Marketing Lessons from a Sword Swallower – @roderickrussell

Roderick-Russell-PinterestWe’ve all wished at one time or another that we could read people’s minds in order to understand them better. But since that’s unlikely to happen in the near future, how else are we supposed to uncover the secrets of human behavior?

The message and impression that we give off dictates the type of clients and prospects that we attract. When we learn how to weed out the clients that aren’t a right fit for us, we’re able to choose our own clients versus letting them choose us.

Roderick Russell is a professional sword swallower, mind reader, stage hypnotist and speaker, who is driven by a desire to help others discover their own inner remarkable.

Rich: Hey everybody, today I’m here with my friend, Roderick Russell. Roderick is a professional sword swallower. That’s a great business card to have, by the way. He’s also a mentalist, a hypnotist and a speaker. He’s driven by an intense desire to explore the fringe of human experience. Dedicated to uncovering the psychology, biology and neuroscience of what makes us all extraordinary. He entertains and informs through onstage demonstrations, seeking to inspire all of us to discover our own inner remarkable.

The author and host of Remarkably Human Radio, his work has also been featured on the Discovery Channel, the Travel Channel, CNN, MTV, Maxim Magazine, Ripley’s Believe It Or Not and more, such as the opening act at the 2nd ever Agents Of Change Digital Marketing Conference. Roderick, welcome to the show.

Roderick: Hey Rich, thanks for having me.

Rich: It is a pleasure. We’ve been friends now for a while and one of the things when I was telling people about the first time we met, was that you swallowed a 26” sword, and I said at that time that was the least interesting thing he did all day.

Roderick: Which is a great quote that I’ve been using everywhere. So thank you for saying that.

Rich: My pleasure. I’ve been using it everywhere, too. So one question I’m sure that everyone who doesn’t know you would have is, how and possibly why did you get into sword swallowing?

Roderick: I will try to keep this as brief as possible, being mindful of the time we have, but it is actually a long story. Believe it or not, though I perform on stage for a living now, when I first started pursuing sword swallowing it had nothing to do with performance whatsoever. I was not a stage performer, I was just at a certain point in my life where I wanted to explore what was possible for myself. And I had no particular interest in sword swallowing in and of itself, but I had an interest in putting in front of me obstacles that seemed impossible and potentially filled with intense fear and danger.

Now I’m not an adrenaline junkie or anything like that, but I do like the idea of taking calculated risk to achieve extraordinary miracles. So I started doing progressively more dangerous things in my own life just to see if I could apply my own mind to overcoming these fears and obstacles. Believe it or not, it sounds kind of strange to say, but sword swallowing was the next logical thing.

Rich: I think we all would have gone there, so, yeah. Alright, so the sword swallowing was pretty intense. Maybe we’ll put into the shownotes for this episode the highlight reel from Agents Of Change where we can see you slowly swallowing a sword. I think people would want to check that out.

Roderick: What a great crowd that was.

Rich: Now you stated that you’re not a mind reader. I didn’t just blow your cover, did I?

Roderick: Not at all, in fact I’m very, very open about that. I call myself a “mind reader”, but I don’t even believe in ESP or anything supernatural like that. I think there’s plenty of natural things that we’re unaware of that may seem supernatural, but science is slowly leading the charge to uncovering those. But in terms of mind reading itself, everything that I do onstage is psychological in nature.

Rich: That’s what I find more interesting, Although, to be honest, if you were a psychic that would be totally cool. So you’re not a mind reader but you are obviously very astute at picking up body language and understanding people and getting to the heart of the matter. So I’m guessing that skill came from years of practice. Do you have any tips you can share with us that the average person might be able to pick up and use in their daily interactions with people?

Roderick: Sure. Well, you’re right, it does come from years of practice. But importantly – and I stress this – it comes from years of trial and error. There’s lots of error in the beginning, and I suspect everyone trying to get into a state of a more highly sensitive position to interact with people will experience error more than a positive outcome. And don’t let that dissuade you.

