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High JOEltage is now available!

Posted by Joe M. Turner | TurnerMagic.com on December 7, 2012

I am pleased to announce the publication of High JOEltage: 101 JOElts for Becoming Amazingly Effective.

This book wasn’t part of my original plan for this year, but a few factors came into play that led to this point.

  • Last year, I set a goal for myself to complete a book during 2012.
  • My original book project, 5 Kinds of Amazing, expanded in scope and by the end of the summer, I knew I wouldn’t finish it this year.
  • My friend and fellow speaker, Melissa Galt, had suggested to me earlier that I capture some of my ideas in the format of a “tips” book.

Within the context of those circumstances, I put 5 Kinds of Amazing on pause long enough to do a tips book which has just been published.

The purpose of High JOEltage! is to encourage, motivate, and provoke you to think about ways you can have an amazing impact on your audience and improve your personal effectiveness. There is also a chapter of tips for effective business networking.

You can get your paperback copy via CreateSpace, which is where I hope you’ll buy all your physical copies: High JOEltage! Paperback

The book is also available on Amazon.com in paperback and Kindle format, which you can get here: High JOEltage! Amazon Kindle

Thanks in advance for your support, and I hope you enjoy the book!

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Upcoming Book: High JOEltage

Posted by Joe M. Turner | TurnerMagic.com on November 1, 2012

Here’s a peek at the cover. Stay tuned – it’s coming soon!

Get ready – HIGH JOELTAGE is coming soon!

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Magic and Government Spending: Waste or Real ROI?

Posted by Joe M. Turner | TurnerMagic.com on May 4, 2012

In recent weeks the news has been full of stories focusing on spending issues as they relate to conferences and meetings, specifically in the government sector. Articles about lavish spending on the 2010 GSA Western Regions Conference, which included a presentation by a mentalist, continued for weeks. Yesterday, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) pulled an advertisement they had placed seeking a magician and motivational speaker for an upcoming meeting. That decision, as presented in much of the media, happened “in the wake of the GSA scandal.” The story was originally broken by Government Executive Media Group, who contacted me today for comment. (UPDATED – Here’s the link: Magic acts at conferences can add substance, professionals say.)

Corporate speaker, consultant, and entertainer Joe M. Turner

Corporate speaker, consultant, and entertainer Joe M. Turner uses magic and mentalism as a communication tool to deliver real value at conferences and meetings in the public and private sectors.

People who know me and my personal political inclinations know very well that I am no fan or defender of wasteful government spending. In fact, I am strongly in favor of multiple large cuts in federal (and state and local) government spending and applaud the watchdog instinct that leads to questions in stories like these.

Sometimes, though, it is so easy to go for either the joke or the jugular that some relevant details are lost or ignored. Reporters, commentators and their readers may reach hasty conclusions about the value of presenters based on preconceptions about labels used in describing them. Certainly labels like “magician” or “mindreader” are more likely to attract jokes than labels like “football player” or “rock star.” These kinds of situations would probably have never made the news if the people involved were Tim Tebow, Bono, or perhaps some famous magician like Penn Jillette or David Copperfield… even if those people had less relevant content to share than the people who were actually booked or considered.

In the light of recent events, then, I’d like to offer both some cautions and some encouragements for my friends, clients, and readers as they process news stories such as these.

As I indicated above, don’t let preconceived ideas about a single label serve as your entire definition or concept of what a presenter offers to his or her audience. The word “magician” doesn’t mean the same thing to all people; for many, it carries connotations of bunny rabbits, balloon animals, top hats and capes. For others, it sounds like smoke and mirrors and vanishing girls and windblown hair. It has the feel of a children’s party or a Las Vegas show. Those images are obviously effective in creating a perception of wastefulness or irrelevance to a conference or meeting, but they are far removed from the experiences delivered by a variety of speakers and entertainers like me in corporate settings every day.

Remember that just because a presenter falls into one category doesn’t mean he or she doesn’t simultaneously belong in another category. The brand of “mentalist” or “magician” may simply be the garnish on an individual who has real experience and expertise to share. Admittedly, that isn’t true for every performer. Yes, there are some entertainers who, in an attempt to make a buck, contrive ways to add some buzzwords to their show and turn a “show” into a “presentation.” That isn’t true in every case, though. There are people with legitimate education, credible business experience, and hard-earned management battle scars who also have the benefit of being entertaining, talented people with unique ways of presenting their content. Want to talk about waste? It would be a horrible waste to deprive people of the legitimate benefit of these people’s insights because an easy label is used to imply that they are trivial.

