Without a doubt, cold reading is one of the most impressive tricks up a mentalist’s sleeve. If you want to impress friends and family at gatherings or make a bit of extra money on the side, these handy cold reading techniques will come in handy. But first, what is cold reading?
Cold reading is a group of techniques that mentalists use to gain information about people. By using information gathered from body language, tone of speech, clothing, and other similar things, mentalists are able to obtain knowledge about a person without that person telling the mentalist that information.
For example, by simply observing the way a person speaks and writes, a mentalist can guess a person’s level of education. Sophisticated word choice and well-organized, complex sentences point to a particular person likely being a college graduate.
Another example would be gender. Since there are differences between male and female handwriting, a mentalist can use a person’s handwriting to guess their gender.
A common use of this cold reading technique was for seances in 19th century Victorian England. Psychics would set up a room in a way that makes the following events more believable.
Dim lights, candles, and crystal balls are employed to create an atmosphere of mystery. The psychic would then lead grieving clients to believe that they are communicating with the dead by simply using simple Barnum statements and observing the client’s attire.
A locket held tightly during the seance, for example, could contain a photograph or lock of hair from the deceased.
If you want to learn more effective cold reading techniques, you should take note of the following steps and tips.
1. Set the mood
There’s a reason Victorian psychics and mediums had a dedicated seance room in their homes and that’s because they wanted to set the mood.
Creating an atmosphere of the supernatural can help you lead your participants to believe in the act. You can go the old-fashioned route with candles and crystal balls or you can opt for something more contemporary by using nothing at all.
Skeptical participants will actually be less inclined to believe the trick if you use props. They key is to know your audience well so that you can tailor the experience to them.
2. Be confident but not overconfident
People will be more willing to believe you if they perceive you as confident. By showing your confidence, you are also showing that you have solid cold-reading abilities. This will lead viewers and participants to be more susceptible to suggestion.
At the same time, be careful not to be overconfident. Don’t make bold claims about your skills as a mentalist. This raises your audience or participant’s expectations and they may not be impressed at all by your skills.
Its best to keep expectations lower than what you can actually do because once you deliver, you will seem an even more skilled mentalist to them.
3. If you’re performing for an audience, plant a confederate
This ties in with tip number 2. If your audience sees you successfully perform a cold reading on someone who is in on the act, the more they’ll be likely to believe you.
This makes your audience just as confident in your mentalist abilities as you are, thereby making it easier to cold read them later on.
4. Pick the right participant
Say you don’t have time to prepare a confederate and you’re performing on the spot. The best thing to do is to pick the right participant for your cold reading.
When doing this, you should also employ cold reading techniques or skills. Watch out for people with closed off body language. Crossed arms and disinterested eyes can mean that the person will be a resistant participant.
You should pick someone who is more open and, for lack of a better term, vulnerable. Younger people are usually more suggestible. Women tend to be more talkative which can help you with the next cold reading tip.
5. Use general statements
There’s this handy little thing called the Barnum effect and what it is is essentially general statements that apply to everyone but a particular person can interpret as specifically about them.
Let me give you an example that combines this and the past few tips:
You’re at a party and have been asked to show everyone how good you’ve gotten in mentalism. Everybody wants you to perform a cold reading. You don’t know everybody here but some of them look at you coldly and your only friend there is a very scientific person.
Definitely not them.
You see a young lady in a rather sharp looking blazer whose interest is piqued. You call her over as your participant. Don’t jump into the act right away- talk to her first.
Glean some information. The way she speaks tells you she is well educated. She seems young enough to still be in college.
This is when you begin to use the Barnum effect.
You ask her if she is currently in school. If she says yes, you can say she is from one of the nearby universities. Depending on the quality of the clothes she is wearing, perhaps you can even take it up a notch and say, “I have a feeling that you…hmn, you come from a prestigious university.”
Because women are usually more talkative, she’ll likely supply you with more information a man might. She will likely answer, “Yes, I’m from so-and-so and I’m taking a degree in X.” This brings us to our next point.
6. Utilize jump points
Your jump points are the information your participant supplies you with. You then use this to create a string of Barnum statements about the previous information.
Because that information grows more and more personalized as the conversation goes on, you will make statements that appear to your participant and/or your audience to be accurate and specific to that person.
To keep the principles of cold reading front and center, let’s keep the example simple for you to better understand.
Going back to the young lady from the party, she may tell you she’s currently taking a degree in human biology.
What do people who take degrees like this usually go on to become? Don’t rush the information. You should set it up first to make the Barnum statement seem even more personalized.
“Really? That’s great,” You tell her, “What’s your favorite thing to study in human biology?”
She might answer that her favorite topic is the human brain. In this regard, you, the mentalist, and her have a lot in common.
Now, you ask her, “I take it you plan to become a doctor?” and her enthusiastic reply tells you that yes, she does. You use her favorite school topic to guess what her planned specialization is.
“A brain surgeon? No no-” You mutter once she doesn’t immediately nod, “A neurologist!”
Unfortunately, you grow a little too confident as the audience cheers you on. You start to claim that you can know the participant’s past and future.
Don’t fret. This party will still end in you looking awesome to your participant and audience.
7. When things go wrong, insist that they’re wrong
Okay, so your participant claims that your vision of a red barn has nothing to do with them, their past, and their future. Simply twist this information around and twist their perception of what is real as well.
If the prediction is about the past, insist that the participant may simply not remember what the red barn is about because they were too young at the time to have a memory of it now.
If it is about the future, you can just say that if the vision is already vague to you, a skilled mentalist, then it is more so for someone without capabilities like yours.
This should only happen very rarely and you should take caution not to let things get to this point.
Disgruntling your participant leaves a bad impression on your audience who may be less likely to believe your cold readings later on.
8. Do research
A lot of cold reading relies heavily on knowing how to observe a person and having a wide knowledge base. The reason it is believable is because the statements can be true.
You won’t have any prior knowledge about your participants, but you can have prior knowledge about the things their cues say about them.
There’s a reason cold reading is a skill and not a power. As a mentalist, you should have solid knowledge about the area you’re performing at because more likely than not, your participant will be from that area as well. This will help you make better guesses about their background.
And there you have it! By following these cold reading techniques and tips carefully and practicing until you’ve honed your skills, you will soon become a great cold reader.