The Trade Show Handbook by Bud Dietrich and Dick Jarrow


This is a pretty old book on Trade Show Magic and in fact is one of the first I ever read. It was written by Bud Dietrich and Dick Jarrow.  Dietrich was a leading trade show magician with a sterling reputation. Mind you,  I still remember one thing that I heard which I always remembered about him. He did many shows for Hoyle Playing Cards which were manufactured by Stancraft.  In fact he was known as “Mr Hoyle” and he was certainly one of the most important trade show magicians around at that time. Now,  in the seventies I also did trade show work for Hoyle when the product line was first introduced to Canada.

Naturally I asked about Bud Dietrich and one rep complained, “Bud was great but there was only one problem. We couldn’t get him to stop because he was such a ham!. The salesmen couldn’t get a word in edgeways!”  I have always remembered that remark in my own work and make sure I don’t get in the way myself! After all the main purpose of a trade show magician is not so much the entertainment but to assist the sales people by gathering a crowd and conveying the features and benefits of the product to the attendees in an entertaining manner.

Having said this Bud Dietrich must have done something right since he was always busy and was one of the highest paid performers in this particular field.

But back to the book. Alas I don’t know much if anything about the other author Dick Jarrow so regrettably I can’t tell you much about him.

I was never able to get much out of the book when it first came out as the concept of performing magic at a trade show was not familiar to me and the book was written as if I should know all about it already. However, much later on the book made more sense to me and as a result became more useful. It talks about microphones, sales meetings and hospitality rooms and other kindred subjects. I think one feature of the book which no other book of this kind possesses is that it actually has a few chapters for the exhibitor who books the magician rather than for the performer himself.

As usual the book tells you nothing about how to book the show in the first place.

Overall, a book that deserves to be in the library of every trade show magician.

Pitching at the Flea Market

I keep pointing out the similarities between a magic pitchman (or indeed a pitchman of any kind) and a trade show magician. That is because there IS a lot of similarities. Still, enough is enough and I will try to make this the last post concerning the matter.

Still many of the approaches are the same. You gather a crowd the same way, you use humour the same way, and of course you work in the same environment at consumer shows with the same booth set ups, the same show regulations etc; and of course the most important similarity is that you sell in the same way, albeit in a less high pressure manner. In fact the selling is more subtle since you are not actually selling a specific product and taking in the money there and then. Your selling job is actually a lot easier than that since all you have to do is incorporate the product features and benefits into the entertainment.

You then have to convince the audience to talk to the sales staff on the booth. And in some cases even pre- qualify them by asking specific questions in a tongue in cheek manner. You make the job of the sales staff easier because you break the ice with the prospects and make them laugh. And of course a laughing potential prospect is an easier one to sell to.

So here is an example of how a pitchman selling magic tricks to the public can make an audience laugh. And the same magic pitchman happens to use exactly the same techniques with an audience consisting of trade show attendees. How do I know he uses them?
Because the pitchman is me!

Here I am working at a flea market. A couple of young ladies got so much fun out of the demonstration that they  asked  if they could film me working and put it on You Tube. I consented and they came in another day because they had a real camera at home and they wanted to use that in preference to recording it on their phone. This is the result. I also do psychic readings and this is what the reference to the palm reading is all about but the main emphasis here is on the magic tricks. Astute business and sales people will see how it can be applied to drawing a crowd and promoting a product or service at a trade show. Anyway here it is. Enjoy:






The Hard Sell-Part Two. How does real life selling really work?

In my last entry I mentioned the book, “The Hard Sell” and I promised to explain how it applies to the work of a trade show magician. Well of course at trade shows the main objective is usually to sell something. I think probably the best way to explain how the book relates to selling and drawing a crowd is simply to reproduce what it says on the back cover.  And here you are:

Pitchers routinely transform a patch of bare ground into a sea of eager purchasers using little more than the gift of the gab and some homespun psychology to determine what is needed to convince their customers to buy. Employing some of the most successful sales techniques in the world, in one of the oldest and most difficult of selling situations, their rhetoric has to equal that employed by the most skillful politician or professional persuader.

Using recorded examples of pitchers attracting a crowd, describing and demonstrating their goods, building bargains, cajoling the unconvinced to make a purchase and coping with problem customers the authors reveal, for the first time, the reason for these traders’ extraordinary success. Comparing their findings with more orthodox selling situations the authors illustrate lessons that have relevance for everyone involved in sales, advertising and marketing.

Original, authoritative and highly readable, this book is an essential tool for anyone who wants to understand how selling really works.



The Hard Sell

At this point I would like to tell you about a book which I think should be read by every trade show magician. I suspect it may well also be of some use to sales people of any kind. The name of the book is “The Hard Sell” and the co authors are Colin Clark and Trevor Pinch.

