I recently did a podcast with Discourse in Magic and one of the many topics that came up was scripting. So, I’d like to share my thoughts on the topic for this blog. By the way, you can listen to the entire podcast here.
My first point is that if you want your presentations to be the best they can be, you have to script. There is no other way. You can’t expect to just wing it every night and expect that you’ll nail it every time. I used to think this. I felt like unscripted was the way to go because it felt free and fresh every time. Without a script, sometimes I’d nail it and other times I’d have a complete train wreck. I learn over the years that scripting was essential. Here are a few reasons why:
When you have a technical error, you’ll need your script to fall back on. When something goes wrong in the handling of your trick, you’ll need to figure some way to solve it. A well-rehearsed script means that the audience still has something interesting to listen to while inside your head you are solving the issue. Without a script your ad-libbed presentation falls apart and they audience will know something’s wrong.
Sometimes you need to give the spectator very specific directions. And these things need to be done in a very specific order. When you have a solid script, these directions will be crystal clear. If you’re making them up as you go, chance are you say something like this:
“Count the cards here. (Spectator does what you ask.) Wait, not face up! Count them face down and count them until you feel like stopping. (Spectator does what you ask.) No no, one on top of the next, like this into a pile. But you need to stop before you get to twenty cards. (Spectator does what you ask.) No wait! Count silently. No, after I turn around. I’ll turn around while you do it. Oh, and show the card to everyone when you stop. (Spectator counts down) Wait… Are you showing the one on the table or the one you didn’t deal yet?”
“Bill, think of a number less than twenty. Have you got a number in mind? Hold these cards face down in your hand like you’re going to deal in a game. When I turn my back, silently deal the cards face down one at a time right here on the table until you reach that number. (Performer turns and spectator counts down) Show everyone the card that’s on top of the deck right now.”
It’s difficult to come up with crystal clear directions while you’re just riffing your way though an effect.
Also, a script allows you to shade in character development wherever it seems appropriate. You can foreshadow moments correctly. You can avoid the dreaded “ums,” “uhs,” and “ers.” Nobody looks professional speaking like this. You can be more aware of word echoes. Word echoes are when words or groups of words are echoed over and over creating an annoying distraction when the listener hears the same words or groups of words over and over. See what I did there?)
Another break through I had with scripting was realizing that we don’t talk and write the same way. So, typically, when you write a script out with little experience, it will sound very stiff and unnatural. Your audience can tell right away that you’re saying something rehearsed and that you’re not in the moment. So, write your scripts the way you talk. Now, with practice, you’ll be able to deliver rehearsed lines that you’ve done for years and have them sound as though you’re “riffing on the spot.”
One last point: I’ve been asked if I recite my scripts 100% or more like 75%, using my script as a basic guideline. The answer is that I’m about 95% on script, some nights even 98%. However, I do like leaving room for adlibs. Since I’m talking to a live audience, I may need to repeat something someone didn’t understand, or ask a question, or maybe someone says something very funny. You’ll need room to work with your audience. This back and forth banter with your audience is very important but it doesn’t mean you can ignore the rest of the presentation. I pick up where I left off.
It comes down to this: I don’t want to hope I nail the presentation. I KNOW I’ll nail it because I’ve rehearsed it and I know I’ll hit all my talking points in the right order. This gives me confidence. I know that if I screw up technically (which is like never…) I have my script to provide time to create the out. I know that if I need to give directions, I know they’ll be clear. Script your work! You’ll be glad you did!