What is more wasteful than a conference that everyone attends but nobody remembers? Return on investment is zero if people are too bored to attend to the information being presented. What adds more value: a fully factual presentation presented to an empty room, or an entertaining and factual presentation presented to a room of engaged attendees?

Speaker and entertainer Joe M. Turner was interviewed for a story in Government Executive magazine.

“Magic acts at conferences can add substance, professionals say” – top story on GovExec.com

People cannot act on or benefit from information they do not remember, and people do not remember information as well when it is presented in ways that are not engaging. In my presentations on memory improvement, I mention that we forget a lot of information that we encounter simply because it failed to break through the background noise. Magic and mentalism, as I have long contended, are ideal formats for communicating important messages because the experiences are by definition out of the ordinary. Human beings are wired to remember things that are different, things that are unusual, and things that interrupt our normal patterns. Reading minds and defying physics are not normal experiences, and when real information is tied to those experiences, that information is retained far longer than information buried in the middle of a 100-slide PowerPoint deck.

Effective presentations often include an element of fun. Think back to the most boring teachers or professors you ever had. Now think back to the best ones. How quickly we forget.

I’m certainly not suggesting that you go out and book any magician or mentalist who also claims to be a sales trainer, leadership guru, or teambuilding expert. I wrote in my previous article (Credibility Counts) that anyone can claim anything. It is certainly wise stewardship to examine résumés, check references, and consider what individuals really have to offer. What critics may call “gimmicks” are not a substitute for real content; at the same time, they are not to be dismissed out of hand. Having a unique and entertaining presentation is a proven path to increased retention. When wielded by people with legitimate content and relevant experience, tools such as magic, mentalism, and a host of other skills are not wasteful expenditures, but in fact good ways to incent attendance, boost engagement, and increase retention.

Joe M. Turner is a professional speaker and corporate entertainer based in Atlanta, Georgia. He is a former manager in the change management practice at Accenture and a former Vice President of Associate Development at Bank of America. He has performed at meetings, conferences, and entertainment venues from Hollywood to London. Joe leverages the theatrical impact of magic and mentalism in his keynote presentations as a tool to engage attention and communicate messages on positive response to change, memory improvement, and creating amazing experiences with your brand. Visit him online at www.turnermagic.com and follow him on Twitter @turnermagic.

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Changing the Model: The Real Experience of Magic and Mentalism, part 2

Posted by Joe M. Turner | TurnerMagic.com on May 3, 2012

In the last article, I described a mechanical model for interpreting the experience of magic and mentalism. I contend that the mechanical model presents a flawed picture of what is really happening.  Another model for the interpretation of the magical experience is seen in Figure 2.  This model, while similar to the first model in basic structure, has some important differences.

Figure 2 - The Experiential Model of Interpreting Magic

Figure 2 – The Experiential Model of Interpreting Magic

The concept of method has been expanded to include not just the external tools and actions of the performance, but also some the internal perceptions of both the performer and the audience.  Restricting the idea of method to only the physical action ignores two key concepts.  First, the attitude and mental state of the performer can play a key role in the ultimate experience of the audience.  Second, there are many important techniques which allow the performer to influence the perceptions of people in the audience.  While not as easy to manipulate as physical objects, the attention and therefore the perception of the audience can be directed both physically as well as through intangible means such as the construction of the script.  By this reference to the script I don’t mean the dynamics of the spoken words, which are physical events, but rather the architecture of the plot itself which can direct and manipulate attention.

The key element of this model is the refocusing of attention on which part of the overall interaction should be labeled as “magic.”  This label has been shifted from the method to a portion of the inner perceptions and experience of the audience.  This is the real stage on which magicians and mentalists perform.  The ability to make changes to the audience’s perceptions and to create experiences in their minds is precisely the work of the magician or mentalist.

The most important consequence of refocusing our interpretation of the overall magical interaction on the created experience is that it puts our attention on a real and relevant part of the communication.  Instead of focusing on gimmicks and secret moves and strange apparatus, the emphasis is on the emotions and experiences of the viewer.  Gimmicks and moves and props, whether poorly made or crafted by experts, are still only tools.  Because they may be described as fake or phony in some way, the entire interaction may be labeled as fake because the emphasis is placed, wrongly, on the tool.  The thoughts and emotional responses of the viewer, while intangible, are never considered fake by the person who thinks or feels them.

