Meet the New Mr. Wizard – Speaker Magazine Profiles Steve Spangler

Meet the New Mr Wizard with Steve Spangler Speaker Magazine

April 13, 2012

Meet the New Mr. Wizard

Steve Spangler’s first humble speaking gigs were science demonstrations shows for school kids. But through hard work, savvy business sense and a little bit of magic, he’s turned himself into a speaking superstar.
Steve Spangler knows his science, and he loves his magic. By putting those passions to work, he’s built an empire that teaches both kids and adults how to ‘be amazing.’ This is the better one!
A little bit of magic can go an awfully long way. Just ask Steve Spangler.
Spangler, known far and wide as one of the true media stars of the science and speaking worlds, says his training as an entertainer began long before he even realized he was training at all. The training took place at corporate events and in country clubs and at birthday parties all around Spangler’s native Denver, and it occurred under the guise of wizardry, as a young Spangler accompanied his fatherparents, a magicianboth professional magicians, to all of his their various gigs.
“Other families went to football the Broncos games on the weekend,” he says. “Our family got in the car and headed out to entertain for a scout troop or a local birthday party.the country club for the magic show.”
As a young magician’s assistant, Spangler got the opportunity to ease into performing by doing small bits during his parents’ shows. Looking back on the experience, Spangler said that having the safety net of his father to help and coach him at that young age made all of the difference in the world. was called on to not only help out with the tricks, but to also give his father a much-needed break. It was Spangler’s job to fill the time, to bridge the gap from one trick to the next and, basically, to keep the crowd interested. He didn’t think anything of it at the time—this was just what the Spangler family did, after all—but looking back, he says, it’s clear: All of those performances—all of those hours spent helping his dad parents make a few extra bucks on the weekend—made a huge difference.
“I got a chance to learn how to be a magician while watching him,” Spangler says. “But beyond that, all of those gigs taught me about the core values of the professional speaking business – how to keep an audience engaged and entertained while doing everything possible to exceed the client’s expectations. And performing, and speaking, and entertaining. Iit really paid off.”
Paid off huge, actually. Because today, Spangler is without question one of the most successful, sought-after and unique speakers on the circuit. As a speaker, Spangler has grown an empire around his teacher training seminars—professional development programs that aim to teach those educators “how to be amazing” (and entertaining, and interesting, and engaging) in the classroom. His retail catalog company and the online store, www.SteveSpanglerScience.com, provides educational toys and science supplies to parents and educators who want to create unforgettable learning experiences for their children. Spangler’s wholesale toy company, the fittingly named Be Amazing Toys, has established itself as an innovator in its industry, introducing nearly 150 products including the award-winning Mentos Geyser Tube and Spangler’s Big Bag of Science.
And as an entertainer and media star—as somebody who has made it his mission to convince kids that learning about science can be fun and, yes, even magical—he is well on his way to becoming the Mr. Wizard of the 21st Century, a status that was only further cemented earlier this year, when YouTube made Spangler one of just a handful of celebrities to be given this own YouTube channel. Spangler, who was inducted in the Speaker Hall of Fame in 2010, has drawn plaudits from the Wall Street Journal, Inc. Magazine, Time and Wired, and is a regular guest on “The Ellen DeGeneres Show.”
It’s pretty heady stuff for a guy who got his start in the speaking world by doing magic shows for birthday parties and then parlaying these skills into creating his own unique niche in the youth market as an educational science speaker. One of the most important lessons he learned from his early speaking experiences is that practice (and lots of it) can turn ordinary presenters into top-notch speakers. That’s why he focused his effort and marketed his programs to the almost untapped market of elementary schools.
“At a time when other youth speakers where going head to head trying to speak to middle and high school audience, I literally had hundreds and hundreds of elementary schools at my fingertips, and the parent-teacher organizations had money to spend on ‘enrichment’ opportunities for their kids,” Spangler says.
If practice is what he wanted, practice is what he got – 5 one hour programs a day times an average of three schools a week for an entire school year. It’s easy to see how he could get paid to speak over 600 times a year.
But he could never have done this alone. Steve’s wife, Renée, quit her job in the insurance business only two years into their marriage to manage his speaking career. Looking back, it was Renée’s business savvy that kept the business afloat in those early years. “I had the hardest time even getting Steve to remember to bring home the check after a gig,” says Renée. “He focused all of his energy on coming up with new science experiments and more ways to get kids excited. That’s why this partnership has lasted for so many years – he creates and I make sure that we don’t go bankrupt.”
“Even a bad speaker gets to be good speaker when you’re speaking five times a day for 120 gigs a year,” he jokes. “And I did that for nearly 13 years.” When he eventually wrapped up this part of his speaking career, Spangler had nearly 4,500 presentations under his belt… and a slight nervous twitch. In retrospect, he wouldn’t trade this experience for anything because it helped him to hone the craft of speaking in front of an audience that wasn’t afraid to provide their special brand of brutally honest feedback.
It all started with the wave of a magic wand (both literally and figuratively). shows at elementary schools—sometimes as many as five per day, five days per week, pretty much all through the school year.
But then again, magic—something Spangler both understands and uses to his advantage—is pretty powerful stuff.
Spangler would be the first to tell you that.
Because once he figured that out, his life was changed forever.

