Showmanship – Connecting With An Audience


Connecting With An Audience

By Duane Laflin

Excerpt from January 2013 Grand Magic Magazine: 

To purchase the entire issue, click here.

A good showman understands the necessity of being able to immediately convince an audience that they have made a good decision in choosing to experience his performance.

He knows that the following concepts are critical to making this happen.

1. The Power of the First Impression

2. The Truth of the Self-fulfilling Prophecy

3. The 15 Second Rule

4. The Means by which Audiences Make Quick Judgments

In this blog we will cover the first two things on the list above. Next month we will deal with the third and fourth things.

1. The Power of the First Impression

The fact that one never gets a second chance to make a first impression is well known. The vital nature of this fact is not always understood.

The fundamental issue is that people typically abide by their first impression. Especially in context of a show.

In normal life there may be time to create a second, or further impression, that leads people to leave a first impression behind. This is not something that normally occurs, but it can occur.

{For an entertainer such as a magician, it must be understood that the first impression is often the final impression!}

For a person who is on stage, there is rarely and almost never time, nor the means, for undoing a first impression. The first impression is likely to also be the final impression.

This knowledge leads a good showman to put as much, or more, thought into how he makes a first impression, than he does into any other aspect of his show. He is careful to consider when and how the audience will first see him. He is aware of the fact that the first judgment they make about him happens at their first glance, and at his first appearance. He does not view himself as only “on stage” when he begins performing his first routine.

He understands that he is “on stage” the moment he is in view. He is determined that his first impression will be a great impression.

{To excel, we must create a first impression that is definitely a strong and appealing impression!}

This is a lesson I learned from the wonderful Japanese Magician, Fukai. I was at a convention with him where several of his students were competing. The competitors stood in a line along a wall waiting for their turns in front of the judges. While waiting, most of the competitors adopted a casual and careless attitude. They slouched. They stared off into space. They messed around with their props. In their minds, they were not performing. They were only waiting.

Later I heard Fukai chide his students about this. He said, “When people see you, they are judging you. They cannot help but form opinions about you any time they notice you. If you want to be great, even if you are only standing by a wall, you must behave like a professional!”

A good showman knows when and how the audience will first see him and takes every aspect of the matter into account. He considers how his first step will be viewed. He considers how he will walk and then stand when being introduced.

He especially pays attention to his first words. He does not leave his opening remarks to the inspiration of the moment. Instead he carefully crafts what he will say to be sure the first thing that comes out of his mouth is the most appealing and interesting thing he can possibly voice.

This is a place where many performers immediately hurt themselves. I recently was at a concert where I experienced a singer do just that. When she walked on stage, she acted unsure of what she planned to do. After adjusting her notes, and figuring out where she wanted the microphone to be, she sat down at the keyboard and said to the audience, “How are you doing?” It was an obvious and mundane remark. Then she proceeded to ramble about how her day had been, and how she was glad to finally be able to preform her music. The problem was, she was not preforming. Instead she was engaging in meaningless chatter.

When she finally did start singing, she proved to be talented. I think the audience did enjoy the sound of her voice. However, they had already been convinced that she was just an amateur who was there to hopefully fill the time in a pleasant way.

I later learned that this singer, for many years, has had the dream of being a star. She may have the vocal talent to be a star, but it will never happen unless she learns that the quality of her voice does not compensate for the incompetence she demonstrates at the beginning of her relationship with an audience.

{A good showman never neglects, nor fails to prepare, for making a powerful first impression.}

A good showman never neglects, nor fails to prepare, for making a powerful first impression. He understands that it is not just a matter of there being no second chance to make a first impression, it is the matter of the first impression being of critical importance.

2. The Self-fulfilling Prophecy

This is a fascinating aspect of human psychology that especially applies to a person who works in front of groups of people. It has to do with the fact that, in light of a first impression, people make judgments and then assume the judgments are correct.

This is a matter that also involves ego. People want their judgments to be correct. They like to believe they are right. Therefore, once they draw a conclusion, they quickly notice anything that corroborates the conclusion and tend to ignore those things that contradict the conclusion.

{People want their own judgments to be correct. They try to make them be true!}

In actuality, the concept works like this: If a person looks at a performer and, upon first impression, concludes, “This guy is going to be good,” that person will then be attentive to anything that verifies the conclusion. For the rest of the show, any time something happens that is pleasing, the person will say, “Yes, that’s what I thought. This guy is good!” So the audience member is looking for, and believing in, the performer’s success because the first thing he thought is “this will be a success.”

It is a self-fulfilling prophecy in the sense that the person works to make his own prediction come true. He wants it to be true. He wants to be able to pat himself on the back at the end of the show and say, “I knew it all along, this guy was great!”

This is something that any entertainer wants. What a wonderful thing to have members of the audience desiring and expecting his success!

{Do you want the audience seeking proof that you are a wonderful performer, or do you want them searching for proof that you are a loser?}

If the performer does not make a good first impression, the self-fulfilling prophecy works in the opposite direction. If the first thing members of the audience think is, “This will not be good,” they will spend the rest of the show looking for verification of that. Any time the performer makes a mistake, or does something that is weak, they will focus on it with the attitude of “That’s what I expected. I knew it would be like this.” Because the performer did not start well, and the audience made an initial judgment about him, for the rest of the show he must fight an uphill battle to win them over.

It is a simple equation relating to performance:

Weak or poor first impression = An audience that focuses on every mistake and misstep a performer might make.

Good and appealing first impression = An audience that overlooks mistakes and instead focuses on every good and appealing thing a performer does.

This means, if a performer wants an audience to be expecting and hoping for his success, he must make sure that he starts the show in a wonderful manner.


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