Is it cliché to compare a presenter to a magician? Yes. More so than comparing a presentation to a roller coaster ride? Probably not.
So let's proceed to do it.
I don't like magic. It never impressed me. Even if I was willing to try, I could never loosen my grip on reality long enough to enjoy it. I really am a barrel of laughs reader, it's just that my barrel is made from cold, hard logic.
Public speakers, on the other hand, do impress me. And becoming one of these clever souls is a lot like becoming a member of the magic circle.
Here are 6 steps to achieving spellbinding success as a speaker.
1) Master the basics first
Sorry to burst your bubble, but you know that thing you're quite good at? You're not a born natural, you just practised it loads.
Just starting to speak in public? Don't expect to be great right away. You wouldn't expect to pull a rabbit out of a hat without some practice. Or, at the very least, buying a hat and a rabbit.
It's a cumulative art. You learn basic techniques, and then you embellish… The more you know and the better grounded you are in the basic techniques, the more you'll be able to branch out.
– Ricky Jay
Great speakers aren't born. So start reading, start watching, and start asking questions.
2) Stand up and perform
A magician's interest in magic often begins at an early age – with the influence of an elderly relative strikingly common. They learn and practice the basics, and it becomes an obsession that occupies every waking moment.
Then what? Then they get in front of the family and perform. Even the most extravagant escapologists started out doing close-up magic.
Normally, when I'm not performing... I second-guess myself, I have doubts. But when I get into that mode I'm invincible.
– Apollo Robbins
Join your local club and start speaking in front of real people. The confidence will come.
3) Connect with your audience
What is magic without an audience? Not much. Magicians bamboozle people with seemingly impossible feats. Remove the bamboozled people, and… nothing.
The beauty of the magician-audience dynamic is in the total imbalance of power. We all know there's a logical explanation, but only one of us knows what it is.
What's the end goal for any work of art? The answer is it's not one thing. In almost every work of art there is on one level – and this is the level at which magic is, I think, the most fundamental – at which you must amaze the audience.
– Penn and Teller
You speak to inform, entertain, or improve your audience. It's always about them and what they're getting from you. Never forget that.
4) See setbacks as opportunities
'Is this your card?' Uh, nope. Awkward. Call yourself a magician? You can't even handle a card trick. You're the worst, get off the stage and out of the circle.
Well, hold up. It's not that bad. Whenever a live audience is involved, things can and will go wrong. Don't throw in the towel if they do.
I think any magician that's comfortable enough always has to improvise, and what good improvisation does is it allows you to change something that's not working, or make something better that is working. Improvising happens every single time a magician who performs regularly does. It's how growth happens, allowing you to dig yourself out of a hole.
– David Blaine
Learn how to handle a speaking mishap. It's never the end of the world. It can always be salvaged, and you'll learn a great deal about yourself.
5) Make use of mystery
'How did you do that?' That line must be 24-carat audible gold to a magician. After all, it wouldn't be much of an illusion if the stunned spectator had sussed the whole trick instead.
Mystery and suspense are crucial, and anticipation is everything. The horror of watching a man struggle underwater, knowing the air in his lungs is running out and those chains aren't looking any looser.
We're in a consumer market where we're constantly force-fed, we consume what's given to us. But people like what they don't understand. They like mystery.
Become a slow-reveal virtuoso. Learn from the masters of suspense, and create an experience that leaves the audience desperate for more.
6) Give your gift
Magic is just for entertainment. It could never teach you anything. Right?
Well, might the world's greatest theatrical pickpocket teach you about your personal security? Could a leading hypnotist-illusionist show you how impressionable you are?
I want to see genuine change rather than just a TV thing where somebody seems more confident at the end.
– Derren Brown
Your gift is the gift of information. Give it with passion, authenticity, joy. And a little entertainment, if you can.