According a recent post on popular magic blog, The Jerx, the real distinction between the professional and amateur magician isn’t the money lining the former’s pockets, but the context of their work.

“Are your performing theatrical/presentational magic, or are you performing social magic?” it asks.

It’s a rhetorical question, so don’t answer that, and you probably shouldn’t be answering questions posed to you by magic blogs on the internet anyway, but if you are a budding trickster looking to get down and dirty with close up social magic, The Jerx does have some advice.

I can sum up the most basic elements in one easy to remember cliche: Be yourself.

Yeah, I know, you just sighed your pelvis out through your nostrils. Everyone breaks out that old chestnut at some point. I’ve lost track of the amount of people who’ve told me to be myself, only to ask me to stop being myself ten minutes later, but in this scenario it’s solid advice. The key to social magic, according to our mysterious tutor, is the illusion of spontaneity.

Social magic should resemble a normal, casual conversation right up until you draw the right card, pull a coin from somewhere a coin should not be, or saw someone’s wife in half. Keeping things natural isn’t just about execution, it’s also about context. Spontaneous patter and choice trick selection can be the difference between your audience talking about the magician they just met in a tweet or in a police report.

The key mistakes that budding social magicians make most often are:

Overly rehearsed patter: You want your presentation to flow like a conversation, not like a performance of Henry VIII. Keep it light. Take a cue from The Incredibles and don’t get caught monologuing.

Forced Jokes: Notice how reading this article makes you want to push me into a ravine? That’s all the forced jokes eating away at your patience. Same goes for magic patter. Funny people don’t need jokes to be funny. Unfunny people can’t use jokes to be funny. Cut them out.

Repetitive Tricks: The longer a trick goes, the less spontaneous it appears. Pulling someone’s card from their pocket is cute, exhuming their dead grandmother and finding their card clutched to her cold, skeletal breast is a bit much. Pushing a trick too far or having an obvious structure to your performance will leave close audiences uncomfortable rather than amazed.

And that’s just a surface level summary. The post goes into an impressive amount of detail about the structure and psychology of close performances. You can read the full thing here.  

Magic shops and inventors love to push new gear—of course they do, that’s their whole job. But how do you know if that hot new effect is actually worth picking up and learning because it’s good and not just because it’s new? To make that decision, magic blog The Jerx puts new gimmicks through a routine they like to call “The Green Grass Test”. From the post:

I think, as magicians, it’s easy to get caught up in the new thing. At least it is for me. And when I see the “new” thing it’s very easy to fall into the trap that this new thing is better than whatever dumb old thing it’s replacing.

One day I realized that was a very magician-centric style of thought. I was purchasing variations on effects just because they tickled my fancy (as opposed to my spectator’s collective fancies).

So then I came up with the Green Grass Test to prevent myself from falling into the “newness” trap. The test is simply this: When a new trick is released that is a variation on an older trick—or that creates a similar effect as an old trick—I imagine that the new trick is the old trick, and the old trick is the new trick. And then I determine which one I would be drawn to…The purpose of this is to try and figure out if I’m drawn to this new version because it’s new, or because it’s genuinely better.

They then go on to use a trick called Off World as an example. It’s a new spin on the Out of the World routine that’s recently been making the rounds on the internet, and people seem genuinely impressed by it. But The Jerx decided to flip the script: what if Off World was the trick that’s been around for decades, and along comes Out of this World, which pulls off the same effect without any special gimmicks. Which is more impressive?

Of course, the question is rhetorical, and your mileage may vary—the brand new trick may actually be more visually impressive or otherwise better for the audience—but it’s a good thing to keep in mind while load up your online shopping cart full of new tricks to learn during the holiday shopping spree.