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Does Your Website Need a Magic Act?

In preparation for an initial meeting with a new client, we were asked to preview their website to see if we could come-up with some ideas for re-branding the company, and invigorating product sales.

The client was suitably impressed with our thoughts but there was one problem, the product line that we stressed was not the focus of the company. The client explained that despite the fact most of their current website was devoted to a particular product line, it was not the product that differentiated them from the competition, nor was it the product that made them the most money. Once this was explained our entire focus shifted, and we were able to develop a website concept, and webmedia presentation that focused attention where it belonged.

The experience drove home the fact that many websites confuse potential customers by inadvertently leading audiences down the wrong path, hindering profitable sales rather than promoting them.

Pick A Card, Any Card

Most companies sell a variety of products or services, but they are not all created equal, some are more important, and more profitable than others. At the heart of any website design project is the underlying goal of attracting attention, and directing that attention to the product, service, or concept that is being marketed. In that regard, an effective website sales presentation is a lot like a magic act.

The PsyBlog, Understand Your Mind, recently published an article entitled, “Psychology of Magic: 3 Critical Techniques,” in which they reported that the Association for Scientific Study of Consciousness held a conference called “The Magic of Consciousness Symposium” where cognitive neuroscientists and psychologists heard an enlightening series of well-known magicians explain the psychology and techniques behind magic acts.

What cognitive scientists have come to realize is that after hundreds of years of experimentation before live audiences, magicians have mastered a series of highly effective cognitive techniques that need to be studied, a realization that should not elude any serious marketing manager, since the essence of any effective sales presentation is cognitive learning, defined by as “the process of being aware, knowing, thinking, learning and judging.”

Psychological Mind-bending Techniques

In simple terms, magicians use a series of psychological mind-bending techniques, to convince audiences to believe in something that is simply not possible; so imagine how powerful and persuasive a sales presentation could be by using these same techniques to deliver a presentation where the product or service actually performs as advertised.

We are not talking about cheating people, or misrepresenting products, but rather teaching people the benefits of an offering by focusing attention, sharpening awareness, and altering perception, the three main ingredients in any convincing magic act, and any effective sales presentation.

Focusing Attention, Sharpening Awareness, Altering Perception

The problem of attention is three-fold: people are impatient due to lifestyle demands, socialization, and neural hardwiring. Business pressure and modern life-styles put a premium on the amount of time people will invest in learning what you have to say.

Web audiences have been raised on quick-cut music videos, action movies and video games, and as a result are socialized at an early age to make snap-decisions on minimum input.

At the same time our brains employ a hardwired, leap-of-logic, pattern recognition survival mechanism that induces quick decisions on what is important and what is seemingly irrelevant.

With an audience predisposed to hair-trigger decision-making, the ability to attract, hold, and direct attention is vital to effective Web presentation, a skill-set refined by magicians over years of practice.

One of the three techniques mentioned in the article “Psychology of Magic: 3 Critical Techniques” is ‘psychological misdirection, a technique illustrated in an illusion called the ‘vanishing ball trick,’ performed by Dr. Gustav Kuhn of York University.

The ‘Vanishing Ball Trick’

A ball is tossed into the air and caught with one hand while the magician follows the flight of the ball with his eyes. The movement is repeated several times establishing the trajectory of the ball, then on the final toss the magician doesn’t let go of the ball but repeats the same arm motion and eye movement, following the imagined flight of the non existent ball. What the brain registers is the ball disappearing in mid flight.

Evidently there is a tenth of a second delay between what the eye physically sees and what the brain registers. This could be a fatal human flaw if what is in front of us is a hungry tiger rather than a magician. That tenth of a second lag could mean the difference between life and death.

As a consequence the brain has developed a sophisticated pattern recognition process that fills in the blanks. We recognize a series of events and leap to the conclusion that something is going to happen. In this case that something is the flight of a ball, a cognitive pattern established by the magicians repetitive arm and eye movements.

Sales Presentations Are Exercises In Teaching New Behaviors

A sales presentation is nothing more than an effort to teach an audience a new learned behavior – buying the product, service or concept being presented. This can only be achieved if a presentation focuses viewer attention on a single concept, and repeats that concept so that it becomes a recognized pattern.

A sale’s audience like a magician’s audience must be sold on the presentation. Each audience starts off being both cynical and resistant, but a good magician like a good salesman will repeat the presentation several times, each time varying it slightly in order to overcome each potential objection, what magicians call ‘closing the doors’ and what advertisers call a marketing campaign.

The ad nauseam repetition of television commercials is nothing more than an attempt to teach the viewing audience a new set of behaviors, so that they will recognize the pattern and respond in the right circumstances – we are all network television’s version of Pavlov’s dogs.

Entertaining Clients is Serious Business

The best commercials are the ones that are based on a thematic series (the Mac commercials are a great example), with each spot over-coming a single objection, ultimately teaching the audience a new learned purchasing behavior. Your website is your communication channel, capable of delivering programming content that alters behavior, and forms new purchasing patterns.

The trick is to keep your audience interested long enough to establish the new intended pattern of behavior. Business owners have to get past the notion that entertaining presentations are somehow non-functional. Entertaining clients is serious business.

Website presentations must attract, focus, and hold viewer attention by delivering an entertaining series of performances that establish patterns of behavior by clever repetition that overcome objections using verbal and visual repetition.


The psychological principles employed by magicians are very similar to the ones used in effective sales presentations. The Internet is capable of delivering the kind of compelling video and audio webmedia that changes audience behavior and purchasing patterns. Business must get rid of the digital flip charts and start communicating effective, meaningful presentations that deliver magical results.

About The Author
Jerry Bader is Senior Partner at MRPwebmedia, a website design firm that specializes in Web-audio and Web-video. Visit, and Contact at or telephone (905) 764-1246.