Advanced Card Magic – Presentation Part 1


Magic and Showmanship by Henning Nelms.

Magic and Showmanship by Henning Nelms.

What is Presentation?


This is a complex subject. Presentation is made up of a multitude of factors that can be difficult to determine and study.  It’s often very easy to distinguish between good and bad presentation but to actually hit the nail on the head, and say why it’s good or bad is entirely another matter. Presentation is about both the performer and the content of his performance. A lot of magicians tend to talk about presentation and technique as if they were two armed camps divided by barbed wire and a mine field. You can be in one but not in the other. You can be a great actor or a create technician. This couldn’t be further from the truth. To become a great magician you need to work on both the technical aspects such as card manipulations and also on the presentational side. This post will be concentrating on presentation but don’t worry, later in this series you will find enough sleights to keep you occupied for a very long time!
Google defines presentation:  The manner or style in which something is given, offered, or displayed.

magicians presentation 

Presentation and Misdirection

Also known as:
Attack and Defence 
Light and Shadow 
Truths and Secrets


However you want to call them, both presentation and misdirection split into further subcategories. Let’s leave misdirection for another blog post as it’s such a massive subject that it deserves it’s own article. Clearly there will be some crossover but I will try and keep it minimal.

For clarity’s sake, we will also split presentation into two parts:
You and your performance.

Your Personal Presentation:

  • The way you dress
  • The way you speak
  • Your level of confidence
  • How well your hands are kept
  • The condition of your cards
  • Technique
  • Posture
  • Body Language


Your Performance Presentation:

  • Atmosphere
  • Clarity
  • Smoothness/Finish/Polish
  • Tone
  • & More
In reality, you cannot separate all of these sides of presentation but for the sake of studying  it makes it that much simpler.


Is Magic an Art?

Ah, this is a tough one…

Yes and No

Let me try explain what I mean. Magic can be art under certain circumstances but most of time it’s not. It’s not inherently an art, but it can become one at a high level. Art is about self expression and I don’t feel you can express yourself properly when you are just beginning. You don’t have the technical requirements nor the experience in creating engaging and thoughtful presentations.


Magic is not an art when it doesn’t seek a mysterious result. It’s just looking for  a laugh, a demonstration of skill or some other curiosity. When there is no real sense of wonder on part of the audience. Magic becomes, at best, an annoying puzzle or humorous interlude.


Magic is an art when the spectators crash head first into an absolute mystery to which there can be no apparent explanation. When, if even for a split moment, they are turned into children again and the performer knows he cannot go any further. The audience will intuitively know that they have seen something special, something rare and they do not require, or even want, an explanation. Magic is art when you are expression yourself in your own, original manner. When magic is an art it can also make people smile and laugh but this is not created through jokes or gags but through situational humour. More on this later.


Of course, we are aiming to become artists and not mere jugglers. It’s very important to keep this in mind when making decisions about your presentation.


You might completely disagree with this section, and that it absolutely fine. It’s quite a minefield trying to justify what is or isn’t art. I think the important part is to make sure you develop good taste and let the theoreticians argue back and forth about this.


Let me know what you think in the comments.

Personal Presentation


Unfortunately, we live in a world where first impression count a lot. From the moment you introduce yourself, and sometimes even before, your audience will make assumptions about who you are and what you can do based on the way you look and act. Think about it, you have to approach total strangers who often didn’t even know that a magician was hired for the occasion. You have little time to make an impression and every second counts. The performance actually begins before the first trick!This is where attentional to detail really shines. I’m not an expert in style or fashion. The important thing here is not to dress with the latest designer suits but to have all the various facets of your personal presentation working together to give the best possible impression.


A few things to think about:


  • How will you dress?


Remember to dress appropriately for the occasion. Once, when I was 17 I was hired to perform at the East India Club which is a traditional gentlemen’s club in the heart of London. Normally, I used to wear a suit and a black shirt while performing but when I looked at the dress code for entry it clearly stated that ties must be worn. Had I turned up not wearing a tie I would not have been allowed in and I would have missed my gig.  Always confirm the dress code with the customer if you aren’t sure.


Obviously if you are performing in a pub or a nightclub you can relax your dress code somewhat. Never ever wear trainers or sports shoes as they looks terrible and should only be worn when exercising. Make sure your shoes are scuff free and polished.


Avoid any items of clothing that have any magic insignia such as cards or a wand. Custom cuff links are fine as long as they are not too loud. I own a pair of metal ones which have a design of the four aces. They are subtle and, with some creativity, can be used as part of a trick.


Don't let this be you. Please

Don’t let this be you. Please


  • Grooming
This should really go without saying but I’ll say it anyway. Clean hair, teeth and nails. Clean shaven or neatly trimmed beard if you are a guy and go easy on the perfume/cologne, especially if you are doing close-up magic. I want to highlight the fact that I didn’t say that you should have tidy hair. That really depends on the type of character you are trying to portray in your performances. If you become a crazy magician alla Tamariz when performing then messy hair is perfect, it’s not appropriate if you are acting the part of thesuave gentleman. Extra special care should be given to your hands.


  • Facial expression, Eyes & Gesticulation
It’s a known fact that a large percentage of communication is actually non-verbal. That’s how you can detect lies: a person’s body movements contradict what they are saying. Conversely, if both what you say and how you say it match up, the message is much stronger. For that reason alone, paying attention to what you do with your hands and your eyes is doubly important. This really ties in with clarity, which we will deal with later.


