Blog with Paul Gertner

The Show in Your Mind

How “Your” Show Differs From The “Actual” Show

A number of years ago, I had the opportunity to work with Bob Fitch, the well know actor, magician and director during a short theater run in upstate New York.  We worked on my 90-minute one-man show, Ten Fingers, for a full week.  We had the full run of the theater and we would rehearse during the day and then we would videotapePaul Gertner's Ten Fingers show poster the performance at the theater each evening. During this week, I learned something about my performance that I was shocked to learn. It was such an eye-opening revelation that it literally changed the way I viewed my performance and it certainly changed the way I rehearse for a show. What I learned is something I think every performer can benefit from so I’d like to share it with you today.

The first night after the show I walked off stage and I said to Bob, “That went great!”  There was a slight pause… he smiled and nodded his head and then he said:  “Yes it was very good… but I want you to go back to your room and watch the tape tonight.”  I told him I was a little tired and that I’d check it out in the morning, but he said, “No… I want you to watch it tonight… while the show is fresh in your mind.”

Now one of the things we had been working on in rehearsals was trying to get my performance to be more conversational.  Trying to get me to slow down and talk TO the audience not AT them.  (Rushing through a performance is a habit of mine… something I believe I developed from working at trade shows where the audience can walk any time they want.  Performers at trade shows often find themselves speeding through a show in a misguided attempt to hold the audience.)

The difference in performance

Paul Gertner performing at the salut to magicBut I was paying Bob good money to direct the theater show so I did as he requested. I went back to the hotel room, turned on the video, and on the small camera screen I watched the show I just performed a few hours before and I was shocked at what I saw.  It was NOT the same show I just did.  I was racing through tricks that I thought I had performed at a much slower pace.  Was I really working that fast?  It was rather strange. Perhaps the video was playing on a faster speed?

This same sequence of events happened the next evening.  After I finished the show I said to Bob: “That went great, now that time I really slowed down.”  And again Bob would smile and say:  “Watch the tape.”  I went back to the hotel room and again watched a show that was different from the show I had just performed.  As I viewed the recording I began to recite my lines out loud at the pace I thought I said them on stage that evening… but the video on the playback was always performing at a much faster pace.  I was still not talking to the audience—I was talking at them.  Something was wrong.  This went on one more evening and I noticed the guy on tape was starting to slow down… but still the video I watched in the evening was not quite the show I remembered doing just a few hours before.

Learning the magical lesson

Granted it took a few days but finally the light bulb when on.  When we met the next morning for breakfast I said to Bob: “I think I know what you are trying to teach me.”

He gave me his Yoda like smile and said: “And what would that be?”

I said:  “There are two different shows going on here… right?  He laughed.

Bob was trying to teach me that when we perform there are TWO shows going on.  There is the show in our mind and there is the show the audience sees.  The two shows are NOT the same.  The audience is notPaul gertner performing his Ten Fingers show always seeing the show in our mind, that is the ultimate perfect performance.  That is the one we are striving to achieve each time, but often we fail.  The show in our mind is the one we think the audience is watching… but often we are fooling ourselves.

And that is the reason that you must videotape as many shows as you can and review them right after your performance.  Now I can hear what 90% of you just thought when you read that last suggestion…


And my response to that comment is going to be very brutal… but very honest.  The reason you HATE watching yourself on video is because when you watch yourself on video you are seeing exactly what your audience is seeing each time you perform.

Paul Gertner performing cups and steel ballsOuch!  That hurts right?  But it’s true.  They are seeing all the verbal tics, the ahs, ums, you knows, what I’m gonna do, awkward pauses, repeated phrases that are part of your show.  And these things are hard to watch and that’s why we don’t like watching ourselves on video.  My audience was not seeing a conversational performer speaking to them in an engaging manner. They were seeing someone racing from trick to trick.  But that’s not the show I thought they were seeing.

And the only way we can come closer to the ideal show… is to study what we are doing on each and every show.   A video review of each show is critical.  Why do you think David Copperfield tapes every show and reviews the parts he is trying to improve before he comes out to sign autographs?  If it’s good enough for David, it’s good enough for me.   The goal is to bring your actual performance closer and closer to the perfect show that you imagine your audience is seeing, and when the two come together not only will you know it, and feel it, but when it happens, your audience will be seeing you at your very best.  They will be seeing … “The Show in your Mind.”

Paul Gertner is nationally recognized speaker and corporate magician, whose honors include multiple Tonight Show appearances, performing at a presidential inauguration, and winning three international competitions. He can be hired as a trade show magician or keynote presenter. For more information, visit


Posted in Trade Show Booth Ideas on August 1, 2017 by Paul Gertner.

17 Responses to The Show in Your Mind

  1. Michael Vincent: August 1, 2017 at 8:08 am

    Dear Paul
    I want to thank you for writing this.
    From the very first
    Moment I met Alan Alan and Cy Endfield, they forced me to SLOW DOWN. Alan encouraged me to videotape my performance for the exact same reasons you have spoken about. I like to think I am a little better than I was even at this stage of my life. Even so, I still take into account what my mentors passed onto me.

    Slow down, be conversational, share, respond build rapport with your audience.

    Kind Regards
    Michael Vincent

  2. Paul Gertner: August 2, 2017 at 8:49 am

    I agree. That slow down and be conversational was so hard for me Eddie Tullock used to come up to me after my trade show set and say “Where are you going after the show?” I would say nowhere. And he would say in a loud voice. “THEN SLOW DOWN!” Happened over and over. When you see Derek DelGaudio nail that slow conversational style in a show you can see how powerful it is. Skinner was slow and conversational and his magic was enhanced by it too.