Despite being presented in a novel way, this isn’t an altogether new concept.  Magicians and mentalists have long written about their art in terms of “method” and “effect.”  In magic books, the effect is what the audience sees and experiences during a single trick or illusion.  It is often explained in a sentence or two.  The method is the set of actions that the performer must execute in order to do the trick.  While many great performers and writers have emphasized the importance of effect over method, most magicians are enamored with method because it is there where their physical skills are developed and tested.  There is no substitute for excellence in method, nor any excuse for failure in technique, but the real secret of magic – and the secret of real magic – that the greatest performers have always understood is that effect is ultimately more important.

In the end, the most useful interpretation of magic experiences is not as merely the combination of props or tools or techniques that are used in the performance.  Nor is it best seen as the pretended outcome of whichever imaginary power is on display.  Understood more constructively, magic is the resulting experience of the impossible that happens inside the mind of the audience member.  The real magic isn’t the physical disappearance of the coin or the lady or the tiger.  Magic is the intangible but nonetheless real experience of that impossibility in the mind of the spectator, no matter how that perception is achieved.

To be clear, this is not intended as a restatement of the well-worn adage that “perception is reality.”  Advertising professionals, marketing experts, and communication gurus have covered that idea and how it relates to business many times before; you probably have books on the subject in your own library.  This concept of the nature of magic as a real experience is based on the simpler and far more modest proposition that perception is a real thing.

View of a performance from the wings

Magic and mentalism are a form of theatre. Effective magical performances lead audiences to focus on messages and experiences rather than props and methods. Our craft is a tool to create the show, not the show itself.


By rethinking the essence of magic, not as a pretended supernatural reality but as the real experience of a constructed perception, most people can relate to magic as something that actually happens, even in their own lives.  Most of us have experienced something that seems beyond explanation, at least for the moment it takes to perceive the experience as astonishing or impossible.  That pen appeared in your jacket pocket; you realize later that it must have been brushed off the table into your pocket when you sat down, but at the precise moment you saw it there and didn’t know or hadn’t yet deduced how it could possibly have gotten there, the experience of magic occurred.  It is a real thing.  It is a real experience.  It is a valuable experience.  It is, in fact, an experience that people will not only remember, but one that they will pay to encounter over and over again.

Magicians do create real magic, then, not by using special supernatural skills to manipulate the physical world, but by using special theatrical skills to construct perceptions that result in the real experience of the impossible.

So, is magic real?  Maybe in the context of a tenth-century understanding of science and religion it’s not, but in a twenty-first century theatrical context?  Absolutely.  The psychological experience of magic is real, and the different aspects and implications of such experiences are worthwhile to explore.

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Changing the Model: The Real Experience of Magic and Mentalism, part 1

Posted by Joe M. Turner | TurnerMagic.com on April 11, 2012

Let’s start out with the obvious. Perhaps the most glaring question for a speaker who uses magic, mentalism, or other kinds of illusions as a way to deliver messages is this: “Why on earth should I make real-world decisions based on make-believe illusions?”

That exceedingly reasonable question is the corporate-speak version of a familiar dismissal that anyone who has ever performed magic has encountered.

“It’s just a trick.”

Change the perspective

A change in perspective could drastically affect the way you perceive value in the performances of magic, mentalism, and other illusion arts.

This kind of comment is usually driven by a combination of factors, some of which are frustration, annoyance, a desire to save face, and even plain old fear of the unknown. Many people enjoy the feeling of astonishment and the sense that something impossible has just happened, but there are others who strongly dislike that sensation. When presented well, the experience of magic leaves an audience not merely without an explanation, but without even a foundation on which to imagine constructing an explanation. That feeling – sort of a “reality free fall” moment – is both disconcerting and unpleasant if it is interpreted as a threat.

Before we explore the principles we can learn from seemingly impossible experiences and apply to real-world issues, let’s rethink the fundamental premise of the modern theatrical magical experience.

The performing art of magic is a unique form of theater and should be approached as such by the performer and the audience. It has been centuries since magic has been presented as any sort of real supernatural event by mainstream performers or perceived as such by general audiences. Some charlatans, mediums, “psychic surgeons,” and other con artists have abused some of the principles and tools of the art in their scams, as has the occasional spoon-bending television personality. The vast majority of magic, however, is presented in a theatrical context. In fact, it is the theatrical performers of magic who are frequently most active in debunking the scams; Houdini himself may be the best known example of a performer who actively exposed such frauds.

So let’s set aside the negatively charged criticism that magic is fake, and let’s consider instead the more positive and useful idea that magic is fiction. Fiction can have a purpose and an application to real decisions despite the fact that the characters and events didn’t take place. Fiction can be as simple as Aesop or as intricate as Shakespeare. It can be as feathery as a fairy tale or as profound as a parable. It may have no purpose other than to entertain, or it may be so imbued with message that the author’s intent leaps from the page or the stage into the psyche of the reader or viewer.

