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

Posts Tagged ‘events’

Evaluating the Quality of Unique Services

Posted by Joe M. Turner | on December 14, 2011

One built-in characteristic of delivering a unique service is that most people have never experienced what you do. Unlike more familiar services – lawn care, office cleaning, computer repair, legal representation, etc. – most people haven’t got a meaningful point of reference from which to evaluate the services of a mentalist, magician, or a professional keynote speaker. This often puts them at a disadvantage when trying to select an appropriate, high-quality provider.

More Data Points Needed

Most people don't have enough "data points" to evaluate providers of unique services in relation to others in their industries.

Consider magic and mentalism. Most people have never experienced a live performance in these unusual theatrical genres. Among those who have, most have only seen it within the context of a children’s party or a Las Vegas show – rarely anything in between. If a person sees one performer one time, that single experience often colors their opinion of the entire art form, for better or for worse.

Most people have plenty of experience listening to, say, bands or singers. Music surrounds us in our everyday experience. If someone hires a singer and they give a bad performance, the next time the question comes up then most people will say, “That singer was bad – let’s get a different singer.” This is because they have enough experiences with music to know that the one experience they had was of poor quality, but that better experiences are certainly out there to be had.

That’s not the case with mentalism or magic. In those cases, people who have a bad experience often conclude not that the performer was merely sub-par, but that the entire art form is largely of similarly poor quality. Because most people don’t have everyday experiences with these arts, many clients react not with “I didn’t care for that performer,” but rather with “I don’t like magic – let’s do something else.”

Likewise, most people probably will not see more than a dozen professional speakers in a lifetime. Meeting planners and convention committees deal with professional speakers and entertainers regularly, but most people have never had to consider what might make one a better fit than another for a given audience.

Because there are so few points of reference, it can be difficult to establish a scale for evaluating quality. Here are six tips you may find useful.

  1. Ask for specifics about experience. People who claim they are perfect for “all occasions” probably aren’t. Your budget will bring a better return when you discuss the specific event with the provider, ask about their specific experience in that environment, and follow-up on the references they give. When the performer or speaker takes a bow, how will you feel if they thank you by name for hiring them?

  2. Consider awards and credits with a grain of salt. The words “award winning” are suspect. If an award intrigues you then ask about it, but so many awards are available and offered to performers in so many circumstances that it’s almost impossible to find a performer who can’t claim to be “award winning” in some way.

  3. Check for online reviews. Do a Google search on the person’s name and look for reviews. Look beyond performers’ web sites themselves; check their LinkedIn and Google profiles. Check other sites like Kudzu, Meetup, and Yelp. Fifteen minutes of internet research can save your event as well as your reputation.

  4. Analyze the promo video. Do they provide footage of performances in front of a variety of audiences in a range of venues, or is their entire promo kit built around a studio shoot and a set of photos from one event? Check their YouTube videos, but consider whether it was shot at home, in a studio, or in front of real clients.

  5. Don’t fall in love with a low quote. The performance you’ll get from the undercutters is only going to result in a poor experience for your audience and a blot on your reputation. I’ve written before about the high price of cheap entertainment, and it’s worth remembering that even when budgets are tight, quality counts above all. It’s better to stretch on the entertainment budget than to have beautiful lighting and decorations around a performer or speaker you wish your audience would someday forget.

  6. Be honest and ask for a referral. When you find the speaker or performer who’s right for your group, work with them about what you really can and cannot afford. Most of us are willing to make mutual concessions in the course of good faith negotiations. If the numbers just won’t work, ask that person for recommendations of other quality performers who might meet your budget constraints; then trust their advice. Remember – the experienced performer knows how their unique service has fit into a variety of events and venues, and they also know the quality of other artists and speakers in the marketplace.

I have always found that it only enhanced my own reputation and client relationships to help clients find suitable alternatives when I’m out of range or unavailable. I hope these tips help you navigate the sometimes-confusing process of evaluating unique services.

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The Gratis Factor: 5 Tips for Getting Entertainers to Donate Shows

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

Last week I had the opportunity to be part of a wonderful tradition here in Atlanta.

