The MAGIC Formula – Dealing with a Silverback

The MAGIC formula:


Teams and Tables

I have been working as a close-up magician for the last 25 years. I have entertained at thousands of events – hundreds of tables at weddings, corporate parties and significant birthdays.

At the same time, in the other half of my life, I have led and been a member of several teams. Recently, I have been interviewing many other team leaders about their experiences and challenges. Many thanks if you are one of them!

I have observed that many of the challenges facing a close-up magician approaching a table of guests are very similar to those facing team leaders. I have also realised that the MAGIC formula may be applied in both situations.

Gorilla Warfare

In my experience,  there will almost always be a silverback male on a table of guests at a wedding.

A community of gorillas generally has a dominant male known as the “silverback” – they are older with silver-grey hair on their back. Big and tough, they want to maintain their leadership position. Humans are not that different. I’m sure we have all come across silverback males in our teams.

As I approach a wedding table, this individual will typically be holding forth, trying to maintain dominance of the whole group, making sure everyone knows they are in charge. When I turn up as a magician, it is a critical moment. Mr Silverback – let’s call him Tarquin – can make or break the success of my performance.

Stop, Think

The most important thing is for me to stop and think, “How can I be MAGIC in this situation?” Not magic in terms of what tricks I can do, but how can I Move, Attune, Give, Inspire and Connect? MAGIC.

I have to admit that public-school-educated silverback males tend to push all my buttons in a bad way. I have a state-school-educated chip on my shoulder, a knee-jerk reaction to pushy posh people that I have to get past. It only lasts an instant and then my rational brain takes over. Please understand, I know lots of posh people and I love them! Most of them are not at all pushy.

I have to prevent myself from acting on my momentary instinct. I have to pause. I have to resist the urge to compete. Taking on Tarquin Silverback will never go well. The rest of the spectators will just end up watching the fight, and no one wants to see that, especially when it’s supposed to be entertainment.

I have to resist the urge to defend myself, to use my magic and position as a weapon. It is all too tempting for us magicians to try and get one up on our spectators, to show how clever we are with ingenious tricks and clever put-downs. That never goes go well.

Alignment Assignment

What works much better is to work out what is motivating the silverback. They want to look good, how can I make them look better? How can I make them feel secure and not threatened?

If they have a guest, and they almost always will, they want to make them look great. So the most strategic move is to get their companion involved in a magic routine in such a way that makes the guest look fantastic. This way, you immediately recruit the silverback as an ally rather than a competitor because they now share a common aim. I am indebted to magician Dominic Reyes for this insight.

Work With the People in Front of You

As I have said before, you have to work with the table that you have, not the table you wish you had. Like it or not the silverback is a powerful force and it’s much better to work with him than against him.

I have to remember my bigger aim – to provide an entertaining time for the whole table so that they give me a big round of applause and cheer at the end,  which leaves them feeling happy and satisfied and makes me look great to the rest of the room.

I have recently been doing interviews with team leaders, a theme that came up, again and again, was the challenge of getting and maintaining alignment, where all team members pull together towards the same goal. The challenge of working with the team you have, not the team you wish you had.

How can you be MAGIC?

What is your aim?

Do you have a Silverback who wants to take things in a different direction? Can you find a way of working with them, instead of against them? There will be a temptation to rely on your own position and the rules of the team. But if you go down that route, you may end up having a fight and squaring off against each other. Much better to try and find a common cause, a way to get them working alongside you instead of against you.

Move, Attune, Give, Inspire, Connect.

Stop, think…

How can you be MAGIC in this situation?

Help Please!

I would like to interview even more team leaders to gain insight into the challenges they face. This is so that I can design an effective resource for use by team leaders in many different situations. I am talking to leaders of both permanent and temporary teams.

The research involves a 15-minute Zoom call. Thank you to those who have already done it – much appreciated!

Please pass this on to any team leaders that you know.

If you are a team leader and would like to help, please book in here:

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