If you ask the general public to discuss intent, message, or profundity in the arts or literature, you’ll soon no doubt be engaged in discussions of important novels, drama, film, music, poetry, and perhaps dance. Rarely is magic perceived by laymen as a legitimate vessel for communicating meaning, but that is not the public’s fault. Magicians themselves are to blame because most magic performances are presented without any intent other than to amuse themselves and to fool the audience, save perhaps a more specific additional desire to look clever while doing so. Most performers of magic never consider making intentional choices about the potential meanings of their performances. In the absence of explicit choices, though, those performers nonetheless make tacit decisions that empty their performances of meaning or purpose beyond producing a puzzling, momentary distraction.

Yet even in that most meaningless, purposeless state, I contend that magic is not “just some trick.” Even at the level of being merely an amusing entertainment, there is still something profound going on when magic is performed. Something real is happening, and grasping that will change the way you interpret illusions both as entertainment and as springboards for meaningful communication. What is happening? No less than real magic.

Magic, as I would have us think about it, is indeed a real thing. It’s a useful thing. It’s just not the thing we thought it was. To explain this, let’s contrast two models for interpreting theatrical magic experiences, both of which are based on classical interpersonal communication theory. There are certainly many more ways to analyze this or any form of theatre, but this comparison identifies a key concept that will change the way you think about the relevance of magic as a form for relevant, real-world communication.

In Figure 1 we see a representation of a traditional model for interpreting theatrical magical experiences, within which category I include most visual magic, mentalism, and some optical illusions.

Figure 1 - The Mechanical Model of Interpreting Magic

Figure 1 - The Mechanical Model of Interpreting Magic

In this model, the intended message begins within the mind of the communicator, or in this case the mind of the performer. It proceeds outward through the set of filters that every communicator has. These can be biases, moods, thoughts, or any other internal factors. The action or performance then happens in the space between the performer and the audience. It then enters the audience member’s filters where it is further molded by each individual’s perceptions, and ultimately it results in some received message, or experience, in the receiver’s mind. (For the sake of this discussion, we’ll ignore the presence of noise or distractions in the environment, though they are a legitimate concern for all communicators, not just performers.)

Most people, including many if not most magicians, interpret the term “magic” as describing the various physical actions that the performer takes in the space between the performer and the audience. Magic, in this model, is essentially considered a synonym for the collection of techniques and props and secret tools. Whether executed skillfully or not, the interpretation is that the “magic” is the sum of the actions, or simply “the method.” Notice also that in this case the magic and method are considered to be entirely external in relation to the performer and the audience. When magic is perceived in this way, the performer and the audience may seem interchangeable if not completely irrelevant – any performer, and any audience, connected though a given method, would have the same magic experience.

That is obviously not the case, but because method is so often the focus, an audience’s unpleasant experience in a performance of magic or mentalism is often brushed off as a shortcoming of the art rather than considered more deeply as having roots in the both the skill of the performer as well as the audience’s conditioning and habits regarding how to interpret the experience. (It should be noted that the truly skilled performer either purposely or instinctively pushes audiences to reduce their attention on method and to focus more on the experience; more on this later.)

Performers, too, are often prone to dismiss poor magic or mentalism performances as functions of external factors rather than to examine their own contributions to the experience. Ego plays a part in this, of course, but many are completely blind to the fact that their own emphasis on the method as the magic is undermining their ability to create an amazing experience for their audience.

In this model, then, the concept of magic is physically mechanical and psychologically external to the performer and audience. Because it is perceived as only a word for “how it’s done,” the emphasis is placed completely on the processes and paraphernalia. This emphasis is heightened by the fact that those tools are generally guarded as secret knowledge, and human nature is tempted by nothing so much as forbidden fruit. With all this energy and attention focused on the least meaningful aspects of the communication experience, it is little wonder that so much of magic and other illusion arts is perceived as fake, phony, and trivial.

Next time we’ll explore a different way of looking at things!

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Atlanta Speaker Joe M. Turner featured in NSA SPEAKER Magazine

Posted by Joe M. Turner | TurnerMagic.com 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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Branding, Buzz, and Team Communication

Posted by Joe M. Turner | TurnerMagic.com on November 5, 2010

How Magic Works In Corporate Settings
Part Five: Branding, Buzz, and Team Communication

One of my recent clients brought an interesting magic communication project for me to address with Message-Driven Entertainment: a launch of a new brand, but with an important twist.

Atlanta magician, mentalist and speaker Joe M. Turner delivers a magic-infused brand launch presentation.