  3. Mark Yeager: August 1, 2017 at 8:34 am

    WOW……What great thoughts on performing. I videotape every performance, but rarely watch it immediately after the show. This is one think that I will implement RIGHT AWAY……Thank you Paul and Bob!!!!!

  4. Paul Gertner: August 2, 2017 at 8:44 am

    Thanks Mark glad you enjoyed the Blog Post. I did find that watching it right away made a big difference. I was able to check things our that happened in the show that I might not have remembered the next day. It really was eye opening.

  5. Daryl Howard: August 1, 2017 at 12:00 pm

    Paul, Thanks for the suggestion to video tape my shows. Jeff McBride recommended that to me years ago, and it has really helped. Believe it or not, mirrors can lie, but a video camera never lies!

  6. Roy Eidem: August 1, 2017 at 12:24 pm

    Priceless advise Thank you so much!

  7. Paul Gertner: August 2, 2017 at 8:42 am

    Thanks Roy… glad you enjoyed the Blog post.

  8. Al Callus: August 3, 2017 at 2:24 am

    Great advice. I always videotape my rehearsals. My problem is the opposite. I’m slow and need to punch it up a bit and add more energy. I have found this immensely rewarding.

  9. Paul Gertner: August 8, 2017 at 11:10 am

    Thanks Al. Glad you enjoyed the article. Here is an interesting experiment. Set up a camera and film a 5-10 minute bit of your act but really play it “OVER THE TOP” No one will see this but you. Really push yourself and pretend you are Tamariz or David Williamson and go over the top. Then watch the tape and I’ll be it is not nearly as over the top as it felt when you were doing the trick. Our perception of how big we can play is limited my our own assumptions. We can all play a little bigger… it might feel it’s TOO big but usually it’s not. It’s just more alive and in the moment.

  10. Geoff Williams: August 3, 2017 at 3:06 am


    Thanks SO much for writing this! I observe so many people (myself included) rushing through routines/lines as well as talking AT the audience.

    I also video every show I do and it certainly helps immensely. I was able to cut out most of the “um”, “Okay” and “uh” words I was inserting as verbal filler. Sometimes I’ll review a recording with my eyes closed as I can focus just on the audio (and it’s even MORE obvious when I’m in error).

    Video may have killed the radio star (according to the Buggles) but it has fixed much of my show.



  11. Paul Gertner: August 8, 2017 at 11:05 am

    Geoff, You are very welcome… glad you enjoyed it. I agree, sometime just hearing an audio version of the show is even better. So easy now to set up an iPhone in the corner and just record it and review it. Also great if you just happen to get a huge laugh from the audience and you want to understand exactly what happened so you can add it to the show. I need all the laughs I can get.

  12. Bruce Morehouse: August 3, 2017 at 4:02 am

    Bruce Morehouse

    I’ve video taped my performances several times and have not liked what I’ve seen. Your article is right on, and I’m glad you wrote this. I will work harder to be the performer my audience wants to see.
    Thank you.

  13. Paul Gertner: August 8, 2017 at 11:02 am

    Bruce, I agree it’s hard to see ourselves on video because it’s brutal… it does not lie. But the good part is once we are aware of once of those “habits” by seeing it right in front of us it becomes so much easier to correct. I used to say “You Know” every few sentences but never knew it till I saw it on video.

  14. Michael Clayton: August 3, 2017 at 4:52 am

    Best article. I always try to video every performance and review it as soon as possible. In regards to being more conversational, I’ve found that I can be more conversational as I gain confidence that comes from plenty of practice and performances. It tends to help me to slow down and be more interested in the audience rather than getting through the moves. I might even prefer to use the word comfort over confidence.

    Another factor that helps is having a genuine concern and respect for the audience. Everyone in your audience is a unique person that has chosen to lend you their time hoping that you will share something of value. Simply being able to set aside our own ego and stop worrying that the trick may go wrong, helps me to be genuinely interested in the audience and environment. I am not as uptight if someone says something or some noise interrupts, either way I can think clearer and sometimes have funnier and engaging responses.
    But, as you’ve stated the video helps capture all of that from the audience perspective and recall what we cannot from ours.
    Again, this is the best article and wether your a magician, presenter, teacher, or story teller video is a must for your bag of tricks.

  15. Paul Gertner: August 8, 2017 at 10:59 am

    Michael, Thanks for the very kind and well written comment. I’m glad you enjoyed the article The Show in Your Mind. That need to be conversational is so important… if you look at all the stars like Johnny Carson to Jimmy Fallon they have all mastered it because audiences feel like they really know the person. Too many magicians hide behind the tricks and forget that there is a person performing the trick that the audience would like to get to know… if they are willing to be a share a little of themselves.

  16. Eric P Meredith: August 18, 2017 at 8:10 am

    Mirrors lie, videos don’t. I was surprised to see that I would blink or glance away (self-misdirection) when practicing before a mirror, but when watching myself on video, my ‘invisible’ moves were glaringly obvious, my stutters, and slurs were juvenile, and my voice is awful.

    It sounds narcissistic, but now I video everything; speeches, corporate presentations, magic, martial arts, everything that constitutes a performance, because the camera doesn’t blink.

    I agree with your post and the comments above, i.e. what you sense as a do-er during a performance (even practice) is not the reality your audience experiences. Get over your self consciousness and use video.

    Now, if I could just get used to sound of my own voice from the outside (It’s dreadful!).

  17. Paul Gertner: August 27, 2017 at 3:52 pm

    Eric, so true. The pass looks almost invisible if you blink each time you do it when watching in a mirror. The ideas that what you sense while performing is not exactly what the audience sees was a very eye-opening revelation. It changed the way I work and practice.

Leave a Reply