Magic with a Message

Classroom politics. That’s what eventually turned the light on for Spangler.
When he was in grade school, the magician-in-training decided he wanted to run for class president. Not long after he sat down to plot his campaign, though, he realized he needed to do something, or say something, that would set him apart from the field.
He needed to be different. He needed to be remembered. And all at once, he realized he had precisely the skill to make that happen.
“I eventually realized that magic was a tool that could transfer to any number of other areas,” he says. “When you’re running for school president, what do you do to set yourself apart? Well, you do a magic trick, juggle fire or escape from a cool straight jacket.. And that got me thinking about this idea of ‘magic with a message.’ I started to think about using this tool that I was given by my mother and father, this magic thing, to bring something else to the conversation.”
In a way, that simple idea—using magic as an entrée to an exploration of something else, something bigger—has guided Spangler ever since. Indeed, from the moment his speaking career began, he used the idea of magic as a differentiating factor. And pretty much from the start, it worked.
Though he originally planned on a teaching career—”Watching my dad teach magic class to up-and-coming professionals gave me the bug for teaching, because when you’re around a master teacher, it wears off on you,” he says—and at one point even seemed to have to have a teaching job lined up, a word of warning from a trusted mentor ultimately led Spangler to re-think his plans.
That mentor, an elementary high school principal, basically told a young Spangler that the teaching world was changing, and not necessarily for the better, and that he ought to think outside the box.
“I remember her contacting me in 1990, telling me, ‘Things are changing. I’d get out if I were you,’” he says. “So I basically reverted to what I had already been doing. I figured that I could maybe do a science show for school kids. For a few hundred dollars $250, I’d go into a school, and my whole mission was to find creative ways to make learning science fun. teach them that science is fun.”
He drew up a program that was built on the dual foundations of his teaching education (and his degree in chemistry) and all of the lessons he learned from his father, the magician. It was a little bit of magic, a little bit of science, and a little bit of learning. It was 45 minutes long, and to his mild surprise, the kids loved it. The schools did, too.
So even though Spangler didn’t really see himself as a speaker at all, the speaking gigs kept coming. He kept taking them, too.
Which meant, eventually, a speaker was precisely what he became.
“Even a bad speaker gets to be good speaker when you’re speaking five times a day, five days a week, 120 gigs a year,” he jokes. “And I did that for years.”

