Not OK

O and K are probably the two most abused letters in the English language. In many magic performances, virtually every sentence is littered with “okay”. At best, it adds nothing to our performance, and at worst it undermines the impression we are trying to leave.

OK is a classic example of a space-filler; that is, a word which has no inherent meaning in a sentence other than to buy us time while we think of what to say next. In almost every case, the removal of “okay” would change nothing about the sentence other than making it less bloated. Just as we aim to get rid of extraneous moves and procedures in our magic, we owe it to our audiences to do the same with our words.

However, in the case of a magic performance, “OK” can have an even more pernicious effect. The meaning it is intended to convey is that everything is above board – indeed, the roots of the word go back “all correct” (originally written “orl korrect” back before spellings were formalized and before spellcheck had been invented). In the context of a magic show, everything we says falls under scrutiny. By saying “OK”, we are inviting the audience to challenge the truth of what came immediately before. This is made worse by the fact that it is often said with a slightly less-than-confident rising tone which gives it the quality of a question.

For example, if I say “your card is in the middle, OK?” the response that springs to mind for most spectators (even if they don’t say it out loud) would be “probably not”.  By trimming the fat, we are not only making our words more effective, but also eliminating any room for doubt.

These are not the only space-fillers you will find in the performances of many magicians. In fact, there is a good chance that you yourself are guilty of a great number of them. Unfortunately, since space-fillers are largely unconscious, they can often fly under the radar. It is impossible to fix a problem we don’t know we have, so the first step is to become aware of them, ideally through recording our own performances. Once you have shone a light on the problem, you are more than half way to solving it.

Let’s all work together to keep our magic space-filler free, okay?