Now I’ve been part of other promotional events and launch events before, but they were usually targeted to clients and/or consumers. Advertising and marketing campaigns, trade show exhibits – this is standard fare for the magic-enhanced edutainment presenter.

This client’s event, however, was targeted to an internal audience of employees, including developers, sales reps, marketing folks, and others.  The new brand identity – specifically, new logos and a new tagline – was being rolled out and these people would be the first to see the final results.

Internal and External Audiences

In a standard launch for consumers, there are some obvious advantages (as well as some risks, which Gap recently learned).  First, the external consumer audience is often a clean slate.  They have no idea that a new launch is coming, and largely have no skin in the game with regard to one design over another.  Furthermore, they are probably unaware of the leadership dynamics within the company, or any competing factions.  In the absence of a truly loved brand – and let’s face it, most brands are not truly loved – the details of the process behind the change are usually trivial to all but the most dedicated fans.  You can sell the new brand (the product) on its merits.

In an internal launch, much of that goes out the window.  Employees are not a clean slate – they know what happened, where, to whom, when, how hard, and for what reason.  They have relationships with other employees and leaders up and down the org chart, and if there are tensions, they know about it.  Everyone knows all the marketing messages, but they also know if there are any caveats or “yes, but” qualifiers behind those messages.  In this case, you still have to sell the new brand on its merits – but you also have to achieve some buy-in for the change.

Selling the Process

My approach for this event was to sell not just the product, but the process.  This client had taken the smart route, with numerous surveys and checkpoints with employees, customers, and other external sources.  This process had been fairly lengthy, though, spanning many months.  Employees had not all been privy to drafts along the way; they would be seeing the final result a long time after their contribution to the process had taken place.

In addition to simply unveiling the new look, I knew it was important to reemphasize for the employees that they had been a key part of the process, and even if the new look wasn’t precisely their cup of tea, they needed to be reassured that the end result had been reached with their contributions as an important component.

The opening of my program was a review of the process, reminding the audience from the very beginning that they had been part of the process.  This part of the program included terms like “How many of you remember…” and “As you recall…” and “Way back in April.”  The process was explained until all the pieces of the process visually and magically melded into a large print of the new brand.  It was not a sermon, just a quick reminder of the process.

Atlanta magician and mentalist Joe M. Turner at a branding event

Atlanta magician and mentalist Joe M. Turner uses an interactive illusion to emphasize a critical point at a recent branding launch in Atlanta.

Where To Now?

Once the new look was out in front of everyone, the rest of the program focused on helping everyone understand what the messages behind the logo were, as related to key benefits to the different customer groups.

I used customized visual and psychological illusions to reinforce the specific benefits that the client’s marketing team wanted to emphasize.  In the case of this product, those key benefits were saving time, saving money, and saving hassles by using a tool designed to facilitate regulatory compliance.

  • In the case of saving time, I presented a magical effect developed by Alex Elmsley that concludes with a “traveling back in time” moment.  By saving customers time, we are metaphorically giving them the ability to “go back  in time” and reclaim what would have been additional minutes spent on each transaction.

  • To emphasize saving money, I turned to a classic comedy routine in which a borrowed hundred dollar bill is burned and eventually restored.  Messages to customers: don’t burn your money on inferior products, time saved is money saved, and our product’s streamlined efficiency is reflected in our new brand.

  • Finally, the complexities of regulatory compliance were represented as a snare that entangles people and organizations, often simply by accident, due to the complexities and details of the law and regulations surrounding their industry. The client’s product enables customers to complete all the processes and stay compliant.  To illustrate, my wrists were bound with rope by two of the team members, and I escaped from the bonds with a comic flair.

The end result? The client had an engaged, attentive team who not only understood their contributions to the new brand, but who were fully equipped to discuss the key benefits with their customers. That’s a great place to be, but the bonus is that we all had a great time getting there.

Here’s how my clients put it:

“We are so lucky that we found Joe Turner! We wanted to give a creative twist to the re-launch of our new brand identity for our employees and we got so much more! Joe worked with us and did his homework to help us communicate our new brand and key messages in a very creative and memorable way. The employees loved it and will remember this event for a long time. We will definitely look for ways to work with Joe again.”
— Director of Marketing

“Joe is perfect for corporate events! Entertaining, smart, creative; all those things for sure. But most of all, we loved how adaptable and creative Joe was in tailoring his ‘show’ to fit with our marketing message! Excellent fit. We’ve had other ideas on how to use his talents and hope to do so in the future.”
— Senior VP and General Manager

Message-Driven Entertainment

The underlying point of the story is this: professional entertainment can enhance messaging, but it has to be handled skillfully. It requires more than just a cool talent or stage presence — it also takes someone who has been there and “gets it.” When choosing someone to integrate messaging and entertainment, you want someone with real-world talent and experience in both arenas. It’s a unique skill-set, but if you’re reading this blog, you’re connected to the right resource.

