Magician Vinh Giang: Showmanship should be the trick up your sleeve

Vinh Giang

Australian magician and entrepreneur Vinh Giang, CEO of Luminary Productions and a keynote speaker at this month’s ICBA LIVE, has more than a few tricks up his sleeve.

By Roshan McArthur

Magic is all about finding the possible in the impossible, pushing limits
and exceeding expectations. As an award-winning magician, Vinh Giang knows this well, having stood in front of many audiences, holding their attention and making them believe something wildly improbable just happened. However, he also understands the importance
of perspective and perception, and how easily we can be misdirected.

It’s this magic combination of skills that he brings to his audiences as a speaker, teaching business professionals how to aim high, change their mindset and communicate effectively. He uses magic as a metaphor, weaving tricks into his performances to illustrate his lessons. His message is compelling, helped enormously by personal charisma, approachability and a very quirky sense of humor.

The son of immigrants who escaped a war-torn Vietnam, Giang grew up in Adelaide, a city of 1.2 million on Australia’s south coast. Over the years, his parents were engaged in numerous enterprises, from grocery stores and diners to farms and pharmacies. As a result, they took full advantage of the local library, dropping a young Giang off every afternoon for a few hours of playing Snap and Go Fish with packs of cards left over from Chinese New Year.

“One day,” Giang remembers, “the librarian came up to a group of us, and she said, ‘Why don’t you try something different?’ And she handed over the first magic book I ever received, The Australian Magician’s Handbook. And that was when the world of magic collided with my world. I actually loved it so much, I never ended up returning that book. I kind of stole it. And I still have it with me today.”

Giang had his first taste of the power of showmanship, and it changed everything. “As a kid, I never got much attention, and I didn’t have a lot of self-confidence,” he admits. “Every time I performed magic, my friends or people at school would be like, ‘Wow, that was amazing!’ So I got this attention that I didn’t normally get. I was like, ‘What is this? It feels so good.’ The moment that happened, I went into a spiral of obsession and couldn’t stop it.”

A decade or so later, he had another of those aha moments. He was working as an intern at an accounting firm and was performing a trick for colleagues when a senior partner walked in. Giang recalls the incident vividly. “He said, ‘Look, in six months’ time, one of two things will happen: You’re going to quit or I’m going to fire you.’ He showed me his hands. On his right hand, he had really bad arthritis. His fingers were curling.

“Then he explained to me that, growing up, he had had this deep love for piano. He had an opportunity to play for an orchestra, to travel the world, but he turned it all down at the age of 27 or 28 to build this firm. He was now in his 70s, and he was telling me that every day since, he had a deep sense of regret. What he taught me that day was that this all ends, that everything we know in life—it ends.”

Giang paid attention. He quit college and quit accounting. In 2012, he and his friend Lenny Tran set up the Encyclopedia of Magic, an online teaching resource for budding magicians. Once it became self-sustaining, Giang decided it was time to explore the world of magic as a performer. He went on to win top awards at the Adelaide Fringe festival three years in a row.
It was there that he discovered his love for speaking, but he faced a dilemma. After a couple of years, he says, the applause started to get old.

“Because I was fooling you,” he says. “As the audience, you gave me credit for something that I did not do, because the way I actually did it was not as impressive as you thought. So, there was this disconnect for me.”

In 2016, Giang changed direction. He merged his business with 52Kards, an online magic school in the U.S., and transitioned into keynote speaking. His perspective was unique: He would translate the skills magicians use to win over audiences into communication skills for executives and entrepreneurs. His message was simple: Master your instrument.

“Your voice is the key instrument you use to connect with your family,” he explains, “to connect with your customers, to connect with your audience, to connect with the world.”

Real-world lessons

There are, Giang believes, four key lessons anyone can learn from magic.

First and foremost, technical brilliance is nothing without showmanship, which he discovered while practicing card tricks repeatedly in front of a mirror. Yes, he says, make sure you do the groundwork, but remember that you also have to make an impact on those around you. Every encounter is a performance, so make it memorable.

“Showmanship is just a word for communication skills,” Giang says. “All through our education, we are taught to focus on technical knowledge. Nowhere are we taught communication skills. Nowhere are we taught showmanship. So, we get thrust into a professional environment heavily equipped technically, and not equipped at all in terms of being able to articulate our skill set. We don’t know how to sell ourselves. It’s a balance between the two that really helps you flourish.”

Second is perspective. Magic teaches you how easily people can be misdirected. “Magicians can fool you, because you’re just looking at something from your point of view,” Giang says. “I tell people the way to solve magic is to look at things from many different vantage points. The way to solve problems in life, as well as in magic, is to look at things from different points of view and collaborate with people you’ve never collaborated with before, because they can teach you something.” It sometimes takes an outsider to see what you can’t see, which was exactly the lesson he learned from the partner at the accounting firm who allowed him to see this perspective 15 years ahead.

“Be conscious of what you want. The biggest problem people have is lack of clarity. They don’t know what they want, so they’re not moving toward any particular goal.”

The third lesson is influence. Using psychological tricks, magicians have a profound influence on their audiences, and Giang believes everyone is the direct reflection of the top five people they spend time with. “You can control who you will become in the future by controlling who you spend time with now,” he says. “Be conscious of what you want. The biggest problem people have is lack of clarity. They don’t know what they want, so they’re not moving toward any particular goal.”

Finally, believe the impossible is possible. In other words, your beliefs shape your actions. The biggest illusion you face in your life is when you tell yourself something cannot be done. Magic proves that the impossible can happen. You just have to break down the barriers in your mind.

“So how do magicians create the impossible?” he asks. “We have to give possibility the benefit of the doubt. We just have to believe it can be done.” And that, he says, is an invaluable lesson for anyone.

Vinh Giang’s top five people

If we are the direct reflection of the five people we spend the most time with, who does Giang surround himself with? Here are his professional top five, in his own words:

  • My singing teacher: Singing teachers are masters of the voice. I don’t have a singing teacher to help me become a singer. I have one to stay sharp and improve my communication skills.
  • A theater coach: I’ve done about two-and-a-half years of theater to learn how to use my body. How you use your body affects how you use your voice.
  • A speech pathologist: A lot of my students have habits I need to help them change. Speech pathologists really understand the pragmatic ways to help people change the way they sound.
  • A psychologist: Public speaking is often a crippling fear, and I’m trying to understand how to create an environment that is safe enough for people to face their fears.
  • A professional trainer: The healthier you are, the more mentally sharp you are and the better you can play your instrument. I’m on the road about 150 days a year, and you tend to eat poorly, and I started to grow an extra chin that I was not happy with.

Catch Vinh Giang at the general session on Tuesday, March 19, at ICBA LIVE 2019.

Roshan McArthur is a writer in California.