There’s lots of books and videos and courses on body language signals to watch out for, but they’re a mixed bag. Nothing is universal, every person is a little bit different, there’s a certain general architecture to the human brain and the human body and how we act in the world but it’s not exact, there are certain, subtle variations.

So at the end of the day, what I always tell people and what I do myself, is literally just go with your gut. If you’re interacting with someone and you get a feeling, it’s probably right. You’re picking up on all sorts of subtle cues all the time unconsciously – whether or not you notice them in your conscious mind or not doesn’t matter – you feel them through your unconscious mind if you are mindful. So combining the mindfulness with that gut sensation will steer you in the right direction.

If you’re talking to someone face to face and they’re seeming a little bit closed off – some of the standard signals are crossed arms, hands in their pockets – somehow blocking their energy from you, those are the signals that you would consciously look for. But unconsciously, if someone does that, you feel that they’re closed. So go with your gut, that my most important piece of advice.

Rich: That actually reminds me of something I read where if you’re doing a presentation in or at a meeting and you’re trying to get somebody to open up and buy from you and they’re crossing their hands or legs, one of the best things you can do is hand them something. They’re forced to take it and that changes their body language and that sometimes will send a message to their brain to be more open to other things as well.

Roderick: Exactly. Because the brain goes where the body leads it, and vice versa. So you can influence your mood and behavior in both directions. So if you want to feel more confident, stand up straight, smile, it really does work. It sounds so simple and stupid, but it’s true, you really do.

Rich: It is true. It’s funny, when I used to do medical sales, one of the things that I would do before I went in to a new prospect or a new client is I would say something stupid like, “You’re really positive and people are psyched to see you”, and it sounded so lame. But what happened is, it sounded so lame I’d start to laugh, and so when I walked in the door people actually thought I was in a good mood and that definitely opened up other people to what I might have to say.

Roderick: Yeah, it sets off this cascade of not only emotional and psychological changes, but physiological changes, too. Your posture changes, your blood distribution changes, your circulation changes, your heart rate changes, everything changes.

Rich: I’ve seen you do a couple of different presentations, and one of the things I’ve seen is more on the hypnotism side. You – as many hypnotists do – persuade members of your audience to take certain “desired actions”. Now obviously, we’re not professional hypnotists, but how do you get people to take a desired action? Obviously as a marketer I’m interested in getting people to take a desired action because I want to help people. But I’m just kind of curious, do you have some tactics from the stage that we can use in our everyday life?

Roderick: Sure. And this is really key because this really does apply to all the marketing, social media, contracting, sales pages, everything. And I’ll speak from my position as a stage hypnotist providing entertainment on stage. What I do is I create a cooperative environment. I am authentic, I invite people up to the stage knowing full well that what we are doing we are doing together. I often say, “I don’t hypnotize you, I’m only there to put the proper words in the proper place at the proper time.”

And if the person is willing and they concentrate, they actually self hypnotize themselves, they bring themselves there. And I prepare them by letting them know all of this. I tell them that, “You’re the one that’s going to hypnotize yourself, I’m just guiding you there.” And we have a mutual goal, our goal is a shared goal, our goal is entertainment. The goal is to have a good time. And so we go into it with everything on the table, despite how mysterious it may look. They know that they’re there to have a good time, they’re there to relax and go with the flow and open themselves up and let it happen. And I am very free with sharing that information and telling them that this is what we’re doing. So it’s a cooperative relationship. There’s nothing shady or weird going on behind the scenes, literally what you see is what you get. I think that’s very important to remember in any sort of marketing.

If you’re trying to pull a fast one on someone, you’re trying to trick them or fool them, you’re going to flop and fail. You need to go into it with your eyes open and with their eyes open, knowing that as a cooperative goal you’re working towards. And that goal can’t be ego driven, it can’t be driven by your product or the sale that you want to make, it needs to be driven by a mutually acceptable goal of – in my case – people wanting to have a good time on stage. In the case of selling or marketing a product, the goal is not to sell the product, the goal is to help the customer.