I treat your message with the same respect that you do. It is not trivialized, boiler-plated, or caricatured. When you select me to work with you on a marketing or branding event, I supply the showbiz talent and even change management expertise, but your message is the real star of the show.

Let’s work together to make your trade show, product launch, brand introduction, or other message-driven event a spectacular success!

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The High Price of Cheap Entertainment

Posted by Joe M. Turner | TurnerMagic.com on October 4, 2010

How Magic Works In Corporate Settings
Part Four: The High Price of Cheap Entertainment

Iceberg Dead Ahead!

Don't Sink Your Event! Just when you think you've dodged the budget iceberg by skimping on the entertainment or speaking budget, you discover the immense hidden costs lurking beneath the surface.

Even in a great economy, event planners and producers are right to be cost-conscious. Experienced planners, though, know that there are always significant hidden costs and risks associated with putting low-fee, bargain-basement entertainers or speakers in front of their audience. It destroys the event’s effectiveness. It embarrasses the audience. It undermines the organization’s credibility. Sometimes it can even cost the planner his or her job.

In the last decade I have helped numerous planners overcome “last year’s disaster” – cheesy, amateurish, or foul-mouthed ‘bargains’ that ultimately cost them much more than they thought they had saved. People who know that value considerations are at least as important as price concerns make great clients, but I always wish they could have avoided the painful lesson that got them there. Unfortunately, it took a bad experience — followed by a great experience with me! — for these good folks to learn what savvy consumers have known from time immemorial:

You get what you pay for.

Especially during tough times, I get calls for events where it is clear that the planner is dialing through a list of phone numbers looking for any breathing human who will stand on a stage in return for whatever budget remains after paying for the room, decor, and food… that is to say, for nearly nothing. In their quest to save money, these inexperienced planners are basing the single most focused and memorable part of the evening on ‘whomever we can find for what we have left.’

Your group will be talking to each other and interacting while having cocktails and dinner, but their full attention will be focused on the after-dinner performer for the better part of an hour. From the time the show starts until it ends, the quality of that performance doesn’t just affect the quality of the event – it is the quality of the event. That experience is what the audience really takes with them as their memory of the event – not the floral arrangement, gift bag, or logo-embossed desk accessory. Good or bad, that performance is going to be discussed more than any other element of the event.

  • If the food is mediocre and the entertainment is great, people will remember the entertainment.
  • If the decor is mediocre and the entertainment is great, people will remember the entertainment.
  • If the food is great, the decor is beautiful, the venue is breathtaking, and the entertainment is bad… people will remember the entertainment.

No matter what else happens, people remember the entertainment because that is what holds their attention for the most time and with the most focus and intensity.

I recently got a call from an association that was planning an annual gala in a beautiful, trendy hotel in Atlanta. This was a small group of only a few hundred people, but they were business professionals from around the region, celebrating an important annual event with a nice dinner. They also wanted a professional after-dinner show, but the fee they proposed as an entertainment budget was literally about one-tenth of a reasonable starting price for that service.

Many performers and speakers would have quickly ended the conversation and moved on. I took a different approach, though, because I want this group to have a successful event whether I’m there or not.

Here’s what I shared with them:

As much as I’d love to get your organization’s business immediately, I’m more interested in helping you have a successful event. That way, I’ll have earned your trust, and you’ll know that I’ll be honest and professional with you when you call me in the future and you have a realistic budget to work with.

So here’s what you need to know to have a successful gala event this year: Do not proceed with this plan. The nature of the venue you have chosen demands more than the lowest-common-denominator. If $X is your budget, you should not hire an entertainer this year. Get extra drinks, or decor, or music. Show a fun video montage of people in your organization. But do not use that money to hire an entertainer. Any performer you could get for that fee is not a performer you want to put in front of an audience of professional adults at an annual gala, especially in such a nice venue. That substandard performance will only cloud your interest in having a true professional at a future event when you could have afforded it.

I have no doubt that you can use a phone book or a search engine to find someone who will do this for you at that fee. When you find that person, run as fast as you can in the other direction. You will have found an inexperienced, sub-par performer who is desperate to put the words ‘corporate events’ on his or her web site or résumé. This is not what you want for your audience. Better to save the money than hire anyone for that amount.

Money down the drain

'Bargain' entertainers and speakers for corporate events are money down the drain.

