The Magic of Storytelling
Updated: Oct 4
It all starts with a story, something to lock the minds together, something to transport your imagination to a place of wonder and mystery.
So how do we spin this yarn of enlightenment?
Well, before I kick off, I just wanted to say THANK YOU for taking the time to support me (Vinny Sagoo) by reading this blog and everything else that you do! It has been a great journey so far meeting you at conventions, dealer days and wherever else our paths may have crossed.
So what the hell is this all about???
Well, this is the first in a brand new series of blogs called 'Words of Wisdom', or WOW for short. Previously, I have written quite a few smaller blogs with the view of delivering quick, digestible and topical information for the instant gratification junkies. However, having spoken to a number of you, I understand that you yearn for more meaningful blogs.
These blogs are not aimed to showcase my latest and greatest products, but to simply garnish the mind. If you fancy buying me a cup of coffee or slice of cake, or even both, then I have added a donation button at the bottom, which helps towards the countless days it takes to write, edit and publish monster blogs like this. Kind people are my kind of people!
Anyway, I humbly welcome you to WOW #1 - 'The Magic of Storytelling'.
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So me old chum, without further ado,
let's crack on with the first WOW Blog!
"It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair, we had everything before us, we had nothing before us, we were all going direct to Heaven, we were all going direct the other way".
This is the opening to Charles Dickens’ A Tale of Two Cities, which sets the tone, mood and general ethos promptly. To me, this opening gambit invokes the good times, the bad, the winter, the sun; and more formidably, our inevitable demise. All this emotion and ability to visualise within a single paragraph is quite remarkable.
So WHY the 'Dickens'' am I babbling on about A Tale of Two Cities when this is a magic blog?
Well, I think we often forget the importance of storytelling within magic, yet in my mind, it is the most fundamental step between a fairly 'average' trick, to something that will captivate the mind and emotionally connect you with your audience.
Let me put this into preservative.
I was at a magic lecture a few months back eager to watch a magician from the big US of A. He was a well known magician and I was looking forward to a night of sleight of hand magic, something that I am not that proficient with.
Anyway, after the first 10 minutes, I was quite surprised that his presentation skills lacked any kind of engagement. He failed to captivate the audience, failed to ask any questions or more importantly, add any meaningful dialogue to his effects. I mean spin a yarn, tell a story, crack a joke... come on bring a little Pow Wow to the night. He did nothing of the sort and merely proceeded through the effects like an RAF Tornado.
Spin a yarn, tell a story, crack a joke...
Contrast this with the another extreme.
I was at a Magic Convention this year and saw a very well known 'celebrity' magician perform a simple coins across, with WAYYYYY too much storytelling. I got so bored that I ended up spilling some of my amber nectar on the chap in front, before waking up and having to endure another 10 minutes of protracted dialogue. I understand that certain effects like bizarre magic and mentalism require a good back story to build suspense and intrigue, however, in my humble opinion, some effects should be left as quickies (not the kind you are thinking of).
Deliberating that my rationale was rather harsh, I asked a couple of my lay guests what they thought, and they too concluded that this particular magician was boring, dry and could not understand what was going on.
A simple coins across had become lost in an ocean of words,
only to resurface as a piece of driftwood.
In both instances, the magic was pretty damn awesome, it was just the delivery that failed to engage the audience. It doesn't matter what the topic is, it's how one curates a story that captivates your mind form start to finish. You will probably not believe this, but I watched an educational video on the BUTTON the other day. Yeah, those little plastic round things that you slip through a hole so that your kegs don't fall down.
From the first minute, I was intrigued and ended up watching the whole episode to find out the history of buttons, how they shaped fashion over the centuries and what the humble button is up to these days. I'm probably not selling this, but anything wrapped around a decent story that connects with your audience through experience and visions, will ultimately lead to something that the recipient will remember for weeks, months or even years to come.
From now on, if someone mentions a button, I'm your man!
Although in reality it sounds great to punt out a decent yarn, many of us are simply not great storytellers. So I have pondered this question, is there a set structure for a decent story, how long should it be, how do I make it up, what happens if I forget it or ramble on?
What about if I try and inject some humour and it falls flat whereby they start laughing at me, rather than with me... man I would be seriously gutted, but rather ironically, it would make for a pretty funny story!
So the art of telling a good story might be nothing to do with magic, but more with neurology. I stumbled across a Princeton University study, which found that telling a good story builds empathy and people act as if that very story was unfolding right before them.
It is irrelevant if story is true, semi-true, or complete bulls**t!
In fact, there are annual lying competitions all over the world (I'm not lying... or am I?), anyway, I'll leave you to google that at your own convenience. One of the previous winners explained that when she has an individual or group under her 'spell', they will act in unison by nodding their heads, following her intently with eye movement and inhaling and exhaling at relevant moments.
