Wednesday, 19 January 2011

‘Quite a lot’ to learn about Presentation Skills from Paul Daniels’ wig sale

What can Paul Daniels’ wig sale teach us about Presentation Skills?  ‘Not a lot’, you might think, except that any kind of male wig is best avoided, especially when you’re in the public eye.  Let’s face it, of all his illusions, Daniels’ hair was always the least convincing.

As Public Relations Officer to The Magic Circle, I was caught up this week in the media interest that surrounded Daniels' decision to add one of his wigs as a lot (notalot? – no, we’ve already done that one) on an eBay auction of his old magical props and equipment.  The Sunday Telegraph spotted Tweets by Daniels that were designed to alert magicians to his latest sale.  In a bid to make a story out of this they quizzed me extensively on Friday afternoon and again on Saturday morning as to whether this broke The Magic Circle’s secrecy rules.  Neither my insistence that it did not break the rules, nor Daniels declining initially to comment, stopped them striving to make the story stand up.  Then, early on Saturday afternoon Daniels made a rather mischievous move – he added one of his old wigs to the auction and posted a picture of himself wearing it. 

Spotting this, I texted the Sunday Telegraph to alert them to the latest lot.  NOW there is a story, I said, hoping to deflect them from the secrecy angle, but knowing it was really more tabloid fare.  By this time The Sunday Telegraph had commissioned a political cartoon on the topic and a lighthearted leader comment so they weren’t going to back off.  Furthermore, it was getting a little late for Sunday deadlines, so the wig angle crept into the story as a bit of an afterthought. 

I thought the tabloids would jump on this and my Sunday afternoon would be spent fielding calls.  In fact, everything remained quiet and it stayed that way on Monday, with bids for the wig reaching no more than £53.  Finally, on Tuesday the media woke up to what had been under their noses for some while and the story ran in the Daily Mail, the Sun, the Star and many others, with the wig as a lead and some of my original comments about the magic props tacked on at the end.  William Hill were even offering odds on Lay Gaga wearing the wig at the Grammy Awards. By Wednesday afternoon bids for the wig had moved into the four-figure bracket.

Clearly, there are plenty of PR handling issues here, but I am mainly focused these days on Presentation Skills.  I always say to the people I am training that you need some kind of a ‘device’ that attracts attention initially and then fixes a distinct memory of you in the minds of your audience.  This device, I say, can be very simple and I point to Michael Grade and his red socks.  When he went to America he was unknown and he soon realized he needed a way to fix himself in the minds of his targets, so he took to wearing red socks.  This was considered at the time to be a rather eccentric Brit trait so it was distinctive.  And it did the trick; he would call people and his British accent would get him over the first hurdle.  Then they would say: “I know you, you’re the guy with the red socks”.  Job done! 

We’re talking differentiators here and the need for such a device becomes particularly acute when you are pitching for business.  As I moved from the PR world into the training arena I did some work advising clients on their choice of PR consultancy and as a starting point I recommended they visit several contenders in their own offices.  That way my clients could get a feel for the people and culture at different consultancies before inviting a small selection to visit their own office to make a pitch.  My clients dutifully came to town and called in to see the consultancies on my list and I then called the next day to hear their initial reactions.  What invariably happened was that they remembered one person and one fact from each place they had visited and then got everything else muddled up!  The reason for this was that, realistically, there was little to differentiate one offering from another.  Had one of them employed a simple device to ‘fix’ themselves in the minds of their potential new client they could have been ahead of the game. 

And that’s what Paul Daniels finally achieved by adding his wig to his eBay auction.  For three years he has been busily selling all kinds of magical apparatus on eBay without anyone paying much attention.  Now the world at large knows that he is an active EBay seller and they will remember the fact – and talk about it – for some time to come.  Furthermore, it also achieves what a really good differentiating device should – it says something about the person or organization concerned.  Arguably Daniels wigs said rather too much about him in the days that he actually wore them.  What the wig sale says now – in addition to attracting attention and fixing a memory – is that here is a man alive and well and prepared to share a laugh at his own expense.  And this comes at a time when – with magic back on prime time TV for the first time since Daniels’ last shows in 1994 - perceptions of the man could easily have been more along the lines of ‘sad old has-been’.  Good on you Paul! 

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