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The Magic Cafe Forum Index » » Scott's Thoughts - by Scott Wells » » Are You Thinking of Putting Together A Lecture? (0 Likes) Printer Friendly Version

Scott Wells
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Houston, TX
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Everyone seems to be on a lecture tour today. I have been helping book magicians’ lectures for 15 different cities throughout the south for several years. Danny Archer also books lecturers and he and I agree there are more lecturers available now than we have seen in previous years. I attribute the flurry of available lecturers to the economy.

Over the past few years some magicians have seen a little downturn in their professional engagements. Specifically, some of the corporate work just isn’t as lucrative or prolific as it was prior to 9/11. Companies have downsized, kept an eye on expenses and cut back on entertainment. It may be slowly coming back but the key word is “slowly.” In the meantime some professional magicians have been looking to other sources of income such as producing one-man shows, going on the speaking circuit, publishing books, shooting DVD’s and going on the lecture circuit. Basically they are feeding on their own. I’m not saying this is a bad thing by any means. It is just an observation. We magicians are benefiting from the experience of some top notch professional magicians who are tipping some of their commercial secrets to success.

Most of these professionals have no problem putting together excellent material and for the most part, most of them can teach, too. Some are better performers than teachers, but each lecture is an experience that is making them better teachers. But some lesser known magicians have asked for advice on putting together a lecture. So, let me give you my perspective and three cents worth of advice.

What should be in a magic lecture? Well, most lectures consist of trick performances and explanations but also they could include theory or the “why” behind the trick. It could also be about theatre, make-up, costuming, history, building, collecting, illusions, publicity, bookings, business or a plethora of other subjects. So first of all figure out what your area of expertise is and what you feel you could talk about with some level of authority. It should come from your experiences, your research and development, your base of comparison, your knowledge of other available and related material and your inner soul. But to appeal to the widest group, you need to do tricks.

My first lecture (which was in Lubbock, TX in the early 1980’s) included theory for the first hour. After I saw people nodding, I showed some tricks and people’s attention suddenly returned. I learned a lesson there...if you are going to include theory, then weave it into the trick. And the times I have lectured on magic-related material (like magic posters, collecting, building a magic library, etc.) I have found a much more limited audience. People want to know tricks and more tricks. I feel we all know enough tricks but we need to know how to better entertain with what we know. But that’s a subject for another monograph.

You don’t have to be a “name” magician to lecture or have books, DVD’s or other materials to your credit (though it does help) because everyone started at ground zero sometime. You do however need to have material...something unique that others might want. It’s like publicity. You need to know what the public wants and fill that need so they talk about you. You may only have one original idea and that’s a start. Build on that. Flesh it out. Get other peoples’ opinions and advice. Write down your ideas and if you can’t write, then for goodness sakes, get a ghost writer or friend who can spell and knows proper grammar. This is essential for getting a good set of lecture notes printed which will supplement your lecture fee.

So let’s assume that you’ve got the material built for a lecture. You have developed a few good tricks and want to develop your lecture skills. As mentioned some magicians can perform but when it comes to trying to talk before an audience and teach, they seem to trip over their own tongue. Here’s where your skills from Toastmasters will come in handy. And if you haven’t visited a club in your area, then let me suggest you visit their website at http://www.toastmasters.org/ and find a club near you. You will thank me for it later.

I suggest you test out your lecture skills for your local club and see where you can fine tune it. You might start out with a half hour mini-lecture then build to a full evening lecture for your club. Video or audio tape your lecture, ask for suggestions and make notes. Also ask for endorsements because testimonials will be your best tool for lecture bookings particularly if you are only a local favorite.

In putting together your promotional material to book your lecture, be sure to list what you have to offer. What will be in your lecture and if you are teaching tricks then what specific tricks will you teach? What tricks, books and/or DVD’s you have produced. If you haven’t any of those, then play up any press writings you have on what you do. Be sure to point out how long you have been in magic. If you are just striking out on the lecture circuit for your first time then stick to your commercial credentials of where and how long you have worked as a magician. You should include quotes and reviews from your clients. As mentioned above, your testimonials are your best asset. After each lecture, be sure to ask for a letter of recommendation so you can add to your list of satisfied customers. Of course you should do this after your professional engagements for general business purposes to garner more bookings. It works on the lecture circuit, too.

