Misconceptions About Presentation

How many times have you heard this:

“It doesn’t matter what you do, but how you do it!”

“Presentation is all that matters.”

“People don’t care for the technique, all they are interested in is the effect.”

I am tired of listening to magicians telling these untruthful stories again and again. They tell only part of the truth. They often stem from magicians who are too lazy or too in love with themselves to acknowledge the fact that technique in magic is very important.

I like the clock mechanism model as a comparison. You see the dial face, you see the hands. You get the time when you need it by glancing at it. But you don’t see or think of the tiny clockwork (or electronics) behind the dial face in this moment. You could think about it, but normally, you don’t do.

Looking at the dial face and getting the information of the time is like watching a magic trick. You won’t get a chance to see the clock mechanism.

Or the iceberg model. You see only the twenty percent above the surface, but you don’t see the eighty percent underneath. But the iceberg doesn’t consist only of the twenty percent, but is one hundred percent, including the masses underneath the surface that you don’t see.

In magic the same: we deal with two parts (three, if you count what the spectators think they have witnessed as an extra part). One if the visible part, which is what the spectators see and witness. The other is the part we are working so hard on, and that is the invisible part. And it has to stay invisible forever. Otherwise, the illusion is destroyed.

Twenty percent: presentation, patter, music, flourishes, story, jokes, plot, stage setting, props, effects.

Eighty percent: moves, technique, psychology, timing, rhythm, props, gimmicks, preparation, awareness, thinking on your feet, flawless execution of technique, controlling the performance conditions, guiding the thoughts of the spectators with patter, plot, misdirection, magical research, experience, creativity, originality.

For sure, the lay people (should) see only the effect and have no clue about the methods or technique used. But when the technique is bad, or flawed, they will realise that there ‘is something they don’t know about’ or that ‘he/she must have done something I didn’t see’. In that moment, the illusion and the feeling of astonishment is destroyed. So much for the real power of flawed technique.

If the people had recognised the devastating power of the eighty percent of the iceberg, maybe the Titanic wouldn’t have wrecked. They underestimated the power and danger that came from the unseen part of that iceberg.

Another example: what you are reading right now on your smartphone are only black letters on a white background. You read words, get the meaning, the ideas, and what I want to tell you. But you don’t see the work behind: WordPress, plugins, the HTML, the CSS, the PHP, the servers, the Internet. You cannot see (or judge) all of that, but it is there — fascinating!

With a musician, you don’t see the work that went into the musicianship all those years. You just listen to the end product, the music. Of course, in music, the audience realises it takes a lot of practise. And they appreciate this. But in magic, we must hide our skills and the devious thinking and principles. Despite that, the work is still there. Eighty percent of important work that is condemned to remain hidden forever.

We should know the magical iceberg and try not to focus on the presentation only, but treat the other eighty percent serious as well. It takes a lot more besides the presentation to create deception. Therefore, the eighty percent.

Don’t ignore them. Don’t just look at the dial face. Inspect and take care of the clock mechanism as well. Be aware of the eighty percent underneath.