Author: Shawn C

3 Tips to “Magically” Communicate and Present Better

Communicating is something we seem to do every day without putting much thought into. It’s almost as natural to us as breathing.

However, we all have moments when we’re having a conversation and suddenly you lose track of what the other person is talking about, or vice versa. In a casual setting, this can be laughed off. But if this happened in a business meeting or sales presentation, such lapses in communication could cost you a sale or an account which could mean a hefty loss in your bonus, or worse, your job.

In my online webinar titled “Conjuring Effective Communication”, professional trainer Mark Cosgrove and myself breakdown some of the techniques that magicians and performers such as myself use, and how to apply it to professional communication and presenting.

Here are 3 tips that will help you communicate better the next time you’re giving a presentation.

Know Your Objective

On stage, the performer’s objective is to entertain. Be it through magic, singing, comedy, etc, the goal of the performer is clear.

As a magician, this objective can be broken down further. The magician needs to amaze the audience through magic. This can again be broken down further into mini-objectives throughout the performance and achieved through clear calls to action.

Let’s take as an example, a simple card trick where the magician finds a chosen card. Call to action 1 can be something as simple as the magician asking someone to shuffle a deck of cards. He asks them to pick a card (call to action 2) and remember it (call to action 3) .  At the end of the trick when the magician reveals the card, the volunteer would have had the sense that the cards were fairly mixed and freely chosen. The mini-objective was achieving a sense of fairness as it aides him to achieve his main objective of amazement when he eventually finds the card.

Similarly, before a presentation, you should know what objective you want to achieve. Are you here to close a sale? Or create awareness for a new product? Or show the progress you and your team have been making?

Once you know your objective then break it down into mini-objectives with clear calls to action each step of the way. With that in mind, its time to frame your presentation with a clear context.

Put Everything in Context

Context lays the foundation for whatever it is you are going to talk about or present.

In a magic performance, the performer would usually begin by framing his act in the audience’s mind. Is this supposed to be dangerous, comical, or flashy?

For example, in a comedy magic act, the performer would lay the context of his act by possibly dressing funny (e.g. loud colours or prints), telling a few jokes as a premise to the act itself and then maintaining that theme throughout the act. He may bumble the trick up on purpose before ending with an amazing climax.

Without framing the context, the audience may see the magician as a clumsy amateur and they would miss out on being entertained until they realize that it was supposed to be funny all along.

In a presentation, we need to frame the context in order for the information we’re presenting to make sense. Take this sentence for example: “Our sales are up 5% this month”. Is that good or bad?  It may be a great improvement or gross under-performance. If the sales target was 15% then this would be bad. If the target was 2% then this would be good. Context makes the information you are presenting make sense.

Knowing how to put everything in context will come as you prepare and practice your presentation.

Preparation is Key

As a magician, I never do a trick live on stage for the very first time, without practicing and rehearsing it over many hours. Everything that needs to be done on stage is carefully thought out, practiced until it becomes almost second nature and then rehearsed (as if it were live) multiple times.

This principle also applies to any presentation you are giving. It is not enough to only know your PowerPoint slides. Practice what you are going to say at every point in every slide. As you do this you might realise that some points in your slides are not as important to what you are presenting and may require less attention or even be removed entirely. Conversely you will know which are the key points that you should focus more time on. Once you have this all down, then rehearse it as if you were giving the presentation live.

Those are 3 tips on how to instantly improve your communication and presentation. But since you made it this far, here’s a bonus tip.

Bonus Tip – How to Keep Their Attention

When most people think of how a magic trick is done; they usually think it involves some form of misdirection. While misdirection is a part of magic, people usually have the wrong perception of what it is. The perception that most people have is that the magician makes you look away while he does something sneaky.

Look over there while I do something sneaky over here

In actuality, misdirection is the proper direction of attention. The audience’s attention is always directed to what is required for them to understand the context of the trick, the objectives, the story, etc. When properly executed, the audience will more often than not, think to themselves “I was watching carefully the whole time”. The magician wouldn’t draw attention to which hand he picks up a deck of cards with, or where he puts the cards when he’s done. These actions may have significance in accomplishing the trick, however there is no need to draw attention to them. Your attention is always directed to anything crucial to the trick.

Similarly, when communicating your presentation, draw attention to the context, the objective and the overall “story” of your presentation. Don’t showcase every single bit of data, or fact sheet, etc. Any data, numbers or facts that you do draw attention to should be crucial to the overall presentation. Any other information can be conveyed at a later point such as a Q&A segment. The best, most colourful, most informative slides would be pointless if your audience does not pay attention to anything you say.

Apply these tips to your next presentation and see the difference.

If you enjoyed this five minute read, do subscribe to my newsletter for more articles as well as updates on upcoming shows and courses.