If you do have a lot to offer in terms of tricks, books, DVD’s and props, then do not make your lecture into a “dealer’s demo” unless you advertise that up front. And if you do plan on making it a dealer demo and selling a lot of your “stuff” then you should offer your lecture at a steeply reduced rate or even for free. Lecture attendees don’t mind buying your stuff and your lecture notes but they don’t want to feel that your whole lecture is nothing more than a commercial.

As to the structure of the lecture, the typical lecture will go for one hour with a 10-15 minute interval for sales and potty break then resuming for another 45 minutes. Magic conventions typically limit lecturers to one hour including time to sell their wares. That is hardly enough time to get the full lecture but convention organizers are changing and allowing lecturers more time. Some lecturers do a trick followed by an explanation. Some will do a short three or four phase routine then go back to teach each phase. A few have actually performed during the first half of the lecture then explained in the second half. The point in this is there is no right or wrong structure but do whatever works best for you. And listen to your feedback from your attendees. Continue to get recommendations and add to your reviews for booking more lectures and convention appearances.

Whatever you do, be sure it is visible. Use large illustrations or gestures or over-sized props so people in the back of the room will see and understand. If possible try to use overhead projections (like Microsoft PowerPoint Presentations) or image magnifiers. Usually these high tech things are only available at conventions, but we have seen some lecturers (like Mike Close) bring along some pretty high tech equipment for a traveling lecture.

Give value to your attendees. You should be thankful that people have traveled to see and hear you. Let them know you genuinely appreciate their business. That means give them special deals on combining your sales items. For example, if they buy a book and a DVD then you could throw in the lecture notes for free. And make the value of your items commensurate with the quality of the material.

If possible then have someone from the hosting club help you with sales. They can help sell your items and take money while you are talking with individual attendees, explaining tricks and signing books. Doing it all on your own will dramatically diminish your sales. And be prepared to sell things immediately even before your lecture begins. Many times people want to get something early or they know there will be a rush later or they just may need to leave early but want to buy something. So again it is helpful to have someone else help you with sales from the moment you open your case of goodies.

Along this line be conscientious of the clock. Find out what time other lecturers usually wrap up. Find out if there is a time when everyone has to be out of the building. You don’t want to be finishing your lecture and have people walking out to catch a train or bus while you are still talking. Or for the lights to go off before you have opened your sales table. Communicate with the lecture organizers and find out everything you can about the venue. If possible, check out the venue before the lecture so you know how to get in and out and where to park so you can load in and out. Anticipate problems so you get there early and not leave people waiting just because you got stuck in traffic.

And when you are ready to strike out and lecture outside your area, remember that you are the expert, meaning you are the magician from out of town so you have to deliver. You might find that you and your material are more readily accepted outside your home. As it is said, a prophet is not recognized in his own land. So go forth and do good.
"A magician who isn't working is only fooling himself." - Scott Wells, M.I.M.C. with Gold Star

The Magic Word podcast: http://themagicwordpodcast.com Listen to convention coverage, interviews with magicians, pictures, videos and more.

Magic Inspirations website for all things Banachek: www.magicinspirations.net
Scott Wells
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Houston, TX
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Profile of Scott Wells
One other thing of importance here is the fee you should charge as a lecturer. The fee varies by degree depending upon 1) whether or not you are a “name” performer, 2) the material you have to sell, 3) the area of the country or world where you are lecturing, and 4) what the market will bear.

First of all let me start with a base amount of what lecturers currently get who tour through Texas, Oklahoma and Louisiana. The usual fee is and has long been $150 plus lodging. That lodging is not specific and may often mean a night at the home of a local magician. There are reasons why this fee has remained unchanged for our part of the world which I will get into later.

If you are a celebrity name performer, then you can usually ask for and get a higher fee meaning $250 to $500 plus lodging. The credits of a better-known magician precede him and will account for a higher perceived value. Club members are more apt to turn out to hear such a lecturer and thus with the higher attendance, the hosting club is less likely to lose money on the lecture. He doesn’t need as much promotional material to hype his lecture if he already has books and DVD’s to add to his performance credits. But the higher lecture fee does not assure that clubs will make money due to the size of the club and their draw from the surrounding area. So some of the smaller clubs may not confirm a lecturer who charges such higher fees regardless of who he is.