I have already talked about the relationship and the similarities between a svengali pitchman and a trade show performer. This book was written by two sociologists who accidentally came across what are known in Britain as “market pitchers” although the term “market grafters” are often used as well.

I suppose I had better explain what a “market pitcher” is since the concept does not seem to be prevalent in North America from what I have seen.

This may get a trifle complicated. The word “pitch” in the UK has an entirely different meaning than it does in North America. And yet both meanings are relevant to the work of the grafter/pitchman. In America to pitch means to sell. In the UK it refers to the location that you work from. And to complicate matters even further it has another meaning. It means the actual crowd in front of you.

Now I have to explain the “grafter” thing. In America they have a word called “grifter” which does NOT have the same meaning as the word “grafter” A grafter is what Americans call a “pitchman” and a grifter is what  North Americans call a scam artist. However just because you are a scam artist does not make you a grafter since a grafter gathers a crowd and sells to them. So a grafter can be a grifter (and sometimes is)  but he doesn’t have to be. And a “grifter” doesn’t necessarily have to be a grafter since there are lots of ways of scamming people without having to draw a crowd.

And just to complicate matters even further in the US and Canada the word “pitchman” often means any kind of salesman rather than the most accepted one of a salesman who draws a crowd and sells to them.

This description is getting very complicated and I wish I hadn’t started it!

Let me take a deep breath and try to continue. To clarify matters there are two types of grafters. Actually there are three but one of them are jam auction or run out workers which are in a category of their own and there is actually an entire chapter devoted to them in the book I am discussing.

There are the regular grafters who demonstrate and sell one or two products only such as kitchen knives, paint pads, or vegamatics. And yes, svengali decks. They are demonstrators but they are not market pitchers which are a separate breed entirely and I have never seen them in America. Now this type of demonstrator often works in a market but he isn’t a market pitcher.

I am dreading this but I suppose I will now have to explain the word “market”. There are all sorts of outdoor and a few indoor street markets dotted all over the UK. The nearest equivalent over here is flea markets but they are not quite the same thing as British street markets. I am not going to explain the difference in case I have a nervous breakdown trying to explain it. Suffice it to say that it is the nearest equivalent.

Market pitchers are still grafters but they are a different type of grafter. Instead of one product or two they have a massive range such as toys, radios, electrical goods, household linens etc;. They don’t work from a counter as you can well imagine.Instead they work from either a massive stall with a very large frontage or more often from the back of a lorry (truck). They have assistants who hand them up the goods, serve customers and generally assist. They draw massive crowds which are far bigger than a regular grafter (demonstrator) does.

With witty patter and showmanship they sell the big variety of goods that they have on display.

This post is already taking up far more space than I intended so for now I will stop here. In my next post I will explain more about how this wonderful book relates to the art of gathering a crowd and selling to them and how all this relates to the trade show environment.

How it all works and how a trade show magician can help you.

1. It breaks the ice and makes it easier for you to do your job. A laughing prospect is an easier one to sell to. The presentation will give you a conversation starter to use with your customers both during and after the show.

2. I will have a crowd of 10-30 people gathered in front of me. At the end of my demonstration I direct them all to come on to the booth to talk to the salespeople. If you have a free gift to hand to them I mention this and it encourages them to interact with you. You can either scan their badges, get them to fill out a lead form, answer their questions or best of all SELL to them!

3. I will have a crowd in front of me for about 10 minutes or so. This is enough time for your astute sales people to observe and pick out the hot prospects by their manner and the attendee badges. I also at one point ask the people in the crowd to raise their hands if they make the buying decisions for their company. It is done in a fun manner in the middle of a card trick and it does enable you to identify who the key people are.

4. If you are busy dealing with a prospect while another one is waiting I can entertain that person and keep them occupied until you are free to deal with them.

5. If you have regular clients/customers and bring them over to watch me this can create goodwill and excellent public relations.

6. I constantly proclaim the benefits and features of your products/services in a fun way and help attendees to remember your company name.

7. I draw people over to the booth and can make it the most entertaining and memorable booth at the show. Constant crowds mean constant business.

8. I have a method of actually collecting the badges of qualified prospects during my show so that they can be scanned by the sales representatives and given back at the end of the show. This is a good way of eliminating the “tire kickers” and only scanning the more likely prospects.

Still more on gathering a crowd.

Here are some methods that I don’t use personally but I am quite sure they work. An old pitchman’s trick is to start mumbling to yourself. You talk out loud about the product or what  you are going to do. You do NOT look up or make eye contact, at least you sense there are a few people watching. Then of course you pounce, bring them all in a little nearer and then get to work. It takes a bit of nerve to use this method since the magician may feel a bit silly and self conscious talking to himself but he soon gets used to it and it does work.