How I Created My Live Streaming Show “Virtual Magic Entertainment”

As Covid-19 hit the events and live entertainment scene all over the world, artistes and performers such as myself have had to find new ways of reaching our audience, staying relevant and of course make a living.  Some forms of entertainment such as music, may transfer more easily to an online environment.

However if your performance , like mine, needs to be seen as well as it needs to be heard and also be interactive, then the transition online would pose a bit more of a challenge. I perform on stage as a comedy magic duo, along with my puppet partner Stefano, whom I animate through ventriloquism.

Shawn & Stefano Live

When I decided to create my live streaming online show “Virtual Magic Entertainment”, I did my utmost to figure out how to translate what I do onstage (comedy magic & ventriloquism) to an online audience, without losing any of the appeal or uniqueness of my act.

The challenges I faced when transitioning online were:

  • Making the magic interactive and visually appealing on a screen
  • Trying to incorporate ventriloquism into the show

Here are the 3 key things I considered when I created my online show “Virtual Magic Entertainment”.

Communicating Clearly

 In my opinion, the key to a good show is effective communication. Every action needs to be visually communicated clearly. Every word and joke needs to be heard clearly. Any other subtleties that add to the performance need to be considered and implemented to achieve the maximum entertainment effect.

In fact the question of how best communicate my show, was the main guiding principle to the development of the show.  Due to space constraints, I decided to do a close-up magic show where I would be seated at a table and the magic would be presented in front of me.

I could have easily performed my show by using my computer’s inbuilt camera and mic. However unlike a live show where everything is in full view and heard over loud speakers, on a screen there would be times when I would need to shift the camera to show a better view of what’s going on on the table. Also considering the occasional lag when meeting online, having to shift the camera would further break up the flow and momentum of the show.

Another thing I considered was the view from my audience’s perspective. I didn’t want them to only see a flat straight on angle for the entire show. So I decided on a 2 camera setup using GoPros since they’re small and easy to setup. Camera 1 would be a straight on shot where I can look straight at the my audience and interact with them. Camera 2 would be a top down shot right onto the table where the magic happens. This allows me to visually communicate to my audience what I, as the performer, feels they should pay attention to. In this way I would not lose any of their attention as I built up each magic effect.

I also had a microphone set up to pick up not only my voice, but also the ambient sounds (cards being shuffled, the opening of an envelope, etc). These are the subtleties which add to the “live”feel of the show. And to seamlessly change the view from camera 1 to camera 2 instantly, I hooked up a switcher.

ATEM Mini Pro by Black Magic Design

Considering the fact that my audience would be watching the show from home, where there are many possible distractions, I would have minimized that on my part by focusing my audience’s attention to what they need to see and hear.

View from Camera 1


Top down view from Camera 2

 “Stage” Production

Most online meeting platforms were built for video chats and meetings. Appearing on these platforms to perform a show without any added production value would make the audience feel like they were attending yet another daily briefing, especially if it was just a  flat straight angle for the duration of the show.

At a live show, the performer has the advantage of using stage lights, music, backdrops and even the stage itself to enhance the experience of the show.

To give the show the vibe of a performance rather than a meeting, I used lighting to properly lit up the frame on camera 1 and also the frame on camera 2 where the magic happens. I also used a softbox to difffuse the lights and an LED strip light below my backdrop to add to the mood and atmosphere.

It might not be crucial to the execution of the show, but as a professional entertainer, I feel it is necessary to give the audience the best possible experience.

Front and backdrop lighting

Adapting the “Source Material”

The final challenge for me was translating what I do onstage (comedy magic & ventriloquism) to screen.

Onstage I perform with Stefano while an off stage assistant sets up and strikes the show. When performing on line, I don’t have an assistant, since the entire reason for creating the show was to be able to perform it socially distant. This was the main reason I chose to do a show focused on close-up magic. However as Stefano is part of my act and also one of the things that makes my show unique, I knew I had to integrate him in some way.

I toyed with the idea of bringing him up on screen for short interspersed ventriloquist segments, however I felt that would diminish how “alive” he was to the audience and therefore disrupt their suspension of disbelief.

I settled on pre-recording Stefano’s segments where he would deliver the premise and patter for an effect. But crucially, the moment of magic would be performed live by me.

Stefano’s bits are pre-recorded

This keeps the integrity of the live aspect of the show, while also staying true to my onstage persona.

If you’re an entertainer thinking of producing your own online show, or are facing challenges producing a show for your clients, consider your material, nature of performance and stage persona in order to fully utilize the technical aspect of going online.

Special thanks to my friends from BCube Pte Ltd for consulting on the technical aspects of “Virtual Magic Entertainment”.

if you’re looking for an online show that is interactive, funny and magical, be sure to get in touch with me, or subscribe to my newsletter for updates on upcoming shows and courses.