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Modern society is not a time where magic is freely believed, but the idea of it is still widely celebrated. People flock to magicians, wishing to be wowed by the feats they perform that are beyond understanding. Mentalists can illusion an audience with only their words, doing little more than reading minds.
This is not to say it is a small feat to read someone's mind. The actual practice of it takes significantly more effort than simply listening to what someone is thinking. Mentalism can be an effective tool to get you into a mind, but it is still something you must learn. Read on to learn how mentalists accomplish this endeavor effortlessly.
How to Do Mentalism Mind Reading
Mind reading is one part, albeit a large one, of the performance of a mentalist. It is important to understand that, physically speaking, there is no true way to read someone's mind.
Instead, a mentalist will look for the many ways that the mind speaks to discern what another person is thinking. In order to do this, a mentalist must:
- Understand the many ways the mind speaks
- Develop a set of techniques to translate these tells
- Operate subtly without audience members catching on
These three elements together create a unique experience for onlookers. To the average person, mentalists do truly seem to read minds.
Understand What Mind Reading Is
The bulk of a mentalist's performance will dance around aspects of the mind. These are the skills that the mundane crowd will label as clairvoyant abilities, believing that the mentalist is able to perceive things using senses beyond normal human capabilities.
Mind reading takes many forms in a performance.
- The mentalist reveals what appears to be a secret of an audience member.
- They are able to control the mind and body of another.
- Regardless, the belief is the same: the mentalist was able to find their way into the mind of another human and manipulate it.
To an extent, this is true, but not in the way that most believe, and certainly not effortlessly.
Learn the Different Techniques
In order to communicate these effects, a mentalist must master different sets of techniques. Often the result is the punchline that the audience will talk about after the performance. Techniques are the things that they do not see that lend you the ability to read their mind.
- Reading body language
- Forcing ideas
Mentalists orchestrate their performances by using the techniques above.
Reading Body Language
Thoughts are thought to be silent things that live only in the recess of the mind, but this is a misconception. Thoughts speak loudly, perhaps even more so than words, but the majority of the population has not learned to hear them.
Mentalists set themselves above the population by learning the language of thoughts: body language. It is believed that anywhere from 65 to 90 percent of communication is done subconsciously through body movement, and a mentalist takes advantage of this by reading eyes, mouths, limbs, and posture.
Eyes are the smallest area to understand, but they can speak the loudest. You will first want to master reading Neuro-Linguistic Programming or NLP, but there are a few general ideas you can keep in mind.
- Eyes looking right are often indicative of lies, while eyes looking left indicate remembering.
- Eyes up are recalling something visual, while eyes level are thinking of sound.
- Eyes down deal with feelings (down-right) or internal dialogue (down-left).
It is a good idea to map out where these responses are from person to person. Asking a few questions to begin can establish a baseline for their responses. For example, if you ask, “Without looking, what is the color of your shirt?” you can figure out where their actual visual responses go, and then the opposite side will be the imagined visual.
Smiles and frowns can indicate mood, but that is so well known that we have developed the ability to fake them. Pay attention to the state of someone's mouth (do they chew their lip or cover their mouth?) to better target their emotions.
A smile can indicate a positive response when it is genuine. Look for loose lips and a relaxed jaw. If a person is smiling with tight lips, there is a strong chance that the gesture is sarcastic or a mask.
Frowns can indicate a range of negative responses. The tighter the lower face is, the more it indicates the person is angry. You can see this in a tense jaw and tight lips. A lower lip that sticks out is a sign of sorrow, regardless of whether the person is smiling or frowning.
A person's arms will tell you much about how they feel about a conversation, especially in combination with their facial expression. If they keep their hands on their hips, it can be an assertion of power or a sign of aggression. Crossed arms can be either defensive or protective.
- A clenched first indicates that they feel strongly about something, whether that be anger or agreement.
- Hands that are overly active, grasping and clasping at each other, show a spike in mental movements like boredom or anxiety.
- Steepled hands are a sign of confidence, though this is often a manufactured or defensive gesture.
Crossed legs can indicate discomfort. The person is likely uncomfortable, wanting privacy, or simply away from the conversation. If they are standing and their feet are pointed away, then you can assume the same.
Posture covers the largest area of the body, but it conveys generalized messages.
If a person's posture is open, this means they are tuned into the interaction. You can assume they are not only listening to you but that their brain is prepared to react empathetically and authentically.
A closed posture, hunched over or using objects to block their body, is a tell that they have reason to be secretive or reserved. This can stem from distrust or fear but also indicate sorrow or anger.
Forcing ideas is best done alongside reading body language. This is where the “magic” of mentalism exists, separating the physical performance of a magician from the cerebral performance of a mentalist. Through force, you can change the narrative of an interaction, so it plays out the way you intend, all without tipping off the audience.
You can force ideas a few ways:
- Subconscious communication
- Magician's Choice
- Cold reading
This allows your audience to operate under the assumption that their responses are born from free will. When they believe that the choices they make are autonomous, they have no choice but to be amazed at the outcome.
