So what is a svengali pitchman and what does it have to do with trade shows? OK. I will try to explain. There is a trick deck of cards known as the svengali deck which was invented by Burling Hull early in the 20th Century. It was originally devised to be used by magicians but it soon became very popular as an item to be sold to the public by carnival pitchmen and others. Thousands of these decks have been demonstrated and sold over the years in fairs, exhibitions, carnivals and department stores.
The basic premise of the deck is that the cards start out as a regular deck and then suddenly change to all nine of hearts! Or some other specific card.
A svengali pitchman is someone who makes a living selling these decks. And that is what I used to do before I became involved in trade show magic. I have sold these cards in 5 different countries, particularly in Britain and Ireland. I must have demonstrated these in virtually any city of any size in the British Isles. For many years I sold the cards in Ripley’s Believe it or Not Odditorium in Blackpool before moving to Ireland. I once sold 478 decks in one day in a Dublin department store.
So what does this have to do with trade shows? Well, a lot of techniques of the svengali pitchman can be used very effectively at trade shows. In fact svengali decks are often sold at consumer shows in the very same exhibition halls that trade shows are held! The methods of gathering a crowd and holding them are exactly the same and of course the sales ability that is used when selling trick decks of cards comes in very handy when trying to persuade trade show attendees to enter a booth and talk to the salesmen. And of course the sales skills used to sell trick decks of cards at a consumer show can help immensely when transferred to the trade show floor.
Humour is a very important element of the svengali pitchman. If you can make people laugh you can sell to them more easily. And that goes for trade show work too. Sadly, I have to say that I have seen many trade show magicians perform in a too serious manner which is overly scripted and to be frank a little dull and robotic. There is just not enough humour in their presentations and they seem as if they have said the same thing a thousand times before and they are just bored and want to go home!
This is fatal! You have to keep the humour going. Fun sells! A laughing crowd is a happy crowd. And a happy crowd is easier to sell to. I am probably the only trade show magician working today who has extensive experience in selling svengali decks as a pitchman and I believe this gives me a tremendous advantage over anyone else in the same line of work.
Here is an example of me selling svengali decks years and years ago. The style is too rough and ready for a trade show and it does have to be tempered a bit in that environment but many of the same elements are present when I represent companies on their booths.