Joe M. Turner with Bert Weiss of "The Bert Show" on Q100 in Atlanta

Joe M. Turner with Bert Weiss of "The Bert Show" on Q100 in Atlanta

Bert Weiss, host of Q100‘s “The Bert Show,” created a foundation (along with his wife Stacey) to help children with chronic or terminal illnesses experience a magical weekend with their families at Walt Disney World. The first trip happened in 2003, and “Bert’s Big Adventure” has been an annual event ever since. One of the most anticipated parts of the Adventure experience is the huge send-off party, staged in a ballroom at a local hotel and featuring a variety of entertainment. “The Bert Show” itself is broadcast live from the event each year. This year, I was asked to be a featured entertainer at the event, performing magic for these families and helping them create magical memories that they’ll have forever.

Entertainers of all kinds and at all levels are approached constantly about donating their services for charitable purposes. Even if we could perform at a different charity event every day, we would only scratch the surface. There are literally more good causes and worthy events in the world than there are days in any performer’s entire career.

How can you get an entertainer to consider donating a show for your cause? Consider some of these keys to unlock the door to a gratis performance.

1. A little respect goes a long way.
No entertainer wants to be thought of as “and we’ll have a magician, too, or a singer, or maybe a clown or something.” Having your professional services requested for free as a disposable afterthought is discouraging. Being treated as a generic commodity who is completely interchangeable with any other performer doesn’t inspire generosity of spirit. When you call a performer, have a reason that you want that particular individual at your event. As Uncle Sam said, “I want YOU!” Demonstrate the same respect that you would show to someone who was considering donating several thousand dollars to your organization, because that is what you are asking some performers to do.

2. Quantify “exposure.”
As the old saying goes, you can die from exposure. Most entertainers are promised untold heights of publicity and exposure for doing charitable events. Then the story appears in the paper or organizational newsletter saying, “… and there was also a wading pool, a petting zoo, a banjo player, and a magician.”

The positive PR that comes from charitable events is a great tool for attracting a variety of companies and individuals to your cause. Don’t promise some nebulous “exposure” – give the facts on how you can really get that person’s or organization’s name out. Will their logo be included on shirts, posters, and programs? Will they be considered a sponsor at a donation level equivalent to the fee they have foregone? Will the organization include their name and web site in all promotion of the event? Will their appearance be promoted on air or on the microphone at the event? Will there be someone on hand to give a real introduction to start their show?

The best way to get a performer to commit to your cause is to specify that they will be included in promotion and publicity of the event, and that you will provide specific introductions and leads to them for future paid engagements. Charitable organizations are always run by people who interact with other donors, both individuals and corporations. Those are potential clients for your entertainer; help them make those connections and you may just wind up with free shows for ALL your events!

3. Be honest about the money that is really being spent.
It is, at best, a faux pas to ask one entertainer to donate performances when other providers of goods or services are being paid; at worst, it is demeaning. Is the venue itself being donated, or are they being paid – even by another donor or a sponsor? Is the food being donated, or was it bought – even at a reduced rate? If you are asking an entertainer to donate his or her services, be ready to explain why his or her livelihood is of less importance to your charity than the providers you are willing to pay for, even if the rate is reduced. There may be a real reason your organization has made that decision, but you should be willing to talk about it honestly instead of trying to hide it from the performer.

4. Help the entertainer deliver the value they have pledged to your organization.
Let’s say your entertainer agrees to donate a performance for your cause, and has arrived on site. Don’t make the mistake of minimizing or undercutting the value of that donation; instead, find ways to maximize the impact they can have on your event.

  • When it’s time for the performance, don’t just send them into a crowd or onto a stage with no build-up. Give them a strong introduction, preferably by the event’s host or the charity’s top official at the event. Give the attendees a sense that what is being contributed is valuable and worth their attention; it will help your event have a greater impact on everyone present.

  • Don’t interrupt a performance to place attention on another person who has arrived simply because he or she is “a celebrity.” Would you interrupt someone who was in the process of signing a check to your organization? The value of the donation is undermined when the presentation is interrupted. If the show needs to be shortened or rescheduled during the event, work it out with the performer before he or she takes the stage. A working performer almost certainly sacrificed more to be there for you than the celebrity did. Please honor that.

5. Know the tax law regarding donations.
Don’t offer to give performers a letter to “write the show off on their taxes.” You cannot legally deduct the value of services you perform for a charitable organization. Instead, work with them before and after the event to provide the testimonials and referrals that will help their business grow and enable them to make more donations in the future.

Bottom line – doing unto others as you’d want them to do for you isn’t just a great way to look at the reasons performers have for donating their services; it’s also a helpful rule of thumb for how to treat them as part of your event. Generosity goes both ways.

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Planning for After-Dinner Entertainment: Visibility Matters

Posted by Joe M. Turner | 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.


