Abracadabra! Hocus pocus! While the entire audience strains to watch his every move, Kif Anderson magically transforms a jar of pebbles into a handful of diamonds. How does he do it? More importantly, how does he get his audience to hang on his every word in the process?
Anderson has the uncanny ability to blend magic tricks with public speaking. It’s that mixture of magic and mirth, spells and speaking, trickery and talk that – like alchemy – converts the presentations of this Advanced Toastmaster Gold into real gold.
When I saw him perform last year, it turned out to be a stroke of luck. My first few speeches on the way to earning my CC had been a lot of fun, but I eventually found myself wishing I could add something special to my presentations – a little extra razzle-dazzle. Where to find speaking tricks that are flashy and fun? No answer seemed in sight.
So when Anderson performed at our district club officer training, I was wowed by his custom blend of down-home public speaking and astonishing magic tricks. Anderson, who has studied magic since childhood, began performing at Hollywood’s famed Magic Castle in 1984 and is currently part of a comedy magic duo called Oz and Wilde (he plays Wilde). But the most exciting part of the club officer training was when he told us in the audience that we could learn to use magic techniques in our own speeches. He offered a contact sheet if we were interested in joining a new Toastmasters club specializing in the magical arts. We lined up to sign up. It was my something special.
A few months later, I found myself again not believing my eyes. Or ears. How could the club’s location be a bowling alley? The sound of bowling balls careening down lanes toward clamorous collisions with their mated pins does not strike the mind as a magical experience. Well, maybe that third strike…
But really, a bowling alley in Westminster, California, didn’t seem like the kind of place that would host a magic shop, let alone a magical Toastmasters club. But I stayed and soon other Toastmasters began to appear. Together, we navigated past video games and league-filled bowling lanes. We wandered down a corridor, into a second hidden corridor and just around the third sharp turn. Finally, we opened a small door to Magic Galore and More, and all things ordinary faded away. We stood gawking, surrounded by display cases proffering serious magic tricks, and behind them all the shop’s proprietor, illusionist Ken Sands, dealing disappearing cards.
In this place, the magic really started.
Presto Chango! What was once merely a Toastmaster is fast becoming…a Toastmaster-magician! Or a magical Toastmaster, or – more accurately – a Toastmaster who has learned some nifty magic tricks to augment those special speeches. Anderson’s “Magic Toastmasters” club, also known as Club 100, is the place to add magic to your musings. Our monthly specialty club serves two kinds of clientele: budding magicians who need to practice their patter and budding Toastmasters who want to learn a new gimmick for their speeches.
Tricks of the Trade
So far, I’ve learned to perform several tricks that would have stumped me as an audience member. Each one has its own poetic name: Three Ropes, Afghan Bands (aka Elephant Zipper or Mobius Strip), Cut and Restored String, Flippin’, and tricks with equipment such as change bags. We’ve learned card tricks that challenge the beginner’s mind. I especially enjoy seeing how the magicians in the group react to each kind of trick – and everyone does have some sort of preference.
For Victor Broski, the preference is not so much in the type of magic trick as in the thought process that goes with it. He explains, “At the Magic Club, it’s not just the magic – we learn how the audience thinks. That is, what catches their attention, what distracts them and how to best work with their attention span.” Broski and the rest of us have been learning to think like illusionists – to capture our audiences’ imagination.
He adds, “Speaking takes on a whole new perspective. It becomes more audience focused. What is the audience thinking about right this second? In magic, you almost know more about what the audience is thinking than the actual audience member. You have to in order to make the magic work.”
So to make the magic work we’re learning how to read the thoughts of our audiences. I’ve been picturing the real magic of speaking to an audience under those conditions, with or without the use of anything that pops, poofs or sparks. For all the fun of the magic, it appears that the true goal we’re nearing is the ability to build a deeper bond with our listeners.
As if that weren’t enough, Kif has taken it upon himself to teach us all a little of the history of magic. Top that off with magical Table Topics using a newly learned trick of the evening, and we’ve all been hooked.
The magician’s code prevents me from giving away any magical secrets here, except perhaps the best secret of all: the patter. We’ve been able to watch as the same trick is performed by several different people, and each time it looks new and different. The secret is because each presenter is using the effect to augment a speech of his or her own choosing. So a rope trick can illustrate a talk about buying medical insurance, making friends or creating world peace.
And as much fun as the magic stunts are, they really do rely on the speaking ability of the presenter. It’s a delicate balance between the trick and the talk. “I’ve learned that the magic is not the trick itself, but what goes before it: the setup, the story, and finally the illusion. Many times the bare trick is rather uneventful,” says Broski.
Brian Ballard, a magician member of the club who works for CareMore Medical, says the speaking and the magic go hand in hand. To illustrate, he holds three ropes of various lengths. Focusing on the short one, he says, “Some medical plans come up short,” but when the ropes magically grow to equal lengths, he shows each off and quips, “At our company, you get full service, full benefits and full care.” Without the entertainment of the rope trick, it would be just another insurance commercial. So while it’s true that the topic makes the trick…it’s also true that a good trick can make a topic.
At one meeting, we learned first-hand how tricks can go awry. Kif was prepared to teach us one that involved morphing the carbonated beverage Mountain Dew into a glow stick. His scientist friend had recommended it as a club meeting project. But when he attempted to reproduce the results himself, Kif found the trick didn’t work – what was supposed to glow, simply didn’t.
So instead, we spent the meeting learning the ways a magician can personalize any magic trick by understanding how to create a story behind it and how to set the stage. Magicians pride themselves on reinventing old tricks to make them spellbinding again. The basic trick might remain unchanged, but the discussion leading up to it, the setting, costumes, use of colors and materials all add up to a unique effect.
Kif, who stands 6 feet tall, told the group about a show he performs where he acts like a small child. How do you get an audience to believe that a 6-foot man is a small child? By use of specialized props and sets. He surrounds himself with oversized furniture, which makes him seem small by comparison. He reaches into an oversized toy box and retrieves magical toys that are extra-large by design.
The benefits of adding magic far outweigh the risks of a failed attempt. John Muse is grateful for what he’s picking up in Club 100 and says, “Learning magic has added real impact to my speeches. I used it for the International Speech Contest at the club [level], which I won. I used it the area contest, which I won. I used it in the division contest, and although I did not win, everyone remarked how much the magic added to the speech.” He adds, “Using magic makes me a more confident speaker, and really adds punch to my speeches.”
All of the club members are enthusiastic about learning how to blend magic and speaking. L. Joy Nishijima says, “It’s so much fun...I even find myself doing illusions at social events for friends and family, all the while keeping them guessing!”
I’ve found that handling non-magical props has become easier now. Perhaps it’s because of the practice we’ve put in with props that can literally snap, crackle and pop in our hands.
Magic has been so much fun; it’s making me curious to discover more of these exotic Toastmasters experiences. Is there such a thing as an addiction to specialty clubs? A quick peek online reveals that there are many interesting specialty clubs scattered about my district. Which one should I try next? Should it be…the gourmet club or the storytelling club? What a choice!
For information on how to visit Club 100, click the “Find” button on www.toastmasters.org.
Beth Black, CC, is an associate editor at the Toastmaster magazine and a member of two Toastmasters clubs: Club 100 in Westminster, California, and Rancho Speech Masters in Rancho Santa Margarita, California.