And that’s what you need to keep in mind. If everyone goes into it with the goal of helping the customer, sales, marketing, it all takes care of itself and falls into place. Just as when I get someone on stage, if we go into it with the goal of having an entertaining time, everything else falls into place.

Rich: Absolutely. So if we’re keeping our eyes on the prize – which is helping our clients – which of course comes back and helps us in the end, and we’re working cooperatively with our clients, we are going to reach that goal more often than not.

Roderick: Exactly. And too many people confuse the goal of their job. A good salesperson doesn’t confuse the role of their job, but lots of salespeople do, they think that the goal is to get certain numbers, to sign up so many people, to sell so much of the product. And that’s not the goal at all. The goal is to put yourself out there and to be an authentic, valuable resource. And when you do that – it sounds like secret, positive thinking stuff – but when you do that, the universe does come back and provide for you. In this case it’s your customers providing for you because you’re a trusted resource.

Rich: It’s definitely a challenge and I’ve been there. When you run a business for 18 years there’s a time when you want the short term reward, you really want to close this client or this prospect and turn them into a client, and sometimes you feel like it may not be the right fit for them but there’s that desire or urge to close the sale. And yet, when you are actually in those positive spaces where you’re like, “How can I help this person best?”, that’s actually when some of the best business happens.

Roderick: Yeah. And what you said about it not being the best possible fit for that client, that’s really important to focus on for a moment. When I’m performing the stage show with the hypnosis, whether I’m on stage performing or whether I’m booking or contracting a show, what’s important for me to remember is the whole idea of the “red velvet rope policy”, and what’s best for the client. If I’m onstage with someone that I’m hypnotizing, there are some people that are more open to it and more easily put under than others. For the sake of the show, sometimes I do have to be a little more direct with someone and put them under a little more forcefully and spend a little more direct time with them and make sure they go under. But even though I spend extra time with that person on a stage full of 25 people, if I have to spend time with one person to make sure that they go under as far as I need them to, they’re still never the best person on stage or the standout star. It’s the same with booking the shows.

If I don’t choose my clients and allow my clients to choose me because of a good pre-existing relationship or we know it’s the right fit, then there’s going to be problems every step of the way. So it’s important to know that you are serving that customer before you ever want to sell that product, because sometimes just selling the product to anyone can actually come back to bite you and make way more trouble than it’s worth.

Rich: I will tell you that with all the experience that we have at Flyte New Media, that has come back and haunted us so many times. We have certain red flags that we set up now where if there are certain things a prospect will say to us or certain questions they ask, we just know they’re not the right client for us. They’re probably a great client for somebody else – or at least a headache for somebody else – but at least it’s not my headache. So for us it’s red flags.

You talk about Michael Port’s “Red Velvet Rope” (note: “red velvet rope” is a reference from Michael Port’s book, Book Yourself Solid), you talk about not chasing your audience. Can you just expand a little bit on that?

Roderick: Sure. Well, the “red velvet rope” policy is really simply making sure you know what your ideal client is, and only let those people into your inner circle. Make those people the people that you sell to. It’s sort of like setting up that red velvet rope and just not letting everyone in. It’s a very simple concept. Weed out the bad people and don’t work with them. And what was the second part of your question there?

Rich: Just if you could expand on the idea of this red velvet rope, and actually, one of the questions I had was how do you select the volunteers you bring onstage? I’ve definitely had problems once a project starts where I realized they weren’t the right client for us. So are there specific things that you’re looking for in a volunteer that I might be able to extrapolate when I’m looking at potential business of whether this person’s a good fit for me? How do you know right off the bat whether or not somebody’s going to be a good volunteer or not?

Roderick: It’s a tough question to do this sort of backwards translation from the stage show into marketing, but you said it yourself, you have some flags that you look for. I set up tests in my show. I set up a very specific series of tests. The show starts before I ever walk on the stage. The marketing represents me in a certain way and pumps me up in a certain way through the introduction and by the time I enter the stage, people have a certain idea about me. So already I’m beginning to have people self-select, and that’s important. The marketing message that you put out there will allow people to self select them as a customer.

