Meet the Experts - The Exhibitor

Meet the Experts – Trade Show Entertainment with Richard Parsons

Hello Richard, welcome to The Exhibitor! Tell us a little about you and your professional journey.

I am a professional full-time magician and pickpocket. I travel around the UK and abroad performing at VIP events, exhibitions, trade shows and weddings. I’m a member of the world famous Magic Circle who only allow membership via audition – there are currently only about 1500 members of The Magic Circle in the world.

I began studying magic when a friend of mine showed me a card trick and what started as a hobby many years ago became a full-time profession, mainly through hard work building up relationships with the many different companies who now use my services as a magician at exhibitions and various events.

Could you explain us what exactly you do at trade shows?

As a trade show magician my main role tends to be attracting visitors to the booth of the company who have hired me. I do this by engaging visitors with close-up magic as they walk past and entertaining them.

At some of the larger shows with many visitors, trade show stands can be competing for attention so I use all of my personality and skills – whether it be close up magic, pickpocketing or put pocketing – to create a crowd and a buzz around the stand. I can then pass these visitors to the sales team behind me for detailed conversations about the company products and/or services I am promoting.

How do you integrate with traditional trade show booth staff tasks?

I can cover all of these areas (greeting, engaging, qualifying, making demos and capturing leads) with a combination of entertainment and confidence as the first point of contact. I find that many of the companies use office staff on their stand and from experience these staff may not have public-facing roles in their normal day to day work.

Therefore as a professional entertainer, used to public speaking, it is easy for me to engage with any visitor from CEO downwards. It is my job at events and trade shows to engage with people politely and professionally, and good social skills are a hugely important part of being a busy successful magician.

The ability to engage with people translates extremely well to the exhibition environment and this comes from a lot of performing experience.

Regarding product demos themselves…Some of my magic props can be branded with the company logo and it is even possible depending on budget to have items like packs of playing cards designed specifically for the trade show. It may be possible to do some close-up magic actually with the product (depending on what it is).

I also use tricks that are relevant to the company if possible – such as doing tricks with money or coins if it is a financial trade show. When the trick is finished I encourage the assembled crowd to have a conversation with the team on my stand if they have enjoyed the entertainment – and they always do!

Having a magician on your stand also helps to keep the audience entertained if all of your sales people are busy – otherwise they may wander off to other areas – I can hold them there until a sales person is available so that you do not miss out on leads and data capture. I can help to qualify good leads and understanding my company’s ideal target customer at the trade show helps me to determine whether a person is a suitable prospect or just another exhibitor wandering around the trade show stretching their legs!

My top tip: One way of telling the difference between a visitor and an exhibitor is that usually an exhibition visitor will be carrying the bag of freebies and brochures as they are walking around. Exhibitors for the most part will not be carrying these bags, apart from on the last hour of the last day when people want to take something home – usually for their children! Some exhibitions thankfully do help this dilemma by having different identity badges for visitor or exhibitor.

Attracting visitors to your stand becomes even more important if you have a small stand, or you have booked the trade show late and you don’t think you are in the best location – it would be my job to work hard to maximise the footfall that we do have – to the best of our ability.

How long before a show should companies contact a trade show entertainer?

As far ahead as possible!

I have done work at short notice which is fine – I understand that people monitor their budgets and then may contact me nearer the trade show when they realise they should spend more on marketing and they want to use it to make a difference. The more time we have before the show the more time I have to prepare and hopefully have a meeting with my client.

What kind of training is required to make your participation fruitful?

Gaining information from the company is absolutely vital and I take this preparation element very seriously. If the location allows I will meet with the company before the show in their offices, not only to demonstrate my skills but also to take notes and prepare my act before the exhibition.

At the very least I will have a conference call with the company and ask questions such as:

  • Where is the exhibition?
  • What does your company do? What are your products or services?
  • What are you core messages that you want to get across to visitors?
  • How many days does the exhibition go on for? Where is the stand located? How big is the stand? Are their tables? How many people will be working on the team?
  • Who is your ideal client? Who do you want me to focus on?
  • What are your aims for the exhibition? Are we making sales or are there other aims and objectives?
  • Are we focusing on data capture? If so how many scanners do we have between the team?

