Have you ever clicked on a video on social media and started to watch and within five to ten seconds gave up on it because nothing interesting happened? Have you ever watched a movie and quit after thirty minutes? Your audience can walk out on you if you’re not careful about your opening effect.
Your opener is easily the most important effect in your whole show. These first few moments are when the audience is deciding whether or not you’re worth watching. If they decide they don’t like you, it’s nearly impossible to win them back. So let’s talk about a simple guideline I use for openers.
I prefer visual and fast-paced effects up front. My favorite openers are ones that a lot of magic happens right away. I want to really get everyone’s attention and keep it. “Ambitious Card” is a great example. Within one minute the audience is seeing impossible magic. Another favorite of mine is “Quick Change Artist” from my book, Confident Deceptions. Here’s the effect:
A card is selected and returned to the deck. Let’s assume it’s the Jack of Diamonds. One at a time the performer produces the four Aces in a visually stunning way. He seems to think that the spectator selected an Ace. The spectator informs him that his selection was a Jack. Without hesitation the performer visually changes the four Aces into the four Jacks.
Let’s break this down. Twenty seconds after I walk out on stage and welcome the audience to the show, this effect has begun. Ten seconds after that I begin producing the Aces using multiple color changes. The audience can’t believe what they’re seeing. It’s at this moment you begin establishing yourself. (These aren’t your uncle’s card tricks!) And it’s also non-stop eye candy. No one would walk away as you perform this effect. After producing all four Aces, the spectator informs me that they picked a Jack. Instantly and visually, the Aces become Jacks. This establishes one of my favorite character traits: I don’t mess up.
This effect only takes about three minutes to perform. But inside of those three minutes they saw about ten moments of incredible magic and skill. Now they want more. Now they’re willing to listen to an effect with a longer presentation. Most magicians know this, but here’s where I believe that a lot of performers go wrong. They just continue with this fast-paced material believing that if they talk for one or two minutes without showing magic that they’ll lose the audience. This is not the case. Once you’ve got them, you can take the show wherever you want. In my show, I’m doing 100% gambling material. By the end of the show, I’ve got the entire audience hanging on every word as I explain the importance of stacking, tracking, or false dealing. (Most magicians feel this type of material will never play for laymen.) My audience genuinely cares and are eager to see if I can pull off these difficult gambling moves under close scrutiny. I’ve earned their attention because of my opening effect.
Just watch any James Bond movie. The opening scene throws you directly into high action—no plot, just a non-stop adrenaline rush. This is just a taste of what’s coming later in the movie. However, after this sequence, the action stops and the writers begin telling the story. It can be twenty to thirty minutes before the next action sequence. Everything slows down but they know you’ll stick around. You’ll continue watching to see more action that trumps the opening sequence. We’ve all seen movies where you’ve been watching for twenty to thirty minutes wondering, “Is this going to go anywhere? I could’ve stayed home and practiced!” Bottom line: Start with a face paced visual stunner. Then dial it back and then work your way to a big finish. Your audiences will thank you.