Big gig, best tricks?

3 06 2014

A few years back I worked for the BBC presenting the live versions of their Bang Goes the Theory science show.

It was a tough gig. We would go into a random city centre, erect a large marquee, and then put on science shows throughout the weekend.

Subsequent versions of the show have only been performed at large science events (The Big Bang, Edinburgh science festival, British science Association festival, etc). These sorts of shows aren’t easy but they do have the advantage of a captive audience of people who are already interested and presumably literate in science.

My job was to enthuse and entertain Joe Public right off the street.

For the first two tours we invited local science centres to bring their staff to help out during the daytimes. We also allowed them to put on one show of their own at the end of the day.

Every science centre, barring one, decided to bring a new show that showcased all of what they thought was their top science effects.

I’ve got a motto: new venue, old show – old venue, new show. Basically in a new venue you’ve got too much to be thinking about to be also dealing with new demos. My advice would always be if you’re not confident in your environment make sure you are confident with what you are performing.

Why did those science centres think they had to bring their best demos. Why didn’t they think to just bring their best show?

Every weekend the same thing would happen, the best presenter from that establishment would stand on a tricky stage, in front of an audience much bigger than they were used to, and then have to perform a totally new show (actually a totally new collection of random demos). I really felt for the presenters, they had been given an impossible task. Unfortunately none of them excelled and this wasn’t down to them. It was down to the attitude that in a big show you’d better bring your best demos.

I’ve mentioned Penn and Teller on this blog before. I think they are great magicians but much more importantly, great presenters.

In 1987, right at the start of their careers, they were given the opportunity to make a prime-time, 40 minute, film about magic.

Did they panic and think we better bring out all of our showstopping tricks? Not at all. In fact, they made the whole show revolve around the simplest trick any magician could ever do.

The show was called The Invisible Thread. I hope that link works, if not search for ‘Penn and Teller Invisible Thread’ on YouTube.

I think there is a really valuable lesson any of us can take from this 40 minute film.

It’s not what you do, it’s how you do it.

A big, important event doesn’t need a random selection of your best demos it needs your best presentation.

And a random collection of demos, however great they are, will never be more satisfying for an audience or a presenter than a carefully crafted show with a really strong story.

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