Full Text of How to Magically Connect with Anyone by Brian Miller at TEDxManchesterHighSchool
Brian Miller – Corporate & College Magician & Speaker
Well, thank you.
Our world is a shared experience, fractured by individual perspectives, yours and mine. Imagine if we could all understand each other.
When I first started my career in magic, I was doing a lot of performing in restaurants, table to table card tricks, coin tricks, sleight of hand and whoop! You got a good seat for this.
This one night, I was on fire. I remember I was fast and funny, my moves were perfect, I was unstoppable. And I sauntered up to this one table, an elderly man and his wife, and I said, “Folks, would you like to see some magic?”
And the man looked at me, and he said, “Sir, I would love to see some magic, but I can’t. Unfortunately, I am blind.”
I looked at him, really looked at him for the first time, and it was so clear he was blind. His eyes were glazy, he wasn’t really looking at me. Anybody would’ve known that, but I was so wrapped up in my evening, so lost in my world, I wasn’t looking at him. I just saw two generic people and launched into my show. And I stood there, embarrassed, and that word was ringing in my ears, “blind, blind, blind”, and I had no choice, and I said, “I’m sorry, I didn’t know. I don’t have anything I can do for you, but if you come back again sometime, I promise I will have some sort of magic that I can share with you.”
He said, “I’ll hold you to that!”, and I went on with my night.
A few weeks later, they came back in. I recognized them immediately, and I panicked. I had completely forgotten about it. I raced back to the room where I kept my props, I was thinking about every trick I’d ever learned and every book I’d ever read, something, anything I could do for this man, and then I remembered reading an obscure idea somewhere I read a long time ago in an old manuscript, it was all I had.
So I composed myself, I walked back out, and said, “Hey folks, my name is Brian, would you like to see some magic?”
And he cut me off, he goes, “All right, we are back, what have you got for me?” with a big smile on his face.
So I asked his wife, “May I sit next to you?” and she said, “Sure.”
So I sat down, and I said “Ed,” – his name was Ed – I said, “Ed, do you trust your wife?” and he said, “Sometimes.”
I said, “Will you trust her now?” and he said, “Sure.”
So I took out a pack of plain cards, gave them to her, and said, “Mix the cards, make sure there’s no special markings on them,” and she said, “No, they’re fine.”
I took Ed’s hand and I said, “I’ll place a card in your hand, do you think this is a red card or a black card?”
Then he said red, and he was right. The next card, he said red, and he was right again. I put down the next one, and he said, “Hmm, black!” Again correct. His wife is getting skeptical at this point. And we keep going, red, red, black, black, red, and he’s getting all of them right. Red, black, red, faster, black, black, black, red, through the whole deck, black, black, red, every single one of them right, and at the end, Ed is laughing, he’s howling, the whole restaurant is staring at us, and I turn and his wife – his wife is weeping tears of joy. It was the most beautiful magic I had ever experienced.
A little bit later, I am going to tell you how we did it. But the real secret of the trick, the real secret of magic, is understanding and taking on different perspectives, different points of views.
So let’s try and experiment with perspective, would you like to see some magic? All right, let’s try a little experiment here. This is one of oldest illusions in magic, here we go. Check that out for me; yes please, here you go. That’s rope right there, you can check that out. And I’ve got some more over here, here you go, one for you yes, and one for you. Make sure that’s what it seems to be; is it what it seems to be? Are you what you seem to be? I don’t know what that means. That’s good, I’ll take that back, you look as confused as I do.
Here we go, I’ll take that, thank you, one, two, and three pieces of rope. Three pieces of rope, and they’re all the same length yes? It’s going to be a tough crowd, I can tell. You guys are going to have to believe me on this. So I’ll take the ends and I hold them up, now they look like they’re the same length. The ends do, I didn’t say it was a great illusion. It’s going to be a tough crowd, I think. Here we go, I’ll prove it to you.
Yeah, that’s all, thank you. That’s the big one right there, that’s the medium one right there, and that’s the small one right there. There’s too many things going on, so I’ll get rid of one of the pieces of rope, it’ll be easier to follow with only two, won’t it? I should just start over, it’ll be little bit simpler.
Yes, sometimes the ends come off, which is a little unusual, I’ll give you that but I will do that again just in case you missed it. There are people who think that this trick is all about the ends. That’s not true, the middles, those come off too. Place the middles right here, back on the rope, and we’re back in business. But you guys know this trick wasn’t done with one piece of rope, it wasn’t even done with two pieces. It was actually done with — two of us watched Sesame Street. That’s the big one right there, that’s the medium one right there, and that’s the small one right there; can you guys tell which one’s which? See this one right here? This is the big one, you see that’s the big one. That’s the medium one, and that’s the small one, a little illusion to get things started.
Well, thank you very much.
Now, what just happened there? Well it seems that you and I had a very different experience, doesn’t it? What did I see? I saw the moves, the sleight of hand, and the juggling. You probably saw the ends of a rope, jumping on and off, three different ropes, changing lengths impossibly, violating all the laws of physics.
That’s just what we saw, what did we feel? Well you may have felt, hopefully, wonder? Maybe amusement? Perhaps frustration? I felt focus; these are two very different perspectives of the same experience. You see, magicians have a unique dilemma. The magician is the only person who cannot see the magic because I know how the trick works, and that knowledge of the secret is a limiting perspective. So the magician must wholly and completely take on the point of view of the audience. We do this night after night, no matter who’s out there in order to create illusions. This is a technique called perspective taking.
Perspective taking is the ability to see the world from the point of view of another person. It sounds simple in theory, but in practice, it can be incredibly difficult to do. For instance, have you guys played around with one of these before? Aha, a few of you look excited, most of you look angry just because I’m holding one. I feel flashbacks to childhood, some of you started twitching when I took one out. I love the Rubik’s cube; they’re actually easier to solve than you think they are.