Here is the sort of thing the magician might say using a deck of cards, “I am going to make a deck of cards, walk, talk, snort, jump through a hoop, and do a tap dance right here on the table. i am going to make them disappear, reappear, one at a time, two at a time, all at once and vanish right through thin air.” After a couple minutes of this type of thing the nucleus of the crowd starts to gather.

Famed trade show magician Eddie Tullock used to wait until a couple of people walked by and asked them, “Have you had your lesson today?” They would respond, “what lesson?” and he would reply that he was talking about a lesson in the card game Bridge and that would get him an opening to start.

Noted Trade Show magician Danny Orleans stated on a magic forum that he would spot the name tag of an attendee and say something like, “Peter! You’ve arrived! We were just saying, ‘Is Peter going to show up’ and Abracadabra, you are here!” The attendee is taken aback and and doesn’t immediately realise it is a ploy until it is too late and before he knows it he is sucked in.

Some magicians have used larger tricks to gain attention especially one that makes a bit of a noise such as producing coins from thin air and dropping them into a champagne bucket or coffee can. Others have used the famous trick where the magician links metal rings together. This makes a bit of noise as the rings clang together.

Not every magician knows how to gather a crowd and this is possibly the biggest challenge of the inexperienced in the trade show market. However, it can be done quite well by those who know what they are doing.

In my next post I will describe a method that I have never used at a trade show although one day I might. I think it may be a   a little flamboyant for a trade show and so far that has inhibited me from trying it. However, I did it often at consumer shows when I was selling trick decks of cards. Of course consumers shows tend to have a less sedate atmosphere than trade shows. I also used it in department stores and it would bring crowds out of nowhere even when traffic was quiet. I will tell you all about it later.//

More on gathering crowds

There are all sorts of methods a magician can use to gather crowd at a trade show. In my last post I have explained the one I use most often. However, here is another method which I used constantly in my days of pitching trick decks of cards at consumer shows, fairs and department stores. I would spread a deck of cards in a long row with just one sweep. At some point I will post a video where you can see me doing this. I would then turn them over domino fashion in a very pretty flourish. I would time this for when someone would walk by and say, “have you seen the magic cards, sir?” The timing was essential. I had to time it so that the spectator would see the cards flipping over. A second too late or a second to soon and the ploy would fail.

Sometimes I have gained the same effect just by springing the deck from one hand to the other. This has the advantage of making a noise which stands out. All I have to do then once I get their attention is to repeat the flourish and it does quite startle them and they don’t quite know what to make of it. I continue, “Come and have a look, you might as well see it while you are here!” They come over and before they know it they are watching a magician who is using them to gather more people.

There are a few other methods that a magician can use to draw a crowd. I will detail them in future posts.

How to Gather a Crowd

There are many different methods that a trade show magician can use to gather a crowd. Some are more subtle than others. I have seen a few quite brash methods that I don’t think fit a company image very well so I prefer to avoid them. Even worse, I have seen some magicians look quite desperate trying to grab people almost begging them to come over and I am afraid it makes me cringe to watch. I am sure that it scares more people away than it attracts. This usually is a sign of a magician who is not used to the trade show environment.

I have several different approaches depending on the circumstances. Here is one that I often use. I lurk like a spider waiting for a fly. When the fly comes within distance I pounce. In other words I wait for someone to pass me. I prefer a group rather than just one person but I will work with whatever I have to. But let us say that two people stroll by. I merely hold up two sponge balls, one in each hand at the tips of my fingers and say simply, “Have you seen this?” Nothing more needs to be said. They look startled at the question and are tranfixed by the silly little sponge balls (which look like clown noses)  thus confusing them too much to make an excuse to get away from you. I follow up by carefully watching them and when they are in a bit of a trance looking at me and the two sponges wondering what on earth they are I say, “you can’t go through life without seeing these,you know.”

I then say, “come and have a look. You don’t have to spend any money. Nobody else does” That always makes them laugh, it breaks the ice and they come over to me.  Now I don’t always use this line. It depends on the circumstances, the company I am representing and whatever their product or service is. If I deem it appropriate I may say something else equally effective.

I do a great trick using the sponge balls but at the same time I am looking at other passers by and occasionally draw them over too with the same lines. I am not afraid to break off briefly from what I am doing to do this and I am still controlling the people in front of me.

By the time I have finished the sponge ball trick  more people will have gathered and away I go. By the time I have finished after 10 minutes or so I have a large crowd who are laughing and gasping and generally enjoying themselves. Laughter and happiness attracts more people.

Anyway, that is one way. I will try and explain a few more in coming days.