Rich: Oh, I love that right there. So for people out there who are listening right now, your marketing needs to be very authentic. And that’s a word that’s overused these days, but in this case it’s very true. If you’re out there saying, “Use us because we’re the cheapest” or “Use us because we’re the most detail oriented” or “Use us because we’re the most irreverent and you’re going to have a lot of fun”, those are very different messages. And if you are saying something that is not true, you are going to attract the wrong type of clients to your business and it’s going to be an uphill battle the entire way.

Whereas if you say, “Hey, we’re really focused on your bottom line” or “Hey, we’re really focused on providing you something that’s going to be prestigious and make you stand out in your industry”, and that’s a true statement, then you’re going to attract those types of people to you.

Roderick: You need to be very clear about your reasons. And you can’t choose your reasons based upon what you think is going to sell the most product. You need to sell the product in a way that resonates with the way that you and your team works. So you need to be clear about what message you put out there.

One of the things I do, for instance, is I step on stage and I say, “I’ve been performing this show for over 14 years and I’ve hypnotized a lot of different types of people. One thing I like about working with people like you is you tend to be very intelligent.” And I put that out there and sort of say that everyone is intelligent, but what that does is certain people in the audience are going to sit there and think, “I don’t think I’m that intelligent.” And so they’re going to start to weed themselves out and think maybe they’ll just watch the show rather than volunteer when the time comes. And the whole introduction is peppered with little cues like that to help people weed themselves out.

Describe your ideal audience. Who is your ideal audience? If you describe it, the people that match that description will identify with it.

Rich: Absolutely. It’s interesting because I’ve been told that people who are too intelligent can’t be hypnotized, but what you just said made me think almost the opposite is true.

Roderick: Well here’s the thing, the most important part of hypnosis is having the ability to focus. Anyone can become hypnotized, but if you lack the ability to focus, then you’re going to be miserable at it. So whereas someone with ADHD, for instance, not on their medications I may be able to hypnotize them in a one on one situation because I can make it highly customized to them. But in a group setting, it’s sort of like a shotgun blast, I need to hypnotize 25 people all at the same time with the same set of words. So I need to get just the right people. So if I have people that are drinking too much, they can’t focus. You can perform a show for people who have been drinking a little bit, but there’s a tipping point. If you’re too intelligent, than you might get hyper-focused in the wrong way, that’s one thing that often happens. The amount that you focus only matters so much in so far as can I get you to focus on the right thing.

So if you’re focused on, “Is this working, is this not working, is this working?”, then it may not work for you. But if you’re hyper-focused on my voice and following my instructions, then it’s going to work for you.

Rich: Awesome. One of the blog posts that I read of yours over at Chris Brogan’s Owner Magazine, you talk about “mastering the mystery. And it’s what you don’t say that matters. What in the world of content marketing are you talking about?

Roderick: Wow, that’s a good question. It was a while ago that I wrote that.

Rich: Well, you know I do my research, man.

Roderick: Anything that I say at this point is going to be completely fresh off the top of my head, so I’m going to have to go back and read that. That’s going to be fun for me. “Mastering the Mystery”, well especially with the mind reading show, sometimes there’s absolutely nothing going on onstage. I will be looking someone in the eye and I’m creating a moment, where people assume that somethings going on. I prey on their presuppositions. I set up these situations where a silence can be interpreted as a moment where something intense is going on, where in actual fact I’m just being a good actor on stage. I’m not doing anything at all, I’m just giving space for that moment to happen.

I’m very big into being authentic – I agree that word is overused – but I am very big into being authentic. But everything we do in this life is not always about revealing all your cards, it’s about telling a compelling story. And sometimes telling that story means holding some things back and letting people interpret things in their own way. And that’s the big thing, letting people interpret things in their own way.

In my business, the magic happens in the person’s mind. It doesn’t actually happen on stage, it happens in the audience inside their skulls. And so I need to give that space for it to happen for them. And I don’t like to preach to people and tell them what to think, because that just destroys everything. And when people come to the conclusions on their own it makes it that much more powerful.