For professional audiences and events, cheap entertainment is an expensive, high-stakes wager on a losing proposition. The hidden costs – reduced effectiveness, diminished credibility, and lasting negative impact – far outweigh the tantalizing prospect of getting an imagined bargain on a speaker or entertainer.

There are creative ways to achieve professional results on a wide range of budgets, and I love working with my clients to find those solutions. But you can always trust me to tell you where the real opportunities and the real limits are, and to be honest about what will work best for your event and your audience.

Bottom line – the success of your meeting, conference, or gala is as important to me as it is to you. I look forward to working with you, whether as a speaker or an entertainer, to create a successful event.

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Planning for After-Dinner Entertainment: Visibility Matters

Posted by Joe M. Turner | TurnerMagic.com on September 15, 2010

How Magic Works In Corporate Settings
Part Three: Convention Dinners and Galas – Visibility

One special evening of a conference or convention – often the final evening – is typically built around a gala banquet event and some kind of after-dinner entertainment.  Presenting a solidly entertaining show for these audiences is a core competency for my profession.

As you might imagine, I’ve found myself in a variety of venues and performing situations along the way.  Like every meeting and event planner, I’ve also had to deal with last moment challenges and changes.  Technical problems, lost luggage, travel issues… you probably have your own list of horror stories.  Part of being a professional is being prepared to deal with those curve balls.  Whether the audience is fifty people or fifteen hundred or more, I’ve got to be ready to create a successful experience for the audience, no matter what.

That said, there are a number of points on which meeting and event planners can work with performers up front to make sure that known pitfalls are avoided, creating the best possible environment for a successful event.

One major pitfall is the issue of visibility.  The audience must be able to see the performance.  This is an obvious point, but in the planning of a large event, this singularly important component of the experience can be inadvertently weakened by seemingly unrelated choices.

In this article, I’ll share some concepts on the importance of visibility, plus some personal “lessons learned” that meeting and event planners can keep in mind to enhance the success of after-dinner entertainment for their galas and banquets.  Even if you’re working with entertainment of a non-magical nature, it’s worthwhile to do at least a mental run-through of your event plan with these concepts in mind.

A large centerpiece, while dramatic, can obstruct the view of everything else in the room.

A large centerpiece, while dramatic, can obstruct the view of everything else in the room.

Obstructions

Consider those tall, elegant centerpieces on the tables.  Bold, artistic centerpieces can set a dramatic tone in a banquet room, but they can also hinder conversation at the tables.  If there is an after-dinner performer or speaker on the bill, consider a smaller piece.  Alternatively, you can arrange with the host or banquet captain to have the centerpieces moved to another location before the performer begins.  You might move them to tables along the outside walls of the room, or use them to create another decorative element in the room such as a bordered walkway to a photographer’s corner or the exit.

Besides centerpieces, are there balloons, lighting trees, extra microphone stands, an unneeded speaker’s podium, tray jacks, or other extraneous items obstructing or cluttering the audience’s view of the platform?

Lighting

In addition to possible physical obstructions, lighting is crucial to visibility.  Discuss the options with your performer.  I work in a variety of environments, either using the venue’s existing lighting, or working with the production company if the event is using theatrical lighting.  When budget is a concern, an act who can work effectively with a venue’s existing lighting is a smart choice.  When producing a large event, though, there’s no substitute for professionally produced lighting.

Platform or Stage

It’s a given that a raised platform or stage not only improves visibility, but also enhances the production value and theatrical impact of an event.  That said, if your event has fewer than 100 people, you can often produce a successful event without a raised platform or stage.  With enough space between tables, everyone can see a properly positioned speaker.  Consider a corner of the room for the stage area; this can sometimes allow you to dodge inconvenient columns or posts.  Some groups working with a limited budget can find success by setting up tables on one end of a large room and theater-style seating on the other; if your group doesn’t mind changing seats for the show, you can accommodate larger numbers without using a stage.  If going without a stage, make sure the lighting and sound are flawless.

Distance

Distance is a key component of both visibility and a sense of immediacy.  Separating a performer or speaker from the audience with a dance floor or other large open space always reduces the effectiveness of the presentation and diminishes the audience’s experience (Figure 1).  Splitting an audience with a dance floor (Figure 2) will also drain the energy from a live presentation or performance.

Figure 1 - Avoid Figure 1 - Avoid Figure 3 - Preferred

If a dance floor is required, place it to one side of the room and add an additional table for the DJ (Figure 3).  If the DJ or band must use the same stage as the performer, or if the dance floor cannot be repositioned, try to place seating on the floor until the dinner and show are concluded, then have those tables removed during a break after the featured performance and before the dance music starts.