Mirroring will allow your body language to speak to your audience, and it is especially useful in one-on-one interactions. This technique will help you immediately build trust with the other person by mimicking their body language.
- Copy gestures they make.
- Copy their posture.
- Copy how they position their body
You must also delve deeper to imitate tone and even breathing pace. This is where true connection occurs.
Your body language can also put ideas into your audience or volunteer's mind. Subconscious communication can affect attitude, eliciting certain responses, but it can also subliminally program certain ideas through suggestion.
For example, you can ask someone to imagine a card, but you are going to force their hand while they do it. While speaking, you could trace a diamond in the air, inconspicuously, using your gestures, all while emphasizing in sets of three.
The volunteer likely will not pick up on this, but their subconscious will already be recognizing diamonds and the number three. When you ask them to describe their card, it should be no surprise to you it is the three of diamonds, and you will stand ready to procure “their” card.
You can also force a volunteer's choice by offering what is called a Magician's Choice. While this can play out in many different ways, the general idea is that you lead them down many paths, but each path leads to the same endpoint.
You offer up two cards and ask the volunteer to pick one. You then have two options. If the card is the one you wanted them to have, you can say, “That card is now yours,” but if the card is not, you can say, “We will now remove that.” Either way, the volunteer ends up with the card you need them to.
Keep your language open-ended when you can, and keep things as broad as possible without breaking the illusion.
Cold reading can appear gimmicky, but it has its place in mentalism.
Throwing out broad statements can be an effective way to reel in a volunteer who is already receptive to the illusion you seek to create, and you will already have an idea of where they are coming from.
This technique can be useful to break the ice and get to know your audience. If you ask a question that is met with silence, you can pass it off with bravado, moving on to the next general statement. People will be trying to find kin with what you say because people love to be part of the illusion.
Peeks are opposite techniques because they are a physical crutch to lay your performance on. These methods allow you to access information that should be secret to you, all without alerting the audience.
When someone writes a name down on paper and slides it into an envelope, there is no way that you had the chance to see what they wrote. There is, however, a way for you to peek at what they wrote.
The point of utilizing peeks is undermined if these are obvious to the audience. A mentalist must always maintain the illusion that they are performing these feats using their mind alone. The audience should walk away wondering just how you did it, unable to pull apart any threads of your presentation.
Let Your Body Talk
The way you present yourself on stage will be your strongest tool. A performer is labeled by what they perform, but they are defined by the way they perform it. The idea that mentalists are magicians, pulling thoughts from the mind, is outdated. Now audiences know they are being tricked, but they still want to be impressed.
You are not actually reading someone's mind, but when you put on the performance that you are, it makes the entire process easier. The fact is that what you are doing might as well be magic. There is no need or reason to disrupt the illusion that people seek out through you.
- Do you speak clearly and confidently from a place of power?
- Is your voice reluctant and questioning, giving the volunteer and the audience more room for doubt?
- Make sure your language, both visible and audible, is maximized to communicate where you want the interaction to end.
Your performance will be made or undone by the way you respond to your mistake. You need to exude confidence, even when you are tripped up and read the language someone lays down incorrectly. Step over the error without fuss, and continue orchestrating the illusion.
Establish a Routine
Routine is essential to creating well-rounded performances that can effectively get into the mind of your volunteer and shock your audience.
Routines usually consist of three tricks that will:
- Grab attention
- Tell a story
- Surprise the audience
You cannot begin to draft a routine until you practice and master your techniques, but once you do, a routine will become the strongest part of your skillset.
When you start out your routine, you need to test the waters, regardless of whether you are working with an individual volunteer or an entire audience. You should be reading them the first moment you can, deciding whether your audience is receptive to your mind reading or reluctant.
If they appear to be reluctant to your illusion, you will need a trick that delivers quickly and powerfully. You need to get their attention on you and convince them of the power of your illusion.
An audience that is already receptive will be easier to break into. They may have some ideas about your performance going into it, and it is your job to find a way to affirm them while surprising them. They already want to believe you. You just need to lock that belief into place.
This is a good stage to start off with an easy trick, possibly a card trick or some simple cold reading. Their reaction to both the process and the outcome of the trick will tell you what you need to know about who you are dealing with while maintaining a low risk, and you can adjust your performance from that point onward.
Telling a Story
Once you have the attention of your audience, you can move into the longest leg of your performance. Your second trick should be your longest, and it should be best woven into any story you are trying to tell. The further you can draw the audience in, the less they can see outside of the illusion.
You want to involve them in the process of creating the illusion.
- Create a story that teaches something to the audience.
- Play a game.
- Keep everything light and exciting, building and building, for as long as you can.
This second part of the routine can actually stretch out into multiple tricks, so be prepared for that. While you have your attention, you can mold their mind into what you need it to be, and when you reach that point, you can offer the final trick.
Surprising the Audience
Your last trick should be able to leave the audience in awe, but it should also leave them feeling fulfilled. You bring an end to the ever-increasing excitement of the routine by doing something different than what you did before.
This can be as simple as pulling out a different tool, or you can bring up one member of the audience instead of dealing with them as a whole. The point is to change their perspective slightly, keeping the edges of your illusion blurred.