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?


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 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.


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 is a key

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3 Ways That Strolling Magic Enhances Corporate Events and Group Receptions

Posted by Joe M. Turner | on June 1, 2010

How Magic Works in Corporate Settings

Part Two: Adding Interactive Magic and Mentalism to Group Receptions and Networking Events

Event planners and meeting planners face unusual challenges.  One of these is the “networking event” or “welcome reception” – traditionally held on the first evening of a conference.

Imagine that you’re planning a meeting or conference that is going to draw people from around the nation or even around the world.  In order to have an effective conference, these people need to meet and interact with others, hopefully creating new relationships and deepening existing ones.  So, on the first evening, after everyone has arrived from the airport and checked into the hotel, we put them all in a room, give them some drinks, and hope that a sense of community starts to form.

Joe M. Turner, the Chief Impossibility Officer, performing strolling magic and mentalism.

Joe M. Turner - The Chief Impossibility Officer
Magically enhancing the effectiveness
of a large corporate hospitality event.

Sometimes it happens by itself, at least in a limited fashion.  Every group will include some individuals whose social skills and intuition will start to click and they’ll start to work the room.  Generally speaking, though, most people find these events at least somewhat uncomfortable and awkward, and find it difficult to introduce themselves to new people or inject themselves into group conversations.  Left to themselves, most attendees will cluster with people they already know, reducing the intended effectiveness of the event.  These people often leave with the sense that the event was boring, pointless, and unsuccessful.

The addition of an interactive, mobile entertainer, particularly using magic and mentalism, changes the dynamic of these events in some important ways.

  1. The Performer-to-Participant Dynamic
    First, a skilled presenter of visual or psychological illusions is by definition giving people an unusual, out-of-the-ordinary experience.  It is an automatic conversation starter, even among people who have never previously met.  Just as shared experiences over time help to coalesce people into teams in the macro sense, these small shared experiences start to build community in the micro sense, facilitating interaction by giving the attendees an obvious and immediate topic on which to comment.  As a performer, this “performer to participant” relationship is at the foundation of all my event goals – and it’s my challenge as an artist to deliver the highest quality, most entertaining illusions for the eyes and minds of the audience.  Appealing, stunning, interactive mysteries create buzz and get people excited.

  2. The Participant-to-Participant Dynamic
    Second, an experienced professional with an understanding of communication and the dynamics of interpersonal interaction will proactively use these moments of attention and response to make introductions.  This cannot always be scripted, nor should it be forced or wedged into every single situation; it is a social skill that performers develop after years of experience in real-world situations.  When I perform in the mobile, “strolling” environment, one of the most important tasks I set for myself is to find out where people are from and to introduce them to people from other locations as the event proceeds.  “Carl, what company, division or department are you with?  Have you met Claire?  She’s from Connecticut – and she has an impressive sense of intuition!  Watch this…”  In this way, the “participant to participant” relationship is enabled and enhanced by the experienced close-up entertainer.

  3. The Event-to-Participant Dynamic
    Finally, there are some events and situations where the entertainment may have the additional objective of communicating some specific messaging about the event or organization.  For example, a conference may wish to create anticipation about a surprise announcement to happen later in the convention – an unexpected guest, product launch, or special event.  Perhaps there is a specific goal that the conference is either setting or celebrating.  Maybe there is a specific key word or important number that the organizers want people to buzz about after the event.  Or maybe the message is nothing more than, “We really want you to have a great time at this conference!”

    Whatever the reason or message, my goals in these cases are 1) to work with the event organizers to understand the objective and the message, 2) to draw upon my experience and expertise to integrate that message with magic, and 3) to deliver that message in an entertaining, memorable way.  “Message driven entertainment” takes many shapes, and I work with the conference planners to identify various solutions for each situation.  The ability to design and deliver exciting and effective “event to participant” communications is a specialized skill that, in conjunction with a highly skilled performer, helps to ensure that the objectives for the event are achieved.

Each of these three relationships – Performer-to Participant, Participant-to-Participant, and Event-to-Participant – plays a significant role in the effectiveness of a group event or reception.  Many performers and entertainers in this industry have a firm grasp on the first of these, and that’s great for everyone.  What sets some performers apart is not just mastery of the performance, but the ability to take it to the next level – and the next! – to ensure that the entertainment supports the overall objectives and messaging of the conference, to the appropriate degree.

Are you working on a meeting or conference that includes a group reception?  Call me, and let’s work together to make it exceptional.

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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!

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