How can magicians make their magic tricks more interesting and keep the attention of their audiences?
Times have changed, and audiences simply don’t have the attention spans that they did in the age before the internet, TV, and Smartphones. Popular culture has taken it’s toll on the ability of an audience to hold fixed attention for any extended length of time.
The mission of the press is to spread culture while destroying the attention span. – Karl Kraus
The problem of reduced attention spans is only going to get worse over time. Kids are growing up in a new type of society, where they are focused more on screens than real world interaction. Children are developing their minds in a world where everything is a quick ‘search on google’ away. The need to put effort into accessing information is reducing all the time. As children develop, their social and emotional development may be hindered by a lack of contact and conversation. Real world interaction shapes a child's intellect. The shorter time spent interacting with people – and the more time the spend in their own passive relationship with a computer screen, the less time they have to develop the ability to read nonverbal cues from people. The next generation may be the worst in history at reading behaviour face-to-face, in real time, and expect all their information and entertainment to be served to them as quickly as possible.
For close up magicians, this situation is even more pressing. The performing conditions at a party or dinner are filled with competing draws on the spectators attention. How should magicians deal with this problem?
The secret to holding a spectators attention is VARIATION. It’s use within your close up magic act is a powerful way to keep your audience engaged with the show you are presenting to them. People get bored quickly, and that leads to distraction. Making sure that you add enough variation into the magic tricks you perform, is a powerful way to keep them interested and involved with your magic.
Variation isn’t speed.
In an attempt to be interesting, some magicians simply try to increase the pace of their magic. In the hope of keeping the audience on the edge of their seats, those magicians try to cram in as many different tricks and flourishes as possible, and perform them at break neck speed. The result isn’t usually good. Speed can cause confusion, which in turn leads to boredom and frustration. It’s important that you go vary your pace and keep the energy up throughout your act, but sometimes slowing down can be just as engaging for spectators. The key is to have a variation in both speed and pace, as well as in the types of magic tricks you perform.
You can present only card magic tricks and still have variation.
In order to vary the content of your act, you don’t have to change the style of magic you perform. If you are a card magician, it’s fine to only use playing cards. If you are a mind reader, there is no need to switch to coin tricks in the middle of your show, to give your act variation. The props can remain the same, but the presentations that you use should have variety. Adding in fast, punchy magic, slow emotional pieces, and a little comedy, can give variation to an act which have a strong common theme running through it. A great example of this can be seen in the work of Derren Brown. His shows are all mentalism, but he plays with pace, comedy and style in a way that creates variation within his show.
Core techniques to create variation in a magic act.
There are many ways to ‘mix things up’ in you magic tricks set.
Speed: Change the speed of your presentations and actions within specific tricks, and also within the framework of your whole act. This gives your magic a dynamic quality and keeps the audience focused on you and your magic.
Duration: Work through each of your routines and try to identify any slow or ‘dead’ parts where nothing is happening. Think about how you could change the routines to reduce these dull moments as much as possible. Ensure that each magic trick has a ‘punch’ quite quickly in its performance. Pay attention to how your spectators react when you present a magic trick to them. Could you bring the ‘moment of magic’ forward by a simple change to the method? Could you introduce a little magical event that occurs before the main ‘effect’, so the audience gets magic along the way? As you develop as a magician, your magic will go through a natural process of culling. The tricks become ‘tight’ as you remove unnecessary parts, pauses and procedure from each presentation.
Shock: The best magic routines add in a little shock or surprise into the mix. The audience is led down a false path, an outcome suddenly changes, or something simply appears or vanishes. Structure your act so it becomes hard for your audience to double guess what is coming next. Nobody wants to be watching a magic trick when they know what the outcome will be.
So you see, it’s quite possible to build a successful act with a specialised theme like mind reading, playing cards or coin magic. Any collection of magic tricks can be as engaging as the next. Variation is the magic secret to ensure that the shrinking attention spans of your audience don’t work against you. Adding variation techniques to your existing magic act can breath new life into your show, and ensure it’s suitable for a future audience that have been raised in the age of Google.