I’ve always been intrigued by that combination of magic and marketing known as “showmanship.” When I decided to become a professional sleight-of-hand artist, I wanted to add this mysterious ingredient to my performances—but I didn’t really know what it was.

Over the years that followed, as I performed at trade shows and corporate events, I talked with hundreds of sales and marketing professionals, asking them how they would define showmanship. The answers I got back usually involved things like, “pizzazz,” “excitement” or “fun.”

But these seemed to me to be more the results of showmanship, not what it actually was. I wanted to know, what caused the pizzazz, excitement or fun? Everyone knew the word, but that was about it.

The dictionary defined it as, “the act of showing,” and instructed me to go look under the word “show”—where I had to decide for myself, from among the 461 definitions!

Continuing on my quest, I spent three years thoroughly researching the lives of three master showmen: Harry Houdini, P.T. Barnum and George M. Cohan. I found major similarities among them. These great showmen did not have any high-priced, re-hashed sales programs to guide them. They marketed their ideas according to human nature, using common sense and the power of simplicity.

The result of all my research was an original, one-man lecture/show called, “The Magic Word is Showmanship.” In this presentation, I introduce five key elements that are already part of everyone’s personality, but almost always overlooked. I present them with the acronym, M-A-G-I-C. Once you recognize them, they are easy to remember (and hard to forget!). Using even one of these key elements in a presentation can add showmanship, regardless of your product or service.

During the 1980s, I gave this presentation to many of the largest corporations and sales organizations around the country. One of these companies offered me an opportunity to test my theories in the field. I accepted an entry-level sales position, and in 18 months, I was a Branch Sales Manager and had increased sales volume by 36 percent, representing the highest increase the company had ever reported!

What follows is, of course, only a very brief overview of these five essential ingredients. But that’s all right: simplicity is key! Just give yourself some quiet time to think about the definition and each of these five elements, and you’ll be amazed at how you can apply showmanship to your specific situation.

What is Showmanship?

I define showmanship as: the quality of performance or display that creates and sustains dramatic interest.

Think of a baby in a crib watching you shake a rattle. That baby is not only watching the rattle, but is totally immersed in the sound and every aspect of what you’re doing.

Now, can you imagine having a prospect, client or team member become that enthralled in what you are saying and doing? With the right elements and a little thought and preparation, you can!

Why is this important to you as a networker? The dictionary defines network as “an extended group of people with similar interests or concerns who interact and remain in informal contact for mutual assistance or support.” When a prospect, client, team member or anyone you make a presentation to is dramatically interested, you don’t have to persuade or “sell” anything!

Here are the M-A-G-I-C Elements of Showmanship:


A secret about something that pertains to them that they should think about. It may be stated in the form of how to solve a specific problem or as a “grabber question,” for example, “Have you really thought about what would make you truly happy in your life?”


A demonstration is much more effective than an exhibit. Whenever you can, stir the spectator’s emotions by showing and telling—not just telling. And always try to remember that you’re trying to use showmanship, not showoff-manship.


Satisfaction is your only target. Your presentee has to experience or sense some sort of payoff that is delightful, fun or pleasurable. How can what you are doing or saying thrill or amaze them? As much as they love you, they probably love themselves a little bit more—so “Keep the customer satisfied.”


Questions are the key, and captivation the ultimate goal. Captivation comes from mental or physical participation. What you do or say must collaborate with their needs and wants.

In magic, someone once said, “They want the trick and they want it now!” There is so much information out there about the value of asking great questions that I won’t repeat it here. But make certain that before you ask them in person, you’ve previously asked yourself: “Any questions?”


A contest appeals to just about everyone, in one way or another. Harmless competition always creates interest. Why do people like game shows? Because they love to see if they know the answer. It exudes a feeling of confidence.

However, be absolutely sure the challenge is not personal. You don’t want to confront or contradict in any way. Houdini constantly challenged his audience. He would offer a reward if he couldn’t escape from a set of handcuffs. They were on the edge of their seats! How can you add a little “spice to your dice”?

In the 80s, selling and persuasion was the primary goal. When I finished each lecture/show I would say, “Set sale on your showmanship” and I guess it’s still good advice.

Times have changed. In today’s networking, it’s time to lower the “sales” on your showmanship. Now, just invite them on board so they can get your drift. Bon voyage!

BILL WISCH is a professional magician and a networker.