Atlanta magician and keynote speaker Joe M. Turner presents an illusion via IMAG at a 2010 conference.

Atlanta magician and keynote speaker Joe M. Turner presents an illusion via IMAG at a 2010 conference.

IMAG

Image magnification, or IMAG, can be a valuable solution to problems of distance and staging.  By projecting the speaker, presenter, or entertainer’s image on large video screens, problems of distance are quickly overcome.  In addition to allowing more viewers to see the proceedings at a greater distance, it also broadens the scale and thus the variety of entertainment which can be presented effectively.

With regard to magic specifically, IMAG allows performer to use a wider range of equipment and draw upon a broader repertoire of material during the show.  For example, a magic routine with a handful of dollar bills, a deck of cards, or the company’s annual report suddenly becomes just as visible to thousands of people as a full-scale stage illusion.  This can result in savings on the entertainment budget because the transportation of additional illusions and assistants may be trimmed if the show is designed for a single performer.

If you think IMAG may potentially be part of your event plan, discuss it with your performer so that you both talk through the full range of options available as part of the entertainment.  One last tip – please don’t record the projected video without the knowledge and consent of the performer; an infinite set of repeat performances for future audiences is an added value for which performers and speakers deserve to be compensated.

Head Tables

Whether at a dinner or a luncheon, no experienced speaker or performer ever wants to be trapped behind a lectern at a head table.  Add a platform on another wall to improve focus on your performer and to give him or her space to move.  Likewise, the people at the head table should not be relegated to watching the side or back of any presenter.  Give your performer or speaker the opportunity to make an excellent, lasting impression on your organization’s leadership by letting them experience the presentation as it is intended to be seen: from the front.

In Conclusion…

Good visibility is critical to the after-dinner entertainment experience.  Savvy event planners and meeting planners keep visibility in mind even when working on details that seem unrelated to the entertainment.  First-time planners — often those who have recently been tapped for “this year’s event” — sometimes find themselves surprised at the last minute when all the pieces of the puzzle are finally in the same room at the same time.  These tips are intended as helpful hints from someone who has worked through the challenges and wants to help you create the best possible environment for your successful event.

Stay tuned for more thoughts on entertainment and event-planning pitfalls… and how to avoid or overcome them!  And in the meantime, if you’re planning a meeting or special event – call me and let’s talk about how my visual and psychological illusions can add value to your conference or banquet.

Distance

Distance is a key

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Entrepreneurship and Magic

Posted by Joe M. Turner | TurnerMagic.com on September 8, 2010

Joe M. Turner speaking on entrepreneurship at Georgia State University.

Joe M. Turner speaking on entrepreneurship at Georgia State University.

Last week I had the pleasure of speaking to senior management and entrepreneurship students at Georgia State University here in Atlanta, Georgia.  Over the years I’ve had the opportunity to speak to many similar groups and classes at Agnes Scott College, Emory University, and of course at my beloved alma mater, Mississippi State University.

Students are almost always surprised when I speak, partly because my career in magic and speaking is built on the concept of theatrical surprise.  More than that, though, I have an unusual career path and career choice even for the already non-traditional path of entrepreneurship.  So no matter what the environment, I’m almost always assured of being an unexpected and welcome novelty as a presenter.

My message for them, though, isn’t about how cool it is to do something fun and unusual.  My message usually resonates around the concept of developing as many seemingly unrelated skills as you can.  This has the immediate benefit of making you a person with a unique combination of skills… but the more important benefit is that it trains you to synthesize.

A truly educated person, in my view, is a person with the ability to recognize existing patterns and create new ones.  When you build skills in a variety of spheres, you also build a larger knowledge of patterns.  You can recognize problems and think about them with a much richer vocabulary of thoughts.  Is Middle Eastern violence in some ways a geopolitical example of pressure, volume, and heat… Boyle’s and Charles’ laws?  How is a dysfunctional work team like a dissonant chord?  How would a composer resolve that chord?  Does that solution have a parallel to the way your team is put together?

My challenge to college students is to develop the broadest vocabulary of skills possible, while learning to synthesize those skills in unique combinations to solve specialized problems.  I also encourage them to get educated about financial skills, to be informed opponents of the punitive taxation of America’s entrepreneurs, and to prepare for a high-amplitude life… up ups, down downs, and a wild ride.

Thanks to Alan Urech for inviting me to address his class.  I also enjoyed meeting the other speakers: Bonnie White of RetailRegistry.com, Jamie Roop of Friendly Records, and Monica Tannian of Milk Money Consulting.

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