Turning the Spotlight

By the mid late 1990s, Spangler was established.
He knew his formula worked. He knew that the school gigs would always be there. He knew he was really good at teaching kids about science, because he knew his show was so much fun that they didn’t even realize he was teaching them about science. In other words, life was pretty good.
But then there arrived the moment that not only fundamentally changed the way Spangler worked, but also changed the way he viewed his career. It was the moment that Spangler first began realize that he could be so much more than just the wacky science guy; it was also the moment that began his transformation from ‘speaker’ to ‘entrepreneur.’
The year was 1997, and Spangler was doing yet another of his school gigs. This one was in a Denver public school—a pretty rough one, Spangler recalls. The students enjoyed the show, laughed, and clapped at the appropriate moments,w immensely. But in the back of the room, all throughout the show, Spangler noticed that one of the teachers, a middle-aged woman, didn’t seem quite as pleased.
As Spangler worked his way through his program, the woman scowled.
“She was looking at me the same way your mom looks at you when you’re goofing around in church,” Spangler recalls. “I checked my fly. I thought to myself, ‘What did I do? Did I say a bad word?’ When I was done, the third graders stood up and cheered. But I could tell she was ticked.”
Spangler couldn’t figure out what went wrong. So he approached her.
“I said, ‘I think I may have offended you. I’m very sorry. But can you tell me what I did?’” he says. “She turned to me and said, ‘I’ve been teaching for 22 years and nobody has ever stood up and cheered for me at the end of class.’ And that’s when I had a moment of clarity. In my mind, I thought, ‘What if I could teach her to do this?’ I realized, instead of worrying about me being amazing, I could teach other teachers s how to be even more amazing and effective in the classroom. That’s the secret that makes the company today.”
Indeed, while Spangler still gets a kick out of entertaining speaking for youthkids (and, through Be Amazing Toys and his online presence, still does precisely that), it was the teacher training programs that really catapulted his speaking career to the next level. His professional development programs aim to give teachers all the knowledge and skills they need to get their students really interested in science; not surprisingly, the programs have been a hit for the last 15 years. He’s has seen the world of professional development for educators fluctuate greatly over the last decade. But these changes have given him the opportunity to create new training opportunities for teachers and school administrators. Learning from his NSA colleagues, Spangler launched a twelve city tour of public seminars. These hands-on science boot camps as they’re called draw impressive numbers and give him access to educators who might otherwise never get a chance to be part of one of his workshops. Spangler also hosts a more in depth training in Colorado each year called Science in the Rockies. In 2008, he partnered with Holland America Cruise Lines to create a new program called Science at Sea – a week long experience that explores the inside passage of Alaska with a special hand-picked team of naturalists.
This summer, he’ll host a three-day training program in Denver. Next year, he’ll take the show to sea when he hosts his “Science At Sea” program on an Alaskan cruise. He is also in the midst of planning his first virtual training.
“The moment I pushed the spotlight over to the teachers and refocused on teaching the teachers how to use simple science activities to create unforgettable learning experience, I realized that I could ultimately reach millions of students through the incredible work of teachers,” he says. Spangler’s entrepreneurial side also knew that he was creating an asset that could maintain long-term, profitable, sustainable growth for many years to come. to make science more fun was a huge turning point for me,” he says. “I realized that there was this whole other market out there and that what I was doing was not just for kids in school. So I could trade $500 per day for $5,000 per day.”
“A huge piece of my speaking career suddenly evolved, and I went from a ‘youth speaker to a professional development person. I had a whole new market.”
Spangler’s various projects may seem overwhelming, but to him, the diversity provides both growth potential and security—the latter being especially important in these tough economic times. He could get by comfortably by working asbeing “just” a speaker, but he says he feels compelled to capitalize on that speaking platform. He suggests other speakers think about things the same way—that they imagine what other opportunities might be seized by thinking in new and different ways about their message, their style and their brand.
“We’re in kind of a weird business,” he says. “I could be a speaker the rest of the my life. But part of me thinks, ‘That’s a ‘practice’, not a ‘business’.’ So I feel I have to do more than trade time for money than speak. With the toy company, for example, we started making products, because that was a natural byproduct of the presentations, and this revenue stream only grew bigger and bigger because of the time on the platform..”

