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Magicians Taught Me to Sell

What sales people can learn from a good trick.


In a recent interview I did with the First Round Review, I mentioned an unusual truth – I’ve adapted a number of my sales demo techniques from magicians.


The closest brand of magic to the environment we face in sales is called “street magic” – the magician is on the audience’s turf, where anything can happen, yet still must execute a rather difficult task.

To illustrate, I’ve broken down the following trick, extracting a few simple tactics you can use in any sales presentation.

  • Notify your audience before you show them a key feature - At [3:59] notice how Ramsay leads into a key “feature” of the trick by focusing the audience’s attention “I’m going to show you two things.”
  • Start broad, then get increasingly narrow – As I detail in my book, I like to start my demos with broad features then move to increasingly granular ones; you see that in Ramsey’s two longer tricks in the video. In this trick in particular, he makes the card disappear…then he makes it appear in the second pack…then he makes it appear buried inside the second deck. Each time, the audience becomes increasingly invested in the outcome.
  • Make the audience an active participant – Ramsay could have easily done this trick in his own hands; instead, he invites the audience into the trick, giving them some freedom but ultimately still in control. I like to do this in demos by asking a question such as “How would you like to [accomplish some goal]?” and then showing the audience exactly that within my product.
  • Use unexpected engagement questions – Another tactic I’ve borrowed from magicians is their penchant for breaking from routine at seemingly random times, as Ramsay does at [4:13] when out of nowhere he asks “are you guys friends?” Let’s face it, people tend to zone out from time to time, and most are very good at picking up on a speaker’s cadence (ie, how they talk when they are saying something the audience thinks is important, versus the seemingly immaterial). Break this rhythm by interjecting questions at unexpected points in your demos.
  • Minimize filler words – Most magicians are extremely good at speaking without using the classic filler words such as “um” and “you know.” These words detract from the presenter’s credibility, which is bad news bears for magicians, doctors, lawyers, financial advisors, and sales professionals, who need to project confidence. To cut them from your demo, record yourself in a mock environment with a colleague. I never realized how often I used to say “you know” until I recorded myself! (Interestingly, Ramsay appears to use “um” intentionally, to make his audience think the outcome of the trick is in doubt.)

Like this post? Want more? Please follow me on Twitter so I'm not the weird guy with single digit followers... @justfingdemo

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