As my coworkers and friends all know, I am a magician. Yes, an actual magician (albeit, a volunteer one). Magic is the perfect outlet for my creativity; it’s a performance puzzle that mixes mechanics and sleights with storytelling and adaptability.
Through magic, I have learned many lessons that translate nearly seamlessly to my personal and professional life.
In this post, I’ll outline the top five lessons I have learned that can translate to success in client and account management. Being in a client-facing role, in particular, I have found many of my acquired performance skills can be put to good use in meetings, presentations, and day-to-day client dealings.
Invest in your skills
We’ve all heard the phrase “practice makes perfect,” but for me, nothing exemplifies the power of practice quite like magic.
I started with zero magic skills. During the learning process, I got frustrated frequently. When the pandemic hit and my magic visits went on hiatus for over a year, I got rusty. The way I refreshed my skills and got better was through repetition and practice.
I see lots of parallels in client management. There are a set of core skills that you can develop and hone, such as presenting, giving feedback, conflict resolution, and project management. But without the time and energy investment, these skills can atrophy. Part of the challenge is being willing to put yourself out there and recognizing you might stumble—while remaining open to learning! I led a training on how to run an effective meeting with my team and even the most seasoned facilitators remarked on picking up a new trick or two to add to their toolkit.
Prep is invaluable, but so is flexibility
During my magic lessons, I was prepped to handle nearly every scenario I might face. I memorized scripts for tricks; I learned how to recover from a mistake, and practiced handling unique situations or reactions. But even with all that preparation, I still ran into situations that stumped me or that I hadn’t planned for.
In these moments, I discovered the importance of adaptability.
Adaptability is key with clients. Projects rarely go exactly to plan. Meetings can veer off course. Opinions and ideas could arise that may make you rethink deliverables. The key is to pair this mentality with accountability. It’s a balance: have flexibility without losing the structure that will keep the work moving and on track. So, come prepared for your presentations and check-ins, but be open to making adjustments for unknowns that may arise.
Know how to read the room
Being perceptive creates powerful moments. Sometimes I come into a room and notice a patient (I do magic in hospitals) may be: in the middle of dinner, engaged on their phone, looking a bit worn out, or eager to engage. Each of these scenarios impacts which tricks I perform and how many, and even how I choose to speak. By picking up on cues in the room, I might decide when it’s best to wrap up and leave or push through something to stay.
These perception skills are beneficial in meetings and are rooted in being a good listener and observer. By reading non-verbal cues, you can get a sense of when folks are mentally checking out or reacting in some way. This forces us to switch tactics or adapt our style, such as taking a beat to pause for questions or prompting someone else in the room to contribute. Ultimately by listening to our clients, we can deliver a better outcome in the moment and the long run.
Respond and match energy
Similar to the above, picking up on a “vibe” really guides my instincts in how I’ll perform. Do I need to inject energy to lift the mood of someone who seems receptive? Should I make more jokes to get the participant to laugh and have a moment of release? Should I keep my delivery smaller and intimate to not turn off the viewer? Should I crouch down near the person to decrease the space between us and get more on their level? By understanding another’s energy and mood, I can try and deliver what they need or what might be best for them at the moment.
In client relationships, I like to take the same approach. Rather than forcing clients to conform to my preferred communication style, I try to get a sense of how a client likes to communicate and adjust my style to match theirs. Different client engagements require different approaches, so try to meet clients where they are at the moment. A big part of this is leading with empathy.
Create opportunities for empowerment
In a hospital environment, a young patient has little control and authority over their situation. They are often told what to do, so when doing magic together, I like to create as many moments of empowerment as possible—when a patient has the ability to make a choice.
Creating moments of empowerment is a healthy practice with client teams as well. For example, allow junior team members or those who worked on a deliverable to talk about it directly with the client, so they have a moment to shine. Similarly, as a client leader, it’s your job to help make your client look good to their bosses, so do what you can to give your client the tools to do just that. In client work, when your client wins, everyone on the team wins.
Client management is both a challenging and rewarding practice. My work with clients constantly teaches me new things about the way I work and communicate. By remaining conscious of these lessons, I can deliver a better experience for my clients and continue to grow my skills.
If you want to learn more about how I put my actual magic skills to use, check out Open Heart Magic.