This, the boffins refer to as the 'Story Trance', which you have probably experienced at some point in your life.
When you tell a good story, the recipient(s) should feel like that they are actually part of the narrative. If you are telling them something about brewing coffee, they should be able to smell the coffee, this is your olfactory cortex working away. If you are telling them that you are signing a playing card, they should be able to relate to that and feel the motion in their own hand as if they were signing the playing card, which is the motor cortex. So in reality, for as long as you have captured your audiences attention with your story, they belong in your hands, or within the complex neurons of your mind.
The importance of stories is therefore something that should be used to tailor your recipients experience. They can bring both sadness and joy, think about how you feel when you watch an action film, which normally leaves you feeling energetic and triumphant when the hero succeeds. Contrast this with the emotional wreck you are when watching a sad film, where the main character inevitably meets his or her demise.
They are both just long stories that engage the audience to feel a particular way, the brain will react according to emotions that are being thrust in its path. So you see, stories are very powerful and have been around since the beginning of time, yes even before Netflix, or Blockbuster if you're ancient like me.
Okay, so let me tell you a little anecdote about myself.
At the beginning of 2019, I launched my first book Sky's The Limit and with that came the lecture circuit. I committed myself to around 8 lectures in the first year, starting off with Leicester Magic Circle, my home club. I watched loads of videos on presenting, delivery and making my lecture more palatable than some of the others I had witnessed.
After month of preparation, I was ready to show the world what awesome magic I had within Sky's The Limit.
To my surprise, the lecture was a complete success and I received some amazing feedback. All of my effects had emotional entanglement, which meant that I could narrate the audience through a believable storyboard. With that confidence in mind, I took my lecture further a field to places like Manchester, Birmingham, Leamington, Leeds and Darlington. In fact, following my lecture at the Darlington Magic Circle, I received my first EVER standing ovation, which totally 'floored' me.
This was it, I had cracked the lecture circuit, I was unstoppable... well maybe not!
In October 2019, I decided to write my second book Beyond Limits, which had 5 of the strongest effects I have ever created. I also added additional handlings and a secret bonus as my way of saying thanks. At the beginning of November, I was ready to fire out the gems within to the Leicester Magic Circle, who had kindly asked me back for a second time in 2019. I felt confident that this material would leave them speechless, especially as they enjoyed Sky's The Limit so much.
Except, there was one fundamental problem...
I had failed to listen to my own advice and create meaningful stories around each effect. In fact, during the lecture, I managed to whizz through all of the effects in Beyond Limits and 3 commercial effects in under an hour. In my eyes, it was a total disaster because I had failed to engage the audience, failed to make them laugh, failed to replicate what I had done before.
The feedback after the lecture was that the material was great and people where complimenting me on how I constructed such clever effects, comparing me to the late Roy Johnson.
However, thinking back to my Sky's The Limit lecture, no one was asking about the stories behind the effects, giving me their advice or presentation tips. It was then I realised that I had failed to do my job as a lecturer in delivering an entertaining evening, in retrospect, it must have seemed rather bland and procedural. This is something that I have always tried to avoid as a number of my effects involve mathematical procedures and the greatest challenge is to convince the audience that little, or none exist.
It's okay though, to become great at anything, you need to learn from your mistakes, and I can honestly say that my EGO got the better of me. Since then, I have taken the time to carefully craft a story around each effect, inject a smidgen of humour where I can and make the whole lecture more enjoyable for the audience. I am 100% better equipped for next time and as Yvan Byeajee said "on the path to mastery, failure is your teacher". I think the problem is that most people tend to associate failure with complete defeat, however, everyone fails at some point, how you deal with it is what counts.
"on the path to mastery, failure is your teacher".
So we can adduce that every story has to start somewhere, and it doesn’t matter how you start, but merely that you start. So my advice to you is if you are thinking of presenting, lecturing or just blasting out a few tricks for you family at Christmas. Ensure that you take the time to formulate a story that relates to the subject and hooks the audience.
My biggest tip to creating the perfect story is to base it is on something factual.
Like my Digits effect from Sky's The Limits, I have based it around the wonderful construction of numbers and how they seem to pervade everything that we see, or don't for that matter. In order to jazz it up a little, I have thrown in a little anecdote about my wife and the time she asked me to buy a lottery ticket, contemplating the odds of winning. This combination of fact and fiction makes for a much stronger story and if you can believe that it is true, so will your audience.
So, that concludes the first ever Words of Wisdom (WOW), Blog. I hope you enjoyed it and if you know someone that would glean even a shard of knowledge from it, please forward the same and invite them to subscribe HERE.
Until next time, I wish you the best in curating your own beautiful stories.
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