The weight of this trick will depend on what the audience needs at this point. If you have been going rounds with them and the air is full of excitement, it might be a good idea to throw out one final, mid-tier trick. If they are leaning forward in anticipation, you should give them one final triumph.
The final trick should be unique to your set, not easily confused with the beginning or the middle. You want the people you are dealing with to walk away in wonder, questioning how you managed it but not questioning whether you managed it at all.
The key to any performance is to practice it. You will have to master any techniques you wish to include in your routine, ensuring that you know them inside and out. On top of this, you must practice your routine in the exact order you will perform it. This is how you will discover anywhere the performance may unravel as a whole.
Mentalists have the burden of relying on cognitive ability in their performance, so make sure yours is at its peak. Practice reading body language. You will have to read both singular volunteers and entire audiences, and you will have to adapt your techniques and routines accordingly.
Your skills can be refined prior to performances by practicing.
- Practice techniques on their own.
- Quiz yourself on body language.
- Practice your routine for friends and family.
Be wary of overdoing it, though. You do not want to let them too close to your secrets.
The construction of a routine is essential to the implementation of practice, so do not skip that step. The two actually go hand in hand. A routine will make it easier for you to set aside time to practice, and it will give you a way to measure your progress. Practice will inevitably strengthen your routines.
Another key part of practicing is fishing out any areas you fall short. These are not reasons you should stop pursuing mentalism, but they are areas for you to devise backup plans. The discovery of your faults is what makes you stronger.
It is much better that you find these mistakes are found in practice, too. Illusions are beautiful but fragile things, and a mistake in the moment can undo all your efforts. Regardless, some mistakes are bound to occur during the performance itself.
You will need to walk through these potential fires without getting singed. It is unlikely that your mistakes will go overlooked, but your response to them will have an impact on your audience.
- Your poor reaction can pull people from the illusion, reminding them of the trickery in the air.
- Your smooth reaction can turn what seemed to be a failure into your greatest trick yet.
Mentalists craft and use “outs” as backdoors that maintain their illusions.
Every trick you employ should have a backup plan, and each technique can have a different set of outs. Sometimes this is as simple as leading your volunteer through a list of Magician's Choices (as explained earlier), but in certain cases, you may need to employ multiple props.
When you perform card tricks, it is a good idea to carry multiple decks on you, possibly even trick decks. If the first deck fails, you can, through a carefully orchestrated backup plan, pass off the failure as something you actually predicted. When the second deck fulfills the task, it deepens your credibility. You predicted this last night, after all.
You need to practice using these outs on top of practicing a routine that goes perfectly. A plan without proper execution is a faulty one, and you should be able to glide right over any mistake until you land at a conclusion that you have orchestrated.
The audience needs to be kept under the veil while you do the mental work of correction. You did not make a mistake; you read their mind differently than they thought you would.
Keeping Skills Sharp
Mentalism is not a skill that you can hang up for the winter with the expectation that you will perform well when you resume. It is something that you can, and should, be working on in every interaction you have. Making time to practice does not get much easier than this.
Unfortunately, curious people are learning your tricks all the time. It does not matter how long you have been doing them or how effective they once were. The moment your trick is found out, it is over.
The good news is people show a desire to be illusioned; they just want you to do it in new exciting ways.
If you want to maintain your ability to read minds and influence people, you will need to invest in the following:
- Your basic understanding of mentalism (the basics)
- The areas that it continues to grow (new adaptations)
You should have a solid understanding of the basics, but you also have to be able to adapt to the changing world of mentalism. You need to be able to excite audiences with new and modern adaptations.
Investing in Basics
Mentalism and mind reading are lifelong skills that you will never regret learning, but you may regret not keeping up with them. Basic tools will be essential to keeping your skills interesting and sharp, but some things may need to be updated as time goes on.
Book Tests and Second Sight Decks
These are some of the oldest tricks mentalists have employed, but they have been around so long for a reason. While many can operate these tricks using unmodified tools, the sleight behind them has been revealed, and you should look into modified tools to strengthen your illusion.
No one is going to tell you not to read 13 Steps to Mentalism. It is a timeless tool because it goes over the basics of mentalism that many fail to strengthen to begin with, including book tests, blindfolds, telepathy, and presentation. If you find yourself lacking in any area, starting here would be a good bet.
Growing Your Skills
If you put your skills to rest, they will dull. The only way to maintain them is to never stop working on them, and there are a few ways you can do this.
Connecting with other mentalists and magicians can be an effective tool for both your current and future self. More seasoned performers will be able to tweak any issues you may have, and those newer on the scene will bring forth novel ideas. You can find them through both local and online groups and forums.
Breaking off of the basics, you want to fill your mind with any new tips and tricks you can. This means you should always be looking for new books by trusted mentalists. Keep an eye out for any new studies on body language and what it reveals about our inner voices.
Watch performances that are relevant to what you wish to accomplish. These go beyond teaching yourself a skill. Learning the trick is nowhere near as effective as watching it in action. The beauty of illusion lies in what surrounds it, not the lie it centers around.