If we want to “tell to win,” we must turn our audience into active participants, not just passengers.  

This was the lesson we looked at yesterday from Tell to Win, Peter Guber‘s brilliant book on storytelling.

When they are active participants, they own it, they act on it, and then they tell it forward.  

Today we take a master class on putting this idea into action from illusionist David Copperfield.

David invites his audience not to just watch his performance, but to participate both physically and emotionally.  The focus of his show is his grandfather, an irascible figure who never gave David or his father the approval they desired. 

As soon as David begins telling the painful story about his family, the mood and energy in the room change.  His father gave up his dream of becoming an actor at his father’s insistence he open a store selling women’s lingerie.   

Growing up, David discovered magic could help him overcome his shyness, make friends, and connect with girls.  Once again, his grandfather dismissed this dream and predicted that David would be a total failure if he pursued magic as a career.  

Then, one night while performing his first off-Broadway show, David noticed a man in the back of theater who resembled his grandfather.  After the show, the man was gone.  Then, his grandfather died and David missed the chance to say goodbye.

At this point, David changes his tempo, another tool in our presenter’s toolbelt.  He had been talking slowly, but now be starts moving very fast, asking questions and inviting members of the audience onto the stage.  They write down their answers – random numbers such as phone numbers and birth dates – on a chalk board.  

David tells the audience about his grandfather’s dream of owning a 1949 Lincoln convertible.  A photo of the car flashes on the screen behind him.

While performing a magic trick with a box and nine locks, David shares that while cleaning our his grandfather’s house, in the back of a drawer, he had found a ticket stub from the off-Broadway theater on the date when David had performed.  

He had been there!  A cry went up around the room.  David shares he hopes his grandfather is watching now.  At which point, he opens a box with a slip of paper on which are written the entire sequence of random numbers the audience members had written on the board.  Then, David uses the numbers to open the locks and pulls out a license plate with those exact same numbers.

A silky curtain then drops over the stage and two seconds later it pulled away to reveal an actual 1949 convertible levitating ten feet off the ground with the same license plate number.

The audience goes crazy, clapping and cheering. 

But as spectacular as the illusion had been, the story everyone would remember and tell forward was David’s simple human story about his grandfather.

“The magic is much more powerful if people feel like they are participating themselves, as if they were living their dream,” says David.

Reflection: Reflect on a time when I was fully engaged in someone’s presentation.  Analyze why.

Action:  Journal about it.  Put these ideas into action.

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