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Elements of Surprise and Mystery Make Business Events Memorable

By Sandy Asirvatham

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It began the same way it had last year--and the year before, and the year before, and the year before that...

After cocktails, you and your co-workers were herded into the dining room for the regional sales meeting. The guest speaker had been flown in from company headquarters.

As he began speaking, it was clear he knew the company inside and out. He launched into discussing "strategic outlook."

Then he asked a provocative question: "Wouldn't it be wonderful if you could read your customers' minds, and knew what their objections and concerns were before they articulated them?"

He polled the audience for a list of the five most common concerns that customers express. As people called out from their seats, the speaker jotted their responses down on a pad of paper. Then he called upon the young account manager sitting next to you. "Mary, I'd like you be the customer, and pick one of these concerns. Don't say it out loud yet."

The speaker starred one of the items on his yellow pad--although the audience couldn't see which one. Mary then announced she was thinking of the word "Dependability."

The speaker turned his pad of paper around. "Dependability" had a big star next to it. The audience gasped collectively.

How did he do that?

The speaker continued, and said anyone could learn to read minds at an upcoming training course.

But one after another, his demonstrations became more unbelievable. The guy was truly psychic! People were laughing and clapping; their eyes were wide with shock at every new revelation, every correct guess the speaker made.

Half the people at your table thought he was a plant, a hoax, a big joke. But then again, they wondered, would our traditional, often humorless company really plan something like this?

The other half was dying to know when the training 

course started.

Element of surprise

When magician and mind reader Dick Steiner does his "executive impersonations," days can pass before everyone realizes they've been had.

Steiner fools people because he's a low-key, conservatively dressed, middle-aged man. And he does a great deal of research beforehand to sound like a true company insider. "I read the annual reports, articles from the Wall Street Journal, the organizational charts--anything to really get a handle on the company," he says.

All this planning makes an impersonation more costly than Steiner's traditional mind-reading act. But he finds that companies are willing to spend money to spice up the corporate message.

And many companies today, Steiner says, will choose off-beat, but professional, performers to enliven an official event with laughs and good cheer--not to mention, an element of surprise.