So by creating the mystery and leaving space and not saying anything at all, you’re allowing people to be their autonomous selves and read into it, as is our natural inclination. And that, oftentimes, makes things much more profound than they actually are. Case in point, when I’m standing on stage looking someone in the eyes and I’m literally doing nothing,but everyone assumes that something extraordinary must be happening.

Rich: That’s really interesting on a couple of fronts. First of all, I was just thinking that your dramatic pauses might be like white space on a webpage, in terms of letting people come to their own conclusions.

But the other thing is, I was thinking about this story I heard once about a salesperson who was always pretty successful but never hugely successful. And he goes in to do a pitch and he comes down with laryngitis right before he goes in there. And he goes in and he shows a couple slides but he can’t talk. And so all of a sudden all of the other people start filling in the blanks for him, they weren’t really all that interested in what he had to sell, he basically can’t say anything. They do all the talking, they convince themselves, and they end up giving him the business. And from then on he completely changed the way he sold, and from then on he would let other people come to their own conclusions, and that way he didn’t feel like he was forcing anything on people. Basically they came to their own conclusion, whether that conclusion was to do business with him or not. But there seems to be some sort of parallels going on here.
Roderick: That’s brilliant, I love that. It’s sort of that prestige suggestion. One of the things I do onstage prior to coming on is the introduction. And it’s usually a pumped up sort of introduction that talks about my credentials, I walk onstage with confidence, I look good and dress well.

Rich: You’ve got amazing hair. Just throwing that out there.

Roderick: Thank you very much. If I recall, you gave my hair its own introduction at the Agents Of Change Conference. So that whole idea of prestige, I haven’t even said a word but I walk out on stage and people already have this idea about me, and it’s crafted such that it’s a very positive idea and they want to have fun. They implicit trust me because of what has been said by others and the way in which I carried myself on stage with confidence. And so without saying anything, and long as they are inclined towards going toward your end, then they will bring themselves there without you saying a word.

By the time I get onstage, people are already 9/10ths of the way hypnotized. And then getting them onstage and actually hypnotizing them is just almost for theatrical effect.

Rich: And that obviously has some parallels with the whole content marketing idea. We create really valuable content and we answer people’s questions and we figure out which also will attract the right type of clients. By the time they actually fill out our contact form, again, they’re 90% of the way there.

Roderick: Yeah, they’re deciding for themselves. I mean, how desperate does it look if you’re constantly trying to market and make yourself sound good and show people all the amazing products and services that you have and offer? It looks desperate, I mean very desperate.

If you put out helpful, useful, valuable information on a regular basis and just become a trusted resource – because you are genuinely trustworthy – then when they are ready, you don’t have to chase after them at all. Because when they are ready they have self selected. They will pick up the phone, they will email, they will contact you, and you don’t have to market at all.

In fact, here’s a funny thing, I have not marketed my business in years. Not actively anyways – in a traditional sense – without sales letters, cold calls, cold emails, none of that. For many, many years now. Now I’m not endorsing that. In fact, I’m looking at my business plan now and wondering if I could benefit from reach out campaigns here and there in the future. But for years I’ve been surviving very well, very comfortably, just by providing valuable services to people and letting that fire of interest spread. Everyone that hires me, that works with me, comes to me. I do not come to them.

Rich: That’s awesome. And of course that’s what I think most people want. We talk about how to reach our most ideal customers, but really what we want them to do is to reach out to us.

Roderick: Exactly.

Rich: Hey, Roderick, as always you’ve provided some great advice from a very unique perspective. I want to thank you for that. If people want to learn more about what’s going on in your life and what you’re doing, where can we send them?

Roderick: I am on Twitter at @RoderickRussell and at the Remarkably Human podcast. And if you’re interested in checking it out, I have photos of the crazy things I do onstage that can be found at

Rich: Awesome. Roderick, thanks again for your time and all of those links that Roderick shared with us and the full transcript is going to be available in the show notes.

Roderick, thank you for stopping by today.

Roderick: Thank you, Rich.

Show Notes: