I wanted to take a second look at this topic because I think I’ve found a better way to frame the discussion.
The Law of First Introduction says that the manner in which an interaction is started will determine the limits of the impact of that interaction.
For example, if I introduce it by saying, “I’ve been thinking about if true love really exists.” The potential impact of that entire interaction (including a trick) could be a 10 out of 10 because, for many people, that’s about as profound a subject as there is.
But, if I introduce the interaction by saying, “Want to see a trick? Okay, shuffle these cards. Now, I’ve been thinking lately if true love really exists.” The spectator has already capped the impact of that experience at, say, a 5 out of 10. Or whatever their personal limitations for a magic trick might be.
I don’t say a 5 out of 10 is not to denigrate magic.
Let’s look at the 1-10 Potential Impact scale that I’m imagining.
Everyday experiences are going to be at the low end of the scale.
Brushing your teeth might be a 1
An average day at work might be a 2
A typical nice weeknight dinner with the family might be a 4
Experiences of artistic expressions are going to be in the mid-range depending on how well-crafted they are and how much you enjoy them.
A dull book might be a 3
A really funny TV show might be a 5
A great movie might be a 7
And then unique, personal experiences are going to be at the high end.
An incredible meal might be a 7
A mind-blowing sexual experience might be an 8
An all-night intense conversation might be a 9
A once-in-a-lifetime vacation might be a 10.
Now, just to get us on the same page, I’m quantifying something here which should be common sense. Everyday experiences are not going to have a huge impact on your life. And unique, personal experiences have the potential to be incredibly significant. Artistic experiences may have varying levels of impact but they’ll generally be in the mid-range. Even the worst ones won’t be as meaningless as brushing your teeth. But it’s hard for even the best ones to crack the high end of the scale because you’re a layer removed from the experience. You’re watching a story being told rather than taking part in a story.
Now, let’s look at some “First Introduction” variants.
If you start with, “Can I show you a trick?” then you’ve put your spectator firmly in the “artistic expression” range. And if they don’t have a great opinion of magic, you’ve put them in the “trivial diversion” range of that spectrum, reserved for things like juggling and ventriloquism and jokes and bar bets. That range might max out at an impact of 4 on a scale of 1-10. You may be able to capitalize on those lowered expectations, but they may just as well fence you in.
If you start with, “Want to see something weird?” or something vague like that, then you’re not constrained by their expectations. They won’t start off thinking, “This is just a magic trick.” Perhaps they may come back around to that, which is fine. But it may be something that seems more unusual and less categorizable. By not saying exactly what it is, you’re raising your potential impact ceiling.
If you start with, “I’ve been thinking about [any potentially interesting subject]” and you’re with someone you can have an engaging discussion with, then that interaction is already at a 6. A genuinely thought-provoking conversation, whether it’s two minutes or two hours, is by definition going to be on the high end of the impact scale. Now your floor for the full interaction is where your ceiling was when it was framed solely as “a trick.”
Now, let’s say we’re having an interaction that’s at an 8 on the impact scale. What makes this an “8 rating” experience is the richness of the interaction. You may look back on the conversation and remember a joke, an idea, a personal confession, a quote, and so on. Any of these things in isolation might not be that impactful, but as a whole it becomes meaningful. And a trick can just be another part of the interaction that adds to that richness. “Oh, I remember what got me thinking of this in the first place. I want to try something with you I was reading about.” And assuming it’s a good trick, it becomes another positive element in the interaction. But the interaction also colors the trick. The trick in isolation might be a Level 5 on the impact rating. But as part of Level 8 interaction, it will be given even more weight and meaning by the other people involved.
The trick elevates the interaction and the interaction elevates the trick.
It’s bad form to make an entire paragraph bold. But I think it’s important because I think this is something magicians get backwards. They do the exact opposite of what I’m suggesting here and it has the exact opposite effect. Instead of focusing on an interaction based on some interesting concept and then introducing a trick at some point, they focus on the trick and then try and add an interesting concept within it. This only ends up weakening the trick and the concept.
You’re too close to magic to look at it objectively. Let’s take it out of the world of magic. Let’s say I painted pictures on dog bowls and sold them on Etsy for a living.
One day you come over and I ask if you want to see me paint a dog bowl. So you watch as I do it and I say, “The interesting thing about this design is that I think it proves that Jesus Christ is the divine son of God.” You’d laugh. I would have minimized the subject by putting it in the context of something trivial (painted dog food bowls). And I would have even minimized my dog food bowls by suggesting they weren’t worthy of your attention unless I clumsily shoehorned Jesus Christ into the equation.
If I had a dog food bowl that proved Jesus Christ’s divinity. I wouldn’t introduce it by saying, “Hey, do you want to see a dog food bowl?” I’d say, “Oh my gosh, I’ve found proof of Christ’s divinity!”
Now, instead, imagine we’re having an intense conversation about religion. At some point I say, “You know what sent me on this religion kick recently? It’s going to sound crazy. But it was this dog bowl I painted. It really opened my mind about stuff.”
You’d think, Shit! I gotta see that dog bowl!
The potential impact of that dog bowl would be colored by the interaction that preceded. Even if I underplay the dog bowl as I introduce it (“I realize this is stupid but…,”) it still is bathed in the glow of the interaction. And if the dog bowl is interesting in any way, it becomes this other cool thing adding to the interaction.
Dog bowl elevates interaction, interaction elevates dog bowl.
When you say, “Hey do you want to see a trick? Okay, shuffle these. Do you believe in fate?” The audience knows this isn’t about “fate” in any consequential way. Because if it was you would have led with fate.
It’s a question of context. Am I talking to you about fate inside the relatively minor context of a magic trick? Or am I showing you a magic trick, inside the much broader context of a discussion of fate?
What I’m Not Saying
This is not meant to be prescriptive regarding how you should perform all your tricks. The vast majority of the tricks I perform start with me saying, “Hey, do you want to see a trick I’m working on?”
The point I’m trying to make is in the situations where you want to put your trick in the context of a grander idea, you need to establish that context first. If not, you sort of waste that concept. Instead of seeming like an integral part of the experience, it feels like set dressing. It’s “just” presentation or patter.
I’m also not saying you need to invest 45 minutes in a long interaction before going into a trick to take advantage of the Law of First Introduction. A big build-up can be very powerful for the amateur magician. But that’s not what I’m getting at here. This is just about what you bring up first.
In it’s most distilled form, I’m saying that this:
“Hey, I’ve got a trick to show you. Here, examine these half dollars. Do you believe a person can haunt an object after they die?”
is not as strong as this
“This is going to be a weird question but, do you believe in ghosts? Do you think they could haunt an object? Yeah, I don’t know. It’s just something that’s been on my mind because of this trick I’ve been working on.“
After my initial post on this subject I got an email that asked:
Is there any concern that once the trick is performed, it could could be seen to have cheapened the conversation? Say they think "hey hang on, this was all just a ruse to show me he could float a matchstick on that card, I opened my heart!!!".
If so, that seems to suggest that we make sure we know when to abandon heading toward a trick and to just go with the conversation instead, the interaction being more important than the trick.
Also if we are possibly going to ditch the magic trick do we have an obligation to make the initial conversation as true as possible? —JA
I’ll work backwards. There’s no reason not to make the initial conversation as true as possible. It’s not “patter” at this point. It’s a real conversation. When the trick comes you want it to feel like an afterthought, so you don’t have to set it up too much at this stage.
And yes, sometimes you may decide to drop the trick you had planned if the interaction goes a completely different direction. But that doesn’t happen too often.
“Is there any concern that once the trick is performed, it could could be seen to have cheapened the conversation?”
Done properly, this isn’t a concern.
Here’s how it plays out.
First, I have a genuine interaction about something. It might be 30 seconds or 3 hours. Then, once that interaction reaches a lull or a stopping point I say something like:
“Oh, actually, this would be a good time to show you something. It’s along the same lines of what we’ve been talking about.”
“I guess this has been on my mind recently because of this thing I’m working on.”
“That thing you said reminded me of something I want to show you.”
This is the only part of all of this that is deceptive really. I’m pretending as if I hadn’t had this trick in the back of my mind from the start. Do I feel guilty about this? Not at all.
If I performed magic in a style that was self-serving—if it was designed to make me look smart, cool, or powerful—then I might feel like a bit of a schmuck for pretending to stumble upon the idea of showing them a trick. But I don’t perform in that way. I want the trick to feel spontaneous because that’s better/more interesting for the spectator.
This is a luxury that an audience-centric style permits. Even if they think, “Hey, I bet he knew all along he’d show me this trick,” it doesn’t matter all that much. If the trick feels like it’s about the spectator’s experience and not the magician’s ego, it’s hard for them to get too worked up about something that was genuinely for their benefit. The initial conversation should still feel legitimate because it was legitimate. And then a strong, trick to follow shouldn’t ever feel too manipulative. If they have an issue with it, it means your trick is coming off as self-serving somehow. Otherwise it would be like them complaining, “Hey! You only cooked me that great dinner so you could make me that delicious dessert!”