A little more back story, further to last week’s post where I was getting excited about presenting at the amazing EG (Entertainment Gathering) conference.
The EG essentially grew out of the now-legendary TED conferences, founded in 1984 by Richard Saul Wurman. Richard ran TED until about 2002, at which point Chris Anderson took over as curator.
A few years later, Richard put together a gathering more in keeping with the original smaller TEDs (which used to be capped at around 800 people, rather than the 1500+ they run to now). The first EG ran in 2006, before Richard handed it over to Michael Hawley who has organised it since then.
The EG has quickly gained a reputation as being one of the best kept secrets in the conference world, and according to many people is even better than TED.
I wasn’t aware of any of this back in October last year. One morning after performing my post-fire shows at The Magic Castle, I received an email from someone called Michael. He said he’d enjoyed my performance, and seemed to be inviting me to some kind of conference he organises. It sounded interesting, so I clicked on the link he’d helpfully included.
The list of past presenters read like a veritable who’s who list of people I admire. Just for starters, in no particular order:
- Joshua Bell (world famous violinist and participant in one of my favourite experiments of all time)
- Freeman Dyson (legendary quantum physicist)
- Michael Moschen (one of the most artistic and innovative jugglers in history)
- Tim Ferriss (author of The Four Hour Work Week)
- Natalie Tran (aka Community Channel, star of Australia’s most successful YouTube account)
- Adam Savage (MythBuster, enough said)
- Matt Harding (of Where The Hell is Matt fame, and someone who inspires me deeply)
- Jim Steinmeyer (author, magic historian, illusion designer, and the reason David Copperfield managed to make the Statue of Liberty disappear)
- Bill Nye The Science Guy (Bill Nye The Frigging Science Guy!)
- James Cameron (made a few movies, hung out underwater recently, kind of a big deal)
- Matt Stone (50% of the creators of South Park)
- Matt Groening (creator of Futurama, oh also that Simpsons show)
- Nicholas Negroponte (founder of the MIT Media Lab)
- Yo-Yo Ma (legendary cellist, surprisingly cool about regularly being called “Yo Mama”)
- Teller (half of Penn and Teller, and one of the performers I admire most on the planet)
- Neil Stephenson (author of my absolute favourite novel of all time)
And those were just the ones that first jumped out at me. Not to mention all the other artists, scientists, humanitarians, creators, leaders, heroes, and generally astounding people who I was now being offered the opportunity to present in front of.
In the conversations with Michael that followed, he revealed that he likes the presenters to not just share their work, but also share something of themselves and what matters to them. After giving him an abbreviated version of my life story as food for thought, he asked me to talk about something that it had never occurred to me to talk about before.
Specifically, the story of quitting a well-paid Fortune 500 job to follow a dream.
Really? People were going to be interested in that? I’d have thought it would be far more engaging to talk about some of the work I was doing to make magic less insular and more open, or some of the innovative ways I’d been finding to enhance audiences’ experiences of the impossible. I figured that people quit their jobs all the time, and my story couldn’t be that unusual.
But Michael sounded confident, and I figured… you know what? This is a man who has organised one of the best conferences on the planet for the past five years. He’s far more likely than me to know what will work there. If in doubt, trust the guy who is far more qualified and experienced than you.
And, after months of preparation leading up to 20 minutes on stage in front of the most amazing crowd I’d ever presented for, I realised that Michael had been absolutely right. The story really did hit home.
Talking to the other attendees afterwards, the quantity and intensity of positive feedback truly overwhelmed me. People were saying how inspired they were, how much the story resonated with them, how much they enjoyed the illusions, and so on for the next 36 hours.
I was a little dazed by it all.
Then there was the experience of attending the EG itself, which warrants a whole article of its own. Everything I saw there was so remarkable that it’ll probably take me a while to make sense of it all.
So, while there are many morals to the story of the past few months, the one that really jumps out at me is this: it’s easy to get so caught up in your own personal world that you lose sight of how it looks to other people. What seems mundane to you may be amazing to others, and vice versa.
And if a remarkable person with the credentials to match tells you that your story may be more interesting than you think, it’s probably worth listening to them.
Thank you Michael; it was absolutely wonderful.