Common Sense: How To Treat A Volunteer Part One

Magic Facebook pages have plenty of questions. One recent poster asked for resources on “how to treat a guest up on stage.”

The first answer was “common sense.” I laughed when I read it, because while it was both 100% correct, it was a little short on specifics.

So in the spirit of helpfulness, please consider this post a “resource” and an expansion of “common sense.” Not a comprehensive resource, but a few basic things points to navigate treating a volunteer the right way.

Important disclaimer: I am NOT offering RULES for how YOU must treat a volunteer on stage. Nope. This topic, more than most, is character driven and venue contextual. What works works. This is simply how I live it.

And the chorus sang “Your mileage may vary.”

So let’s tackle this from the spectators’ view with a helpful metaphor.

Treat guests on stage how guests would want to be treated in your home.

Guests want to feel safe.

“Aw, come on, I know you’ve never had sushi, but at least try it!”
“Aw, come on, I know you’ve never had gas station convenience store sushi, but at least try it!”
These two sentences are not the same.

Do we need to treat a spectator with a 100% kid gloves? No.
Is it wrong to take them out of their comfort zone? No.
Is it OK to make them feel endangered? Also no.

These things are easier to illustrate through examples.
Asking a guy shove an envelope down the front of his pants in a cards across routine might be out of his comfort zone, and there are a ton of variables to consider, like the age of the performer and spectator.1
Asking someone to shove their hand down on a possible spike is making them feel endangered.

Think of it like hosting a dinner at your home. Would you consider offering food way outside your guests usual palate? Sure.

Would you serve something that could make them sick. No.

Guests want to be safe.

In 2022 I emceed and performed in the IBM national convention “close-up” show in Atlanta. Fun show. Great performers. I put close-up in quotes because it was on a “stage” with video enhancement. And I put stage in quotes because it was a typical corporate/hotel event riser with …the usual semi-rickety steps. I don’t think they were unsafe, but I do think they might feel that way to someone not 100% confident in their walking.

I noticed these steps as we were prepping for the show. I imagined spectators, some in their seventies, having to navigate these steps alone. Not on my watch. So after I introduced each act, I didn’t go backstage. I went down to a seat reserved for me in the front row. This way I was able to offer a supportive arm to every ascending and descending spectator, something that would have been very awkward for the performer to do because of the layout of the stage.

Guests don’t mind being a little goofy, but they don’t want to be humiliated.

Ever celebrate a birthday at a Mexican restaurant? The waiters come over, sing happy birthday, slap a sombrero on your head, and take a pic.

Is this a little goofy? Of course. Humiliating? Unless you’re a complete stiff, no. The well chosen magic equivalent of the sombrero can be a fun thing.

So how many spectators get insulted by magicians attempting to be funny? I’m not saying some good natured ribbing with a spectator is bad. On the contrary, it’s how I pay my mortgage. So how can we know when the line is crossed?

If the spectator and audience enjoys the exchange, it’s good.
If the spectators could justifiably bristle, it might be bad.2

Guests want to feel the evening is planned & organized.

“Welcome to our home. What do you want to eat? I got some Beefaroni in the cupboard. For dessert, we can dip some Oreos in Cool Whip!”

You know, there’s a lot to be said for a having a well-written, time-tested script. It can keep a performer from looking like a bumbling schmuck.


Keeping up the party hosting metaphor, this post dwelled on how to avoid being a bad host. Next post will talk about how to be a great host.

Until next time,

Doc Dixon

PS: While you’re here, be my guest3 and check out the store:



1 For the record, I don’t do this gag, but it’s a common one and therefore an easy illustration.
2 I write “justifiably” because like you, I’ve seen spectators be offended for “reasons” that defy common sense. If a spectator runs because the playing cards are “of the devil” well, that’s on them.
3 See what I did there …

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