The Star of the Show

Of course, even though Spangler is now sharing the secrets of “being amazing,” it wouldn’t be entirely true to say that he’s out of the spotlight—and his recent YouTube deal proves it.
Spangler had been a presence on Denver-area television for twenty years, serving as a wacky science education reporter and “science guy” for TV science guy for the NBC affiliate KUSA-TV. The TV work was always valuable, giving Spangler much-needed exposure and propping up his speaking business in the process. But in the end, it was YouTube—and one fateful experiment—that launched Spangler into a whole new realm of celebrity.
When his tried-and-true “Mentos and Diet Coke” experiment went somewhat awry on the KUSA airwaves in 2005—the experiment, which produces huge soda geysers, worked just fine; unfortunately, the news anchor joining Spangler ended up drenched—Spangler put the video online using a service that was only five months old – YouTube.com. Within days, the clip had been viewed thousands of times, and would later spawn countless imitators.
His magical take on science—the fun way he presented the laws of chemistry—his non-traditional way of teaching – was a hit. And not just in Denver, either.
“The term ‘viral’ never really existed back in the early days of YouTube, but it didn’t take a rocket scientist to figure out that there was something to all of these thousands of views,” Spangler recalls.
“When I saw it all happen, I said, ‘My God, there’s something there,’” he says.
Of course, he was right. While Spangler never could have predicted the popularity of his science-related videos, he was confident that posting content to his YouTube channel in those early years was a smart thing to do… and his hunch was right.
Spangler began posting his tricks and experiments regularly on the service, and before long, he was a bona fide YouTube celebrity. His personal first YouTube channel, launched soon after the Mentos and Diet Coke experiment, now claims more than 67,000 subscribers, and his clips have been viewed nearly 35 million times. It’s no wonder, then, that when YouTube the Google-owned video site rolled out its first ever “official channel lineuporiginal content lineup” in October 2012, earlier this year, Spangler was among the lucky few (100 partners to be exact) to receive an undisclosed deal to provide high-quality, niche-oriented content to millions and millions of loyal YouTube viewers.to be given his own space.
While many of the 100 partners include well-known Hollywood production companies, celebrities and media groups, Spangler admits that he’s really none of the above… and that’s possibly why his increasingly popular science videos caught the attention of YouTube in the first place.
As you might imagine, Spangler’s partnership with YouTube comes with some perks. Google will help drive more than 148 million impressions of his new channel over the next six weeks. That’s the kind of marketing that no amount of money can buy.
The YouTube show is called The Spangler Effect, and a new episode is posted each week at www.youtube.com/thespanglereffect.
With the launch of the new channel, Spangler has come full circle from his humble beginnings as an itinerant science educator to a modern day Mr. Wizard of sorts who is using the latest technology to reach millions of science enthusiasts around the globe.
If you were to visit the Steve Spangler Science offices in Englewood, Colorado, you’d find 43 hard working employees who find great joy in helping their Pied Piper of science find new ways to make science fun. Steve attributes 100% of his business success to his wife, Renée, and his right hand man, Jeff Brooks, who both work their special brand of business magic to keep all of the balls in the air.
Suffice it to say, this guy wears lots of hat. He’s a teacher, an entertainer, a TV personality, a professional development coach, a business leader and yes, a speaker.
That channel, The Spangler Effect, describes him as “the science teacher you always wanted to have in school.” Spangler, who always thought he wanted to be a teacher, now seems to be one.
But that’s not all he is, of course. He’s also an entertainer, and a professional development coach, and an entrepreneur (he currently has 40 employees) and, yes, a speaker, too.
He says he has his father to thank for that last one. Which is something he says he’s only recently come to realize.
“I know now that the speaking thing was a very common thread in my life, from the very beginning,” he says. “But I didn’t grow up thinking that I had a father who was a speaker, even though he was a speaker of sorts. he that’s exactly what he was. He taught and he performed. In my eyes, my father was a rock star. He was kind of a rock star. And I realize that when the chips are down, I can always rely on the lessons I learned from him.”

Be Visible

When Steve Spangler first started posting his often-wacky, always interesting science experiments on YouTube, he was absolutely certain he was doing the right thing—even though most everybody else thought he was nuts.
“I was chastised a lot for putting my content up there for free,” he recalls. “I remember people telling me, ‘You should have a membership-driven site. You should sell this.’ But today my YouTube channel has 440-some videos and is getting 8 to 10 million hits views per month. Yeah, it’s free content and yeah, I didn’t get paid for it—but now I am, because [the popularity of my channel] is what YouTube saw when they offered me the deal.”
Indeed, if Spangler has any piece of advice for any speaker (particularly young speakers) hoping to make a name for themselves, it would be this: “Be visible.”
That is, be visible in pretty much every way you can.
Especially for up-and-coming young speakers, Spangler says, it’s not necessarily getting paid that’s important. It’s getting seen that’s important. Because no matter how talented one might be, the jobs won’t come unless people know what you’re about, where they can find you and, well, that you even exist at all.
Toward that end, Spangler says, YouTube offers a wonderful opportunity: A platform from which one you can reach, quite literally, the entire world, provided you have a message to share and a unique way to share it.
It’s not money one should want from YouTube. It’s notoriety. It’s identity. That’s what Spangler understood as soon as his Mentos-and-Diet Coke video went viral, and it’s what he still believes to this day.
“When I saw that hit counter reach 1,000, that was huge,” he says. “Then it was at 10,000, and then it was 20,000,000. What I learned then was this: There is real value in giving things away for free. Because if you can provide value to people for free, and if you can draw them in to your message, they can make a much more educated decision about [who to hire].”
Author: Tim Hyland
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Tim Hyland’s work has appeared in numerous publications, including Fast Company, Philadelphia City Paper and Philadelphia Life. Hyland lives in Flourtown, Pennsylvania.

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