By Malcolm Duff
Magicians Patter is the name given to what you say as you are performing a magic trick.
Magicians Patter has many elements – each with one or more different purposes. If you watch a magician and listen to their patter you will find that you can categorise each piece of the patter according to it's purpose:
The easiest form of patter to spot is “Instruction”. You are telling the spectator to do something.
“Pick a card”, “Think of a word”, “Hold out your hands”, “Don't take your eyes off of that card”, and so on.
This is very close to “Instruction” but subtly different. The patter is intended to obtain some information from the spectator.
“Would you like to see a trick?”, “Could I ask you to sit over there?”, “Does anyone have a business card?”, “What is your date of birth?”. This category also helps with misdirection and suggestion. “Did you see it jump?”, “Do you feel it getting lighter?”, “Wow! Can you believe what just happened?”.
A good one. You make a statement about what you just did or what you are about to do. The statement may or may not be true. That is the point. People, for some reason, are more willing to accept that a statement is true than they are to immediately doubt that statement. People – eh?
“Right. So we now have a shuffled deck.” (No we don't)
“That card was randomly chosen by you.” (No it wasn't)
“So I moved the ball from that cup to this cup.” (No I didn't)
“Now, this part is a bit difficult.” (No it isn't).
You should mix true statements in amongst the false ones otherwise the spectator(s) will soon be running you out of town. I find it fascinating that you can get away with telling fibs even though you announced that you are performing a “trick”. Oh! Statement – like Question (and also Instruction) – helps with misdirection and suggestion.
This is very useful for a performer. It's one of the 7 habits of successful magicians. If you know your patter you can use it to time your “moves”. You may have noticed that as you are performing, you are having an internal dialogue with yourself (who else?). “How am I doing?”, “What 's next?”, “When should I do that?”, “Am I going too fast/slow?”. Your patter should tell you what is next, where you should be in the magic trick, where and how you should manipulate a prop. I do not mean that your patter should explicitly tell you these things. No. Just that it provides the rhythm of the trick. It stops you going too fast or slow because speech needs to be said at a speed that allows the punter to take it in. Sure, there are magic tricks that go way too fast or slow – but they are part of the effect for that particular trick. Generally, your patter establishes and maintains the speed of the magic trick.
I have left this to the end because if you pick up nothing else from patter, picking this up will improve your performance no end.
You are an entertainer. That is what you are doing.
Your magic trick should have a story, a narrative. Something that “brings in” the audience to better experience the thrick. Nothing too weird – “These four Jacks went down the pub” is fine. Just build the story step by step until the spectator is engrossed – not only by the trick(s) – but also because they are now very, very far away from what they thought was even possible. You created that world – now they are living in it.
Finally, you can tell how important patter is by performing whatever trick you like – in front of a mirror – whilst saying nothing. Didn't work, did it?
So. Go learn your patter – it will get better the more you practise it. Same as everything else in your life.
Related post: Magicians Patter – How to Avoid Being Boring