Example: I recently worked at a business exhibition here in the UK. My client was a social enterprise company specialising in buy-to-rent properties. I learnt that they were seeking to speak to three kinds of people at the show: Landlords; Tradespeople (e.g. electricians) and Investors so while I was happy to entertain anyone and everyone, these are the main types of visitor to that show I focused on. Even simple information such as this really helps me to tailor what I am doing at the trade show to make sure we have a successful few days.

What type of companies could benefit from a professional entertainer?

I believe ANY company at ANY industry trade show would benefit from having a close-up magician on their stand. Magic is a creative art and between us we can almost always come up with a pitch utilising magic and your product!

Personally I also have some specialist skills such as being a pickpocket entertainer.

Pickpocketing entertainment is particularly useful for Cyber Security and Security shows as it can be a fun and engaging way to show people how easy it is to ‘breach your security’. Groups of people will scream with laughter if I’m borrowing watches, phones, wallets and event ties. This type of interactive entertainment is ideal for companies involved in ethical hacking, alarms, data protection, penetration testing, CCTV, police, security, cyber security and so on. I can show the visitor in a fun way how easy it is to be distracted – and of course most of these types of cyber crimes rely on the same principles as pickpocketing in person – principles including misdirection, not paying attention and not securing your property correctly! That’s technically the same whether we are talking about your wallet or your data on your server.

Example: Last year I was hired for 3 days at InfoSec2016 at London Olympia to PUTpocket some marketing cards into peoples’ pockets throughout the three day show that advertised the cyber security company that I was working for.

This year I have already worked as a pickpocket entertainer at a trade show in London for a large data protection company.

Visitors do not forget things like that. It’s fun, unique and most other exhibition stands won’t be doing it.

Are you usually given objectives, quantified targets?

I am not usually given targets in terms of numbers and quantity. As we know the footfall can vary from show to show and even daily. I do follow the objectives we have set in place during the meeting or conference call about the type of visitor the company most want to engage with.

The Exhibitor’s prime focus is exhibitors ROI. Do you believe your intervention impacts it?

Yes I believe it increases ROI. By hiring a trade show magician you will attract and generate a lot more interest at your stand than you may do otherwise.

I am able to pose questions to visitors based on my pre-exhibition preparation and if the visitor at the stand does not want to engage I am able to politely move them on. This is crucial because it means that my sales team’s precious time at the show is spent having quality conversations with ‘warmer’ prospects who are genuinely interested in their products and/or services.

As a trade show expert, do you think the Trade Show Chronicles can help exhibitors?

I’m currently enjoying reading it. I agree with everything in it! It sounds very familiar – especially the checklist chapter. People shouldn’t just think of the actual trade show, but the hard work also starts AFTER the show has finished.

Any additional tips for our readers?

Yes…I have some tips based on experience… First of all, regardless of your company or product, try and think of investing in, and giving your visitors an EXPERIENCE during the show, not just free items laid out on the table…

I can guarantee that 90% of stands will have three things:

  1. Pens
  2. Notepads
  3. Sweets (usually jelly beans for some reason?!)

I believe a lot of these items will either be given to children at the end of the show, or end up in the bin. Giving the visitor an experience at your stand is likely to be a better use of investment.

Also really think about how your stand looks and if you are not sure hire an exhibition stand expert BEFORE the show to plan it and style it for you… do not throw it all together on the day.

Oh and one last big tip. If you are having scanners for data capture, please do make sure that there are enough scanners for your whole team! There is nothing worse than visitors just standing there as the sales person waits for the scanner to become available because they only have one scanner between five people!


Richard Parsons Richard Parsons is a busy and in-demand professional magician and pickpocket based in the UK. He travels internationally and has worked with many different companies at VIP events and exhibitions. As a pickpocket he has consulted for police forces and security companies (he uses these skills only for good!). He is a full member of The Magic Circle (London) and available to travel worldwide to work for your company at exhibitions and trade shows.
Meet the Experts – Trade Show Entertainment with Richard Parsons
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