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PhotobucketProfessor Al Leonidas, a Miriam College teacher and magician, sent in a question that I found to be a hard nut to crack:

Master Leo, how long should a magic show for children’s party last? What’s the ideal length of time for such shows?

Only a college professor can think up a question as difficult as that.  It’s hard to answer because the experts that I consulted don’t agree on the exact attention span of children.

For that is what the question boils down to.  It boils down to children’s attention span, a phenomenon whose length the experts cannot agree on.

PhotobucketSome experts suggest that an average child’s attention span is measured in few minutes, as in very few minutes. In layman’s terms, it  is about as long as the age of the child.

In general, a people’s span increases with age. A two-year-old may have an attention span of 1-2 minutes, while adults can have spans of 20-30 minutes.

PhotobucketYears ago, I read somewhere on the Net that the Disney company, which caters to children and family entertainment needs, identified the children’s attention span to be about 30 minutes. Children’s entertainers, who take their cue from Disney, concluded that is the reason most Disney television cartoon shows run for only 30 minutes.

PhotobucketAuthor Jeff Davidson, in his book “The Complete Guide to Public Speaking” , claims that people’s attention spans are at 7 minutes.  He writes, “People’s attention spans are decreasing to all-time lows. If you’re in front of a group and you don’t have something humorous to say at least once every seven minutes, you are going to have a tough time.”

He could be talking about magic and magicians and not only about public speakers.  If you don’t have something more entertaining than the 21 Card Trick, expect to lose your audience in seven minutes.

And we are talking about adult audiences here.  You have even lesser chance of holding your audience’s attention if it were made up of children.

The reason that experts could not agree on the exact length of time that people can focus on a certain task is that attention span varies according to the conditions the person is in and what the person is concentrating on. For instance, a child watching a cartoon show may stay glued in front of the television. The same child, however, will leave his seat to get ice cream while a magician is performing Hippity Hop Rabbit.

Wikipedia has an interesting take on this (you should often read Wikipedia when you are not practicing your Elmsley count to feed your brain).

It say, “Attention span… varies with age. Older children are capable of longer periods of attention than younger children…Most healthy teenagers and adults are unable to sustain attention on one thing for more than about 20 minutes at a time, although they can choose repeatedly to re-focus on the same thing. This ability to renew attention permits people to ‘pay attention’ to things that last for more than a few minutes, such as long movies.”

Or long card tricks.

Wikipedia, then, serves up a thought-provoking information on attention span: “… people are generally capable of a longer attention span when they are doing something that they find enjoyable or intrinsically motivating.

For us magicians, let’s take a cue from what Wikipedia teaches us.  Make your magic enjoyable. The more enjoyable it is, the longer you will hold people’s attention.

TP Great Debate Pictures, Images and PhotosIt used to be that people’s attention spans were longer. Neil Postman writes in his book, “Amusing ourselves to Death” that “the attention span of humans was considerably longer years ago.” He cited as example  the Lincoln-Douglas debates in the 1800’s. They were read from paper, and the reading lasted for hours. Postman writes that amazingly, “the people stayed, listened

and paid attention.”

Today, no one can hold people’s attention by reading to them for 8 to 10 hours.  I doubt a magic show could survive that long. That’s because the modern human being’s attention span and ability to stay focused is more diminished today than it was years ago.

So to sum up, children’s attention span is as long as their age. A magic show for 10-year olds should, therefore, be only 10 minutes.

Disney Company, however, says that children can pay attention up to 30 minutes.  If you follow Disney’s example, build a show that runs no more than 30 minutes.

On top of all this information, here’s Leodini’s personal take.  A magic show for children is basically only 30 minutes.  But I go to great lengths to make it enjoyable, fun, amazing and entertaining, so I can breach the 30-minute limit of children’s attention span.

Why?

Because the parents watching with the children will feel shortchanged if I only perform for 30 minutes.  As adults, parents only have about 30 minutes ability to stay focused.  But they also have the capability to refocus and renew attention.  Once in a while, their thoughts wander, but if I make my show enjoyable, I can get their attention back as often as they go astray.

That’s why my magic show for a family type audiences runs for 45 minutes to one hour.

That is my short runabout answer to your question

At least now you will agree with me that I’m a genius.

Anybody with a contrary opinion will not get their rabbit.

Stay magical,

Leodini

www.leodini.com

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