Your facial expression should help set the mood. The best single nugget of advice I can give: Smile!


Smile, and the whole world smiles with you. :)


Apart from a sincere smile, your facial expression is key to getting the audience into the mood required for the particular effect you are creating. If you need to make a “mistake” during one of your routines, you facial expression should convey that. Some of the most memorable moments in a routine are just because of a “look”.An example:Occasionally, when I perform the time-honoured “Ambitious Card” routine, I find that one member of the audience becomes more and more suspicious about which card is being inserted into the middle of the deck.  I then pretend to do some kind of sleight-of-hand and then insert a card into the middle of the deck and I slowly start pushing it in. Of course, this raises the suspicion of this particular audience member. Suddenly, I stop and stare at that particular member of the audience with an incredibly innocent look. I don’t say a word. I raise my right hand, palm outwards as if it to say that I am being honest and then slowly turn the deck over to reveal that it is indeed the correct card going into the middle of the deck. This is incredibly disarming and quite funny to boot.


Gesticulation is a tricky subject. It doesn’t fit everyone’s performing style. Being Italian, it comes quite naturally to me but for many other nationalities, especially from the more Western countries such as England and America, it can appear forced. While it’s a great way to hide sleight-of-hand, especially top-changes, it will look very strange if you are keeping your hands very still before the performance and then suddenly you start gesticulating more than a Sicilian market vendor. If you feel you can fully embrace gesticulation into your everyday life, then by all means give it a shot!

We will go into further detail about facial expression, use of eye contact, gesticulation and general body language in Part 2 of this article. [Coming soon!]

Performance Presentation

A trick is nothing without presentation! Magic only exists as part of a performance, that’s why all these Youtube videos of magicians showing tricks without talking are boring. There is no life, no originality, nothing.. It’s like listening to music via a MIDI file on your computer. You need a performer. Your tricks must be fantastic but the show must really be about you and your magic. 


At first, there doesn’t seem to be a distinction or even the need to make a distinction. As soon as you go deeper into the craft you quickly begin to think otherwise. Ask yourself this: Do you want to make your audience laugh a little and entertain them for a few minutes or do you want to create something special, something that they can take away with them and remember forever?


I believe than one hour spent working on your presentation is worth 10 hours of technical practice because if you have top notch presentational skills you can create an amazing show out of the self working tricks found in beginner’s magic books. Of course, it would be silly to limit yourself to this as it would diminish your creative potential but it does make you think.

  • Clarity

The first thing that you presentation should be is clear. This goes hand in hand with speaking clearly and good eye contact. You should approach presentation holistically. Your eyes, words, hands, and tone should all be “pointing” the same way. Every step of your performance should be well explained.It’s easy to forget that your audience might not deal with cards everyday and so they may no be familiar with the name of the suits or how many cards there are in a deck and other basic nomenclature. A mistake that I see all the time is that when a magician is looking through  the cards in his hands, the cards are the wrong way round for the audience. He can see them clearly, but the audience sees them upside down!The effect itself should also be very clear. If there is more than one peak in your performance (i.e. You have to find three different playing cards) then each revelation should be separate and you need to give your audience time to react and appreciate the effect. The most common problem to do with lack of clarity is that the presentation is too fast. This might be the magician is physically moving and speaking too quickly or doing too many tricks. If you are doing a 10 minutes close-up table show then you probably don’t want to do more than three separate tricks.

It should be logical, every move and hand gesture that is made should have a reason.
  • Atmosphere
The creation of a friendly, relaxed and magical atmosphere should be one of your main priorities.
Often, when starting out, would-be magicians end up annoying the audience with the tricks and the whole experience becomes a “look-how-clever-I-am-and-how-stupid-you-are-because-you-don’t-know-how-the-trick-works”.  This really pisses people off.
The best way for inexperienced magicians to combat this is to get away from the take-a-card tricks.  A good type of trick is one where you “explain” how the trick works but then something incredibly unexpected happens in the end.  Another idea is to do a trick where you keep making a mistake and then eventually succeed, this can really get the audience on your side.


For instance:
  • You can force the Ace of Spades on an audience member and then have it returned to the deck.
  • You then fake-shuffle and then announce how you feel confident that you have tracked the position of their card while shuffling. This, funnily enough, is actually true.
  • You ask the audience member to name their card and then you cut or shuffle the deck of cards and then pick up the top card and announce that you are sure that this is the spectator’s card. Unfortunately, you’ve made a mistake and it’s the King of Spades instead.
  • You continue in this fashion and pick out all the Spade cards in reverse order until you have just the Ace of Spades left.
  • You shuffle one last time and then produce a card, face down. Surely, this must be it? You turn it over..and no! It’s the wrong card! You put your hands on your head and mutter to yourself. What went wrong?
  • You spread the cards on the table and the problem is quickly resolved: There is no Ace of Spades!
  • Oh, what’s this in my pocket…


Often, your audience will remember you more than your magic! Perhaps it shouldn’t be that way, but often it is.

If they like you, they will like your tricks. If you are annoying as hell, the best trick in the world [which, by the way, doesn’t exist] won’t help you.Anyway, enough from me for today. Come back soon for Part 2 of this article where we will discuss everything we’ve covered today in even more detail as well as touching on a few other topics to do with presentation. Looking at my notes, we may even need a part 3!


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