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An Interview with Danny Orleans, Trade Show Magician

10/04/10 by Brandon

We’re continuing our ‘Trade Show Experts’ interview series with a very interesting and entertaining topic this week!  Our expert is Danny Orleans, a Chicago-based professional magician who has 20 years of experience performing magic at trade shows to help exhibitors attract more attention to their booths. If you are searching for a way to gather huge crowds around your booth and brand your company, Danny just may be the guy you are looking for.

Can you tell us a little bit about how you became a magician?

When I was 6 years old, my grandfather asked me what I wanted to be when I grew up. He tape recorded me (on one of those old reel-to-reel tape recorders) as I replied, “A magician!” Turns out, I could predict my own future – even as a child!

Shortly after, he gave me a toy magic kit which I really loved. Visits to a New York City magic shop followed and then I found myself performing at neighborhood kids’ birthday parties. After college, I created a curriculum-based magic show which I performed at elementary schools nation-wide.

How did you make the transition from birthday parties and elementary schools to international trade shows?

The truth is I’ve always preferred pinstripes to sequins! Perhaps that’s why the trade show floor is a better fit for me than a Vegas showroom. Did you know that magic and sleight of hand has been used as a crowd draw at trade show booths since the 1950s? I did, so I was ready when a magician friend of mine referred my first trade show client to me. Turns out it was (at that time) the world’s 2nd largest printing company, Quebecor Printing. The marketing manager was so thrilled with the fact that my show not only tripled her typical lead count, but also highlighted the benefits of her company that she immediately booked me for seven more trade shows. Quebecor remained a client for 8 years.

Can you tell us about the types of clients that you work with? Sizes?  Industries?  How many trade shows do you perform at each year?

By the time 2010 is over, I’ll have performed more than 1000 ten-minute presentations at 25 trade shows this year. My clients range from start ups to the Fortune 500. Western Union hired me for three shows this year (The Corrections Show, the Electronics Payment show and a Utility Show) to help them get the word out about their very efficient payment solutions. I made two appearances this year at The Data Warehousing Institute, a show with less than 1000 attendees for a New Zealand software company called Wherescape. The largest shows at which I present are the National Restaurant show and the tri-ennial Construction Expo (ConExpo). Attendance at these shows often exceeds 100,000 people. It’s very exciting to be at a show with that many people in the hall.

What is your process when you begin working with a new client who wants your help in promoting a product at a trade show?

I attribute my success as a trade show magician to the fact that I weave my clients’ story into my presentation. To do this, I provide the marketing or trade show manager with a short form for them to fill out to distill their marketing message into sound bytes that I can incorporate. Here’s what I want to know:

  1. Their position in the industry
  2. The challenges they solve for their customers
  3. How they save their customers time and money
  4. The names of their products and services and the features and benefits of each
  5. How they anticipate their customers’ needs

This information is integrated into a script which includes interactivity, humor, audience participation and lots of industry terminology. I email it to my client for editing and we usually have a conference call where I read it to them aloud so they can hear the tonality, pacing and jokes. Then there are usually a few more tweaks and we’re done. The whole process usually takes two to three weeks, though I have done it in a couple of days if a client has a last minute request for me.

Can you share an example of what a client gets when they hire you?

Let’s talk about what the don’t get. Many Marketing VPs, when the idea of a trade show magician crosses their desk, think, “A magician?? What the heck do top hats and bunny rabbits have to do with our product?” And they are right! That’s why I wear a business suit or the company’s branded wear, and I don’t own a rabbit or a hat!

Magic is the hook to draw the passers-by. It’s the medium to communicate the message. For example, when I’m in your booth changing dollar bills into hundreds, I can talk about how your company can help customers improve their bottom line. When the hands on an executive’s watch magically move backwards while he’s holding it, I speak to the fact that your software will save him time. When a playing card magically teleports from the deck into a small tin “globe,” I can tell my audience why your company, its products and services are the best in the world.

So, finally, to answer your question, here’s what clients get: I create and perform a live, interactive customized presentation which will give them ABCDE.

  • Attract traffic
  • Build your brand
  • Communicate your message
  • Deliver more leads
  • Elevate your presence on the trade show floor

Are there specific industries where having a magician at your booth is a big advantage? Any industries where it probably isn’t a good idea?

I’m biased, so I believe that nearly every booth on a trade show floor can benefit from having a magical spokesperson. My clients agree. 95% of them rebook me for at least one more trade show. The best fit, however is when a company’s product is significantly less interesting compared to other products on the show floor. Perhaps that’s why I do a lot of work for consulting and financial service companies. They need someone like me to enhance the booth. Example: American Express at the National Restaurant show. They are trying to convince restaurateurs to accept The Card at their establishment. But most other booths at the show have a product that you can eat or drink — and they’re giving away free samples! That’s why American Express hired me for shows in Chicago, California and Florida for 5 consecutive years. I helped them stop traffic and communicate their message about The Card.

What type of booth is magic not necessary to draw? If you have a product that is “demonstratable” – and pretty amazing in its own right, then you should have a live demonstration of the product by a professional spokesperson. Once I saw BlendTec chop up an Ipod in their food blender at a trade show. It was crazy, but the crowd loved it as they chanted “Will it blend?!”

Do you have any metrics that show the difference your service provides?

I ask my clients to track the lead counts when I’m a magical spokesperson in their booth. Usually I will double the number of leads they received from a previous year. But there are some immeasurable benefits also. For example, the crowds I draw attract other activity at the show. My clients are more likely to be photographed for the organization’s website, magazine or newspaper. And I attract potential partners as well as customers. Booth staff morale remains higher because the booth stays active. But most importantly, I elevate my clients’ presence at the show and the result is better retention of their message by attendees.

Years ago, Exhibit Surveys, a trade show research organization in New Jersey conducted a study about booth draw effectiveness. Product demos ranked first. Trade Show magicians ranked second. More effective than robots, booth hostesses, coffee, and games of chance.

Do you have a favorite magic routine to use at trade shows?  Are there any really memorable reactions that you’ve received from attendees?

My favorite routine involves the premise that I’m going to give away a $100 bill to a member of my audience if he or she can answer three questions. To make it fair, I give the C-note to another spectator to hold. Once, that man walked away from the booth with the Hundy as he waved goodbye. The crowd turned on him and made him give it back. For the rest of the day people were coming back to the booth starting conversations with me and the booth staff wondering if he had really returned the bill to me.

Where can readers see you in action?

This fall I’ll be at Oracle Open World, Shop.org, the National Beer Wholesalers Association, Educause, the American College of Gastroenterology, the Teradata Users Conference, FabTech and the Sanitary Supply Show. Or you can see short video clips of me in trade show booths as well as receptions and sales meetings by clicking on my website’s video page.