If you are a lecturer with very little to sell more than your lecture notes, then you may not be able to afford to lecture for the smaller fees. You should be able to make so much more performing at a professional engagement than at a lecture that it does not make economical sense to waste your time lecturing. If however you have a new book or DVD you are trying to pitch, then it might be worth your time to get out the word and get some early testimonials to help international sales. If you have a lot to sell, then you should be able to accept the lower fee because you will make multiples of your fee in sales. Depending upon the type, amount and cost of their items, lecturers could make well over $1,000 in some cities at one lecture. So you should not be adverse to accepting a lower fee.

You can also make additional money by providing a workshop. That is a one-on-one, hands-on workshop where you spend time with a small group teaching them certain techniques from your lecture that may not be as easy to convey to the larger audience. Here you can have additional workshop notes and other props and goodies to help justify the higher fee you can charge for this event. Some lecturers provide this for $250 and up or they may have a price per head (i.e. $25 to $50 per person) with some minimum number of attendees. This is usually provided on an alternate day or evening and may often go for four hours and could include lunch if done over weekends.

Be conscientious that the country and indeed the world have different socio-economic standards. That is, the cost of living will vary widely throughout your tour. Check the price of gasoline in any area and you will find that some areas are drastically less than in others. Using that as a rule-of-thumb you can see that some areas are used to paying less than in other areas. For example the cost for a gallon of regular gas today (August 5, 2005) in Houston is around $2.13 whereas California and New York may be seeing regular gas at $2.45. My point is that you may get more or less for your lecture in one part of the country than the other. Don’t be discouraged if you are asked to lecture for less in one part of your tour than in another. This is why for a tour of the southern U.S. you might get $150 whereas in the northeast you might get $350. Don’t feel insulted if you are offered less.

So it comes down to what the market can bear. Once again, it is a function of population. If there is a large metroplex full of magicians, then they may have a little more budget or be able to afford a higher fee than the smaller clubs with 10 members only half of which will attend lectures. But like negotiating for your performance fee, start high and see what the market will bear. If the hosting club is unwilling to pay more, then you have a decision to make.

Every club seems to handle their finances differently. Some have lecture budgets and some don’t. Some clubs make decisions by group vote while other clubs will have a lecture chairman who might be responsible for making the decisions. Some lectures might be sponsored by a magic shop rather than a club. The magic shop owner is taking all the risk of making or losing money; however, he is obviously hoping that the attendees will also buy something while they are waiting for the lecture to start. As a lecturer keep this in mind. It could take away from some of your sales since the attendees will only have a limited budget and anything they may spend at the magic shop is that much less than they will have to spend on your items. I have heard of one magic shop owner who advertises lectures to begin an hour earlier than they really do get started. So lots of people flood the shop an hour early with nothing to do but browse and shop and spend money. Again, less is spent on the lecturer’s stuff in this situation. Forewarned is forearmed.

As mentioned above, the higher the lecturer fees, the fewer clubs that will sponsor the lecturer. Keep in mind that the hosting club also has to provide the venue for the lecturer which might cost the club something extra. There is also the cost of lodging which could run upwards of $100 in addition to the lecture fee. Clubs have to be fiscally responsible to their members. Most clubs collect dues and sponsor fund raisers so they can pay for their annual banquets and host a lecturer from time to time. But there are ways for the clubs to pay for the speakers so they don’t lose money.

Some clubs could have sponsors who help offset the lecturers’ fees. Clubs could pre-sell tickets so they have a good idea of what kind of attendance they will have. They could also sell the front row seats for an additional $10.00 over the usual lecture attendee’s fee to help defray costs. They could also have a “Lecture Series” where they could charge a fee for, say, a five lecture series at something like $35 per member and $40 per non-member and $25 for juniors, guardians and spouses. Then at each lecture charge those who have not paid for the series $15 per member, $20 per non-member and $10 per junior, guardian and spouse. There will always be those who don’t take the Series and will only attend a few lectures. That will be where the club will make its money to put in the “lecture pot” for paying the lecturers. Those who pay for the Series come out on the deal even if they only see three of the five lecturers. These are just a few ideas of how clubs could keep in the black on hosting lectures.

So when setting your lecture fee, keep these things in mind and be flexible. As mentioned in my first post, there are a lot of magicians out there lecturing now. We all want to hear what everyone has to say, but we don’t want to break the bank.
"A magician who isn't working is only fooling himself." - Scott Wells, M.I.M.C. with Gold Star

The Magic Word podcast: http://themagicwordpodcast.com Listen to convention coverage, interviews with magicians, pictures, videos and more.

Magic Inspirations website for all things Banachek: www.magicinspirations.net
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