This time – Ken Weber, Chris Carter & Max Maven ponder the question …
“If you were starting your performing career over again, what is the one thing you would do differently this time round?”
(Click Here for Part 1)
My answer is short and sweet…
I would be more generous with Thank You notes (yes, even emails), follow up calls, and the occasional gift for those folks who helped me in some way. I’m not talking about magic/mentalism mentors (although it is always good to be nice to them too!) but instead, those people who booked me at a college or corporate event, who perhaps helped my with a problem at the venue, or who were nice enough to share nice comments with others.
Yes, I did plenty of that, but it could have been, and should have been, more. To do so is good for business – and it just feels good too!
It’s impossible to look back on your life without seeing a few choices that you wish you had made much sooner. For me, two are most significant. The first was the decision to never use a stock line or joke again.
I would imagine that most of us have at one time or another asked to see “the clean hand,” or joked about the way someone shuffled the invisible deck. How many of us have asked a volunteer if he’s “happy with the mind he has?” Surely each of us has had some occasion to drop in a standard “bit.”
When you’re young, your reasoning is simple and logical. What each of these stock lines has in common is that it’s generally successful. Building an act is difficult, and failure onstage means you don’t get repeat bookings. Why not go with the tried and true?
Why not? Simple! Every stock line is a missed opportunity to authentically connect with the audience. If you use stock lines, the audience may like your show, they may like your material, but they’ll never like you. How can they? You’re not even there to start with.
This discovery didn’t come in single moment. Rather, came from a growing dissatisfaction with my shows, and the vague feeling that I wished I could share more of myself with my audiences. This feeling reached an intensity that I could no longer ignore. But it wasn’t until I made the decision to use only my own lines and jokes that I really discovered who I was onstage.
The second choice I wish I had made earlier was the decision to always eat with the client at a corporate banquet show. I don’t know where I picked it up, but it seemed to be common advice during my youth to never eat with the client before the show. The idea was that eating with them humanized the performer and he lost his mystique in the eyes of the client. Since I was a mentalist, this made sense to me. After all, didn’t I want to be perceived as a “man of mystery?”
One day I was listening to a radio interview of a woman who was an expert on relationships, and she mentioned how, in most cultures, relationships are cemented around food. Unlike my previous choice, this really was a “lightbulb above the head” moment. I realized immediately that when a client asked if I would join them for dinner before a show, the answer they wanted to hear was, “yes.” They wanted to develop a relationship with me, and if I cared at all about my career, I should want to develop a relationship with them.
Since that time, not only do I always eat with the client, I specify exactly where I want to be seated: next to the boss or other important decision maker. I have my store of funny stories and answers to questions they always ask, and I bring these out when needed. But mostly I listen. I ask about their kids and their hobbies, because I actually like these people and I want to get to know them better. Of course I also ask about their business. And when they describe some need that I can fill, I happen to casually mention how I might be able to fill it. This process has been responsible for easily 50 percent of my corporate bookings. It’s also been responsible for some long friendships.
These days whenever I hear someone say, “I never eat with them before a show,” I find myself mentally responding with, “then you don’t really want to work.”
I have put a lot of thought into considering your question.
It’s a difficult topic. I have made more than my share of mistakes during the four decades of my professional career, so obviously there are choices that, had I known more in advance, I would have made differently. But, that said, making mistakes is part of the learning experience, and in retrospect I think those bad choices were a necessary part of my overall development and growth as a performer.
So, although it would have been nice to avoid some foolish errors, I think that most of them were absolutely necessary.