Magic To Do

Magic Image 

What does this dandy-looking dude have to do with the buttoned-up world of blue-chip corporations?

Plenty, and that’s just an estimate.

He’s Kenrick "ICE" McDonald, and last month he became the first black president of the Society of American Magicians.

He’s been practicing magic for more than 30 years. ICE, he says, stands for Illusions, Captivation, Enchantment.

McDonald spends half the year touring. Sometimes he's performing magic. At other times, he's speaking at corporate events, teaching executives how to hold the attention of an audience.

Teaching executives?

Applying magic to invigorate a corporate meeting isn’t that new an idea.

Forty years ago, IBM was creating the playbook on how to produce recognition events that would keep its marketers selling their socks off so their quota performance would qualify them to attend the next year’s event.  

We hired David Copperfield -- when he was starting out in the business -- as an introduction to speakers. For example, doing an illusion that, say, involved putting a woman into a box -- and having the next speaker come out of it.

I got David’s autograph for my seven-year-old daughter and told her to hang on to it because, I said, this young guy is going to be big someday. She didn’t. He did.

In the years since then, I’ve integrated magic acts frequently. Mac King, for example, a long-running Las Vegas act, worked magic as a way to introduce winners at a corporate awards banquet. And David Williamson was on-camera narrator for a new product introduction, making cats, rabbits – and new Siemens phones – appear out of thin air.

But it was Bill Herz – a marvelous magician in his own right – who first taught corporate speakers how to integrate illusions into their speeches as a way to deliver key business messages. Working with Bill, I wrote talks for a number of executives in which they “did magic.”

In a way, it’s a lamentable commentary that corporate chieftains – as highly compensated as most are – have to turn to card tricks in order to keep the attention of their audience (very often the audience is their own employees).

Public speaking is a skill – a craft -- speechwriters will tell you. It can be learned.

If an executive rolling up his or her sleeves and doing a trick or two makes for a better speech, good for them. The “magic” becomes the equivalent of a Power Point slide.

For the professionals, though – the Copperfields and Herz’s, the Kings and Williamsons -- magic is a state of mind, their self-expression.

And when magic is your state of mind, the unbelievable can truly happen.

No one epitomizes this thought more than Henry Brown. He toiled as a slave in Virginia for more than three decades. When his pregnant wife and three children were sold to a distant plantation, Henry had enough.

He mailed himself in a box to Philadelphia – out of slavery and into a career of performing magic on tour, under his new, freeman’s name of Henry “Box” Brown.

Henry “Box” Brown, from the 90th Parallel production.
Henry “Box” Brown, from the 90th Parallel production.

You and I are accustomed to being the magician’s audience. But in this age of interactive everything -- from voting for the next “American Idol” to voting for the next “Food Network Star" -- maybe it’s time we become the magic.

Because if magic is our state of mind, miraculous things can happen. 

Just ask Box Brown.

In my next blog, "Fashionable, or foolish?"

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  • Peter Yaremko
    published this page in Blog 2014-10-27 11:51:26 -0400