The All-Purpose Transition

This is going to be very useful to any amateur/social magicians who have some level of concern about their performances. I know it will be, because that describes me, and this is one of my most used "discoveries" in the last couple of years. 

It deals with the subject of transitioning into effects. I think for some amateurs this can be almost paralyzing. They don't want to be the guy who is awkwardly bringing up tricks out of nowhere. So they look for some natural conversational openings to transition into effects. Then they spend the next 60 years watching the calendar pages turn and waiting for one of their friends to mention ESP so they can casually get into this goddamn effect they've had in their pocket all this time. 

At this point, transitions aren't a huge issue for me with most of the people I know. I don't have to bring up magic or tricks. They do. And that's because of the precepts I wrote about in the "Social Magic Basics" posts earlier this year.

As it turns out, the tactic that I think does hold up in the long-term, is presenting yourself as someone with an interest in magic and then giving people a semi-fictionalized glimpse into what the world of magic entails. You're not pretending to be a magician, or mindreader. You're not putting on a show. And you're not giving them random tricks devoid of context. 

Instead you're giving them a true "behind the scenes" look at how magic is learned, practiced, and passed along, mixed with a more fantastical take on that subject as well.

Once you've established yourself as someone with an interest in magic (and by that I mean showing them interesting glimpses into that world, NOT just forcing them to watch your tricks all the time) then you don't need to worry about transitioning into effects because they will get you into tricks by asking you what you're working on or what interesting things you've come across recently. 

But still, there are times where you want to choose when, where, and for whom to perform and having a good way to transition into the effect is incredibly valuable. I'm not only going to give you a good way, I'm going to give you what I think may be the best way.

First, I want to briefly mention the traditional advice you would hear in regards to transitioning into an effect. You often hear it suggested that you should casually bring the subject of conversation around to the theme of your trick and then, from there, you can transition into the trick itself. This is a terrible tactic. More and more, I'm convinced that most standard magic advice was written by anti-social mutants who never performed in the real world for normal people. 

Let's say you're at dinner with a group of people. You "casually" turn the subject to ghosts. Then 5 minutes later a "ghost" is making your napkin float. How do you think this comes across to people? Here's how it comes across, "Oh, I see. He didn't really care if I had ever seen a ghost, he just steered the conversation to that subject so he could do his little floating napkin trick. Now I feel kind of dumb for telling him that thing about my grandma when he was just waiting to that bit with the napkin the whole time." That's not a good look. You've probably experienced conversations where people do something similar. They'll bring up a subject and ask you a question, halfway pay attention to your response, and quickly shift the focus to themselves to say what they wanted to say in the first place. It's pretty transparent.

Them: How does it work at your job? Do you get regularly scheduled raises? 

You: Actually, we used to, but not anymore. I don't mind it though, because when it was automatic, the raises were pretty much the same across the board. Now I feel like I can negotiate something higher. I actually have a meeting with my boss about this next Wednesday.

Them: Oh cool. I just got a $5000 raise! And it's just three months since my last raise!

All you're doing with this type of transition is making people feel set up. (On rare occasions, when an effect is truly personal and spectacular, then feeling "set up" can be a good thing. "You spent all that time planning this for me?" But most tricks you'll do regularly don't qualify as "truly personal and spectacular.") 

So let's talk about the All-Purpose Transition to get from a conversation into a trick. 

The first thing I've found is that a really slick transition is only good if you didn't bring up the subject of conversation you're transitioning from. This is what I was just saying above. If someone talks about coincidence and you transition into some impromptu coincidence effect, that's fine. But if you have to bring it up yourself and then try and transition, that's bad. One of the reasons I argue for a large sub-set of impromptu tricks in your 100-Trick Repertoire, is that it allows you to naturally transition out of many more subjects than just having a 6-trick repertoire would. 

But you don't have to wait for that "perfect" opportunity to transition into an effect. You can create it pretty much at will with the All-Purpose Transition. This is not a 1:1 transition. By that I mean, it's not a situation where you're talking about fate and then you transition into a trick about fate. There is a disconnect in this transition, but that's okay. I actually prefer this transition to any other in social situations. The disconnect is what allows it to be so broadly useful. This is a transition to get from any subject into almost any trick. 