Take the stickers off, rearrange them, put them back in the right order? Break the pieces apart, put it back together? I actually learned how to do this, and then realized, if you spin it really fast, it looks like it solves itself.
So what just happened there? Oh, thank you. Kind of a delayed response, everybody was just –
So what just happened there? Well, I know that if I come out, mix up a Rubik’s cube, toss it in the air, and it comes down solved, you’re all going to think I’m a jerk. Or at the very least, a show off, and I don’t want you to feel like that. I want you to enjoy the experience of magic so I make a few jokes. Take the stickers off, rearrange them, break the pieces apart, and then you go, “Oh I did that! My friends, we smashed it with a hammer, we threw it at a wall!” When that happens, you feel like I understand you. When you feel understood, we make a connection, and then I can do the trick, and we can all enjoy the magic in that shared space.
So now you know what perspective taking is. It’s the ability to see the world from the point of view of another person. And you know why magicians do it — to create illusions and connect with the audience.
But why should you care? Well, it turns out this technique has drastically improved my life off stage, outside of magic, in more ways than I could have ever imagined. I’ll explain.
I never had trouble meeting new people, making friends, getting into relationships. But I always struggled to maintain them. Eventually, the communication would break down, people would leave, and I would be alone. And it took a long time to admit it, but it was my fault, or at least mostly my fault. The people in my life didn’t feel like I was invested in them. Now that wasn’t true, but it doesn’t matter. It’s not enough to care about somebody; it’s not enough to understand them. They have to feel understood, they have to feel cared about, and I wasn’t doing that.
And then I took this technique I had honed on stage, and I started using it outside of magic, and I realized I can make better, more meaningful connections with people. I met friends, incredible friends, that have lasted years, I met a beautiful, fiercely intelligent woman, the love of my life, and I held on to that relationship. We’re actually engaged to be married. Oh, thank you. She’ll be happy to hear that.
None of that would have been possible before. So of course the question then becomes how, how do you do it, how do you do perspective taking? Well, first you need to understand the difference between visual perspective and emotional perspective. Magicians traditionally deal with visual perspective. We need to know, literally, what the trick looks like to the audience. So we practice in front of mirrors, we film ourselves and watch it back, but relationships are primarily about emotional perspective. How is somebody feeling about our interaction? It seems like a difficult thing to do, to get to know someone’s emotional perspective, but let’s get back to Ed, Ed and his wife.
The relevant question for Ed was, “What would magic feel like to someone who is blind?” I didn’t want Ed to feel tricked, that was important to me. I don’t know, but I have to imagine if you are blind, you could be tricked by anybody, at anytime. So I didn’t Ed want to feel tricked; I wanted him to feel magic, I wanted him to be magical, and his wife, this woman who spends her life looking out for him, I wanted her to see him in that light, and for them to share in that experience together.
So if you want to get to know someone’s emotional perspective, one of the simplest ways to do it, ask. Ask questions. Too often we’re afraid to ask people questions because we feel like it will be rude, or somehow they won’t want to answer, but we underestimate people’s willingness to answer our questions.
Before the trick, I asked Ed, “Have you always been blind?” He said yes. To me that was crucial, relevant information. It seems that a person who has never been able to see will have a different perspective from somebody who had their sight, and then lost it to accident, or illness. With Ed I can’t even use the language of sight. So by asking questions, I can adjust my tone, my demeanor, even my language, so that he feels understood and we can make a connection.
Now, if you’re going to learn this, it’s important not simply to ask questions but to listen to the answers, and listen to understand. Don’t just listen to respond, or to reply, and you’ve heard it before. This is where I went wrong most in my life, I think. You’ve heard to before, and we’re all guilty of it from time to time. Too often we listen to people only with the intention of coming up with something clever to say so as soon as their lips stop, we can jump in and say our thing. We’ve all done it, we’re all guilty, but I did this especially badly, and I think to the detriments of my relationships.
Have you ever asked for somebody’s name, and instantly forgotten it what it was? Do you know why we forget people’s names? Because while they’re telling us their name, we’re thinking about how we’re going to say ours: first name, last name, Mr. Miller, Brian. We’re not listening, we’re on our end of the conversation only. So you can start to learn this technique: ask questions, listen to understand the answers. When you do that I think you’ll find you can make better, more meaningful connections with people, personally and professionally. It drastically improved my life, and I really believe it can improve yours.
So, Ed. How did Ed, a blind man, see the cards? The answer, as in most great magic, was actually very simple. I sat across from him, and underneath the table, I placed my foot gently on top of his. And then I gave him these instructions; “If you think the card is a red card,” and I pushed my foot down on his once, “then you say red.”
“If you think it’s a black card,” and I pushed my foot down on his twice, “then you say black.” I was teaching Ed a secret system of communication, where I would let him know what color of the card was, by the foot taps, once for red, twice for black. And I repeated the instructions, “if you think it’s a red card, say red. If you think it’s a black card, say black” and then I squeezed his hands gently, and I asked, “Do you understand?” He smiled, and said, “Yes, I understand.” And I knew then that we had connected.
When it was all said and done, I taught his wife how we did it, like I just taught you, so they could do it for their friends and family. And Ed was so excited, he couldn’t wait to see his grandkids that weekend so he could, quote, “freak them out completely!”
See, magic isn’t about the technical skill, magic isn’t about a trick, or even the secret. Magic is about connecting. Life is about connecting. And connecting is about taking on other points of view. You see, our world is a shared experience, fractured by individual perspectives. Imagine if we could all feel understood.