Thursday, July 14, 2011

Designing Reactions

Have you ever gotten a reaction that surprised you? Of course you have; we all have. Whether performing magic, conducting a meeting or just sharing a story with someone, the reactions we get are not always what we expect. It might be silence, or an off-topic remark, a delayed response, or any number of emotions.

To Clap or Not to Clap
I remember showing my wife Debbie a trick when we first started dating. There was group of people. They all clapped...except Debbie. I was curious, so I asked her about it later. She said, "I didn't think magic was something you clap at. I loved the trick, but clapping just didn't feel natural." Hmmm, I learned that clapping is not a standard indicator. I'd much rather have a genuine reaction of wonder than a forced applause.

Sometimes, audiences react in a quiet, contemplative way. Other times, they are loud and boisterous. They might challenge you, laugh at a serious part, heckle or chuckle. The trick is having strategies up our sleeve to design reactions we are aiming for.

It's Our Role, not Theirs
It is NOT the audience's responsibility to guess how to react. It is not their burden to align with your expectations. It's not their duty to give you 100% of their attention or bring the applause meter to fever pitch. Rather, it is OUR role to design effects toward a desired outcome. It's about being intentional in everything we do to the audience to a destination and ultimately build an experience that leads to genuine reactions that are aligned with the premise of the trick. It starts with the question, "How do I want them to feel?" And while the reaction we get is impossible to script ahead of time, it IS possible to make choices in presentation that create reactions tied to the emotion of the effect.

Fast forward. Same girl, different trick. I showed Debbie a trick where her signed card vanished. Not only that, she as now sitting on it! No clapping, but a surprise reaction nonetheless. She ran around screaming to others in the room, "OMG, John pulled a card out of my butt!"

Yeah, could never have scripted that one, yet it was purely genuine reaction of utter astonishment...exactly as I had set out to do.