Here's how it works...

Step 1: You have a conversation with someone about anything.

Step 2: At some point in the conversation they will say something funny, or thought-provoking, or wise, or bizarre, or profound, or vulnerable, or something that shows they're a caring person. If they don't say something like this over the course of a conversation, why are you talking to them?

Step 3: You pause and let what they said affect you in some way. You laugh. You smile. You sit back in your chair and think. You find yourself at a loss for words. Whatever the appropriate response might be. 

Step 4: You make a complimentary comment. "That's so funny." "That's brilliant." "You're amazing." "Where do you get these ideas?" "That's really smart. I never thought of it that way." "Damn. You're a good person."

Step 5: Let this moment seem to inspire you or remind you to try a trick with them. "Oh, that reminds me, I wanted to try something with you." "Oh... you know what... you'd be perfect for this thing I've been wanting to try."

Step 6: Go into your trick.

Now, to be clear, I'm not suggesting you transition into a trick when you're in a deep conversation with someone about their impending divorce or their mom's struggle with Alzheimers. This is just a way to get into a trick from a casual conversation, not a deep conversation. 

I'm going to tell you why this is so good in a second, but first let's consider an example. Let's imagine the most difficult situation to transition into a trick: with someone you just met who doesn't know you do magic.

So let's say you're on a 12 hour bus ride and you're sitting next to someone you haven't met before. You strike up a conversation and you two are hitting it off.

Them: So I said to him, "You know what sexual position makes the dumbest babies?" And he's like, "No." And then I said, "Well, guess we better ask your mother."

You: [Laugh] Oh my god. That's amazing. You've got a twisted mind.


You: Actually... can I try something with you? You'd be perfect for this. I have an interest in psychology and magic, and there's something I've been wanting to try but I haven't found the right person.

And then you're off.

If it's not obvious, let me explain why this is so good... 

Usually, when it comes to transitions, we're transitioning from talking about a subject to doing a trick related to that subject. ("We were talking about intuition and then he showed me a trick about intuition.") Or we transition based on the props involved. ("We were playing cards and then he showed me a card trick.") So there is some sort of constant before and after the transition. 

In this transition, the constant is them. The unspoken implication is, "You're so clever. I want to try this trick with you because of your clever mind." "You're so perceptive. I want to try this trick you because you're so perceptive." "You're so funny, I've been looking for someone with a mind like yours to try something with."

This makes the transition into the trick wildly personal

And you're launching into a trick only after they've impressed you in some way—with their wit, intelligence, or humanity—so the feeling here is that they've somehow earned the right to see this trick. It makes the trick feel like a reward they're getting based on something they did, not like you're forcing a trick on them to make yourself look good. 

You might think there needs to be a more direct correlation in regards to what happens at Step 5 and the trick itself. You might think you have to say something like, "You seem really empathetic. Let me show you something about empathy." And then you need to do a trick with a strong theme of empathy. You don't need to that. In fact it's probably worse. Let them draw the connections. They just need to feel this: "He wants to show me something because I impressed him with the [funny, intelligent, creative] thing I said." That "because" is all the justification you need. 

Everyone wants to be recognized for their positive or unique qualities. No one is going to challenge the idea that they earned this moment because of something special about them.

Of course, for this transition to make sense, the trick you show them will have to involve them in some way. But that's fine for me because 90%+ of the tricks I do require some level of genuine interaction. Don't follow up this transition with some show-off type of effect. If you have that sort of effect, don't worry about a transition. Just use the "Peek Backstage" style and you're all set.

But isn't this manipulative? 

No. I do only want to perform for people I find interesting or funny or good people. So I'm not lying about that. I don't pretend to find people interesting just so I can transition into a trick. I'm always honest about what I say about them. Perhaps it's slightly manipulative to say, "You're special, so I think we can do something interesting together," when I could pretty much do the same trick for a deflated basketball.  So if I am manipulating them, then I'm manipulating them into feeling unique and special for a moment. I don't have an issue with that. The truth is, while I can do most of these tricks for myself in the mirror, there is no spark of magic to a performance until I'm with a real person with whom I have some level of a connection. So, suggesting they have some affect on what's going to happen is, for me, not manipulative or dishonest. It's the truth.