the May 2011 issue of Scientific American Mind. Victoria’s creation is clearly visible in the photo, but alas the article is not available online. Fortunately she agreed to share her creation with me and gave permission for it to appear on my blog. (You can contact Victoria to find out more about her illusions and impossible objects by emailing her.)

Whichever version of the illusion you view, it illustrates my point with regard to giving a new look to the skills, interests, and activities that you may have neglected, ignored, or completely forgotten about over the years. By putting some attention on those things that you have considered part of your background, you can cause new things to suddenly pop into the foreground.

Hobby Lobby

Hobby Lobby: Craft store and Magic shop!

Hobby Lobby looks like a craft store because art-and-crafters have a specific idea in mind about the use of the objects they find in that store. Thread and fabric, various adhesives, different varieties of wooden blocks and rubber balls and silk flowers… these common items have uncommon impact when their properties are applied in ways that the manufacturers probably never contemplated. Putting those contours in front of a different background emphasized different attributes and uncovered new capabilities and applications. Because I know that, Hobby Lobby doesn’t just look like a craft store; it also looks like a magic store.

Your skillset is much the same. By looking at your combination of skills and occasionally putting emphasis on skills you might have left in the background, you are likely to find that the labels you have put on yourself are woefully insufficient to describe the true and expanding depth of your real capacity.

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Atlanta Speaker Joe M. Turner featured in NSA SPEAKER Magazine

Posted by Joe M. Turner | on May 11, 2011

The National Speakers Association publishes a monthly magazine, SPEAKER, that focuses on the ins and outs of the professional speaking industry. I contributed an article to the current (May 2011) issue describing an episode that took place at a corporate event a few years ago. The article appears in the “Turning Points” section (on page 34 in this issue).

NSA Speaker May 2011

Cover of May 2011 NSA SPEAKER Magazine

You can read the full article by clicking on the cover image at right.  In summary, though, the thrust of my anecdote and article is twofold:

  1. Great speakers and performers can create moments that are both unforeseeable and unforgettable by exploring unexpected detours in some presentations, so long as…
  2. The speaker/performer has well-developed presentation skills, a knack for keeping cool under fire, and a deep knowledge of “outs” sufficient to bring practically any challenging situation to a successful conclusion.

In the article, I briefly mention the concept of “outs” as it exists in the performance of theatrical magic and mentalism.  An “out” in a magical context is an answer to the question “How am I going to get out of this?”  The performer asks “what if?” and supposes a variety of challenges or changes that could affect the outcome of a routine, then devises responses to each of those situations that will still allow for a successful and entertaining conclusion to the presentation.

This is not a new concept, of course. Contingency planning has existed since the first time a human being had to solve the same problem twice. Every day, millions of executives, managers, team leaders, and individuals ask themselves the same kinds of “what if” questions as they plan their own projects. What if these key personnel are unavailable? What if those shipments are delayed? What if we don’t get approval for that part of the project?

An interesting paradigm shift happens, though, when you expand the thought process beyond reactive “contingency planning” to proactive “risk management.” In this context, certain risks are considered acceptable based on the knowledge and skill of the decision-maker. Investors and portfolio managers are well acquainted with the idea that some risks are easily worth taking because the potential benefits are large and the downsides can be minimized when approached with expert-level skill. The idea, of course, is to tilt the risk versus reward equation in your favor by using deep skills to devise the outs that minimize the downsides of risk.

Mastering the concept of “outs” gives leaders, managers, and even speakers and performers the freedom to explore alternate paths with a vastly reduced risk of failure. That freedom, in turn, sparks creativity — by exploring alternate paths, you may find successful approaches that you otherwise wouldn’t have known about. Sometimes, as in the article, those paths may lead to serendipitous finales that cannot be repeated. Often, though, those paths can lead to observations, offhand comments, and new insights that can add texture and value to the presentation, and which can be permanently incorporated into the script. Anyone can be spontaneous, but the person who has done some advanced planning can be spontaneous with a higher degree of success, and can leverage that success repeatedly in the future.

Mandi Stanley's No Panic Plan for Presenters

Mandi Stanley's excellent book, "The No-Panic Plan for Presenters," will help you make more effective live presentations.

By the way, if it weren’t for Mandi Stanley then I wouldn’t have appeared in the magazine at all. Mandi is a good friend and an excellent speaker and trainer with a mountain of achievements to her credit.  Her new book, The No-Panic Plan for Presenters, included my story and she recommended it for inclusion in the magazine.  Thanks, Mandi!

If you find yourself in front of a group of people who expect you to make a coherent, understandable presentation – whether daily, frequently or just occasionally – then you owe it to yourself and your audience to get a copy of Mandi’s book.  Besides being an informative and helpful work, it’s also a fun read.  Reap the insights and benefits of lessons learned by Mandi and many other speakers who have been down these paths before.  Let me know what you think about the article and the book by leaving a comment here.

Thanks again for your support and readership!

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