7 Cold reading techniques and tips

Cold reading in one of the fundamental skill sets for an aspiring mentalist. In this section i am going to show you 3 ways to cold read. Like everything it is going to take a lot of practice to get good at it but its definitely one of the skills you need if you want to know how to become a mentalist.

cold reading techniques

Cold reading is a classic trick traditionally used by “psychics” but does has it’s place in mentalism if you so desire. You can use elements of cold reading in your act. Cold reading generally works by using carefully crafted language and paying attention to your subjects responses. It can also be used as a mind reading trick

1. Use Shotgun Statements

This is the first part of cold reading and its called shottgunning or using shotgun statements as it replies on using a lot of general information so that something is bound to hit someone. Much like how a shot gun fires lots of pellets instead of a single projectile.

The point here is to be quite vague but general so you get a hit from the audience. You don’t want it to sound too obviously vague like “you are a man or a women” that’s far to blatant and wouldn’t fool most people. Instead say something like “you have recently lost an elderly relative” or “someone named john is very dear to you”. Theses are very vague and are likely to hit someone in the audience and to them it’s likely to feel very personal.

2. Use Barnum Statements

Use Barnum statements (named after PT Barnum) these are statements that seem personal but will apply to many people. Barnum statements rely on the phenomenon of people wanting to believe and looking for information that fits them if they fill in the blanks

Horoscopes use the exact same principles. They offer information that seems to be quite personal but could really relate to anyone. The readers eagerness in wanting them to be true helps them read between the lines and search in their history of recent events to how it could be relevant.

The difference between a horror scope and a normal cold reading is there is no feedback in a horror-scope where as in a normal cold reading you have interaction and can gauge where to go next following the subjects reaction.

Again These statements are used are very wide and can be applied to anyone and usually have a large area of open ended which you can then use to narrow down the field and appear to be more accurate.

An example of using Barnum statements is perfectly illustrated in the Orsen Welles video you can find later down the page. Something like “between the ages of 13 and 15 you went through a dramatic change” is a great example of a Barnum statement. It seems very personal but really it can be apply to everyone. I mean everyone between the ages of 13 and 15 will go through a dramatic change its called puberty.

A huge experiment that was conducted on students where they were given a sheet of paper. What was written on the piece of paper was suppose to describe the specific student and 90% of them when asked if what they received described them they agreed. Next they had to swap what they had with someone else and to their amazement they found they had the same description. Everyone recieved the same description but 90% of people thought it was tailor written for them. The description of course was entirely composed of Barnum Statements.

3. The Recap/The Reuse

Use information that the they have already confirmed to earlier on the reading and feed it back to them. Once you have already started speaking to the subject and made a few hits using Barnum statements listen to what they say. If they mention anything concrete or something you can infer from what they say don’t acknowledge it instead save it for later and use it and watch them be shocked about how personal you can be.

4. Pick the right subject

Whilst you don’t always have control over this in situations you do you want to use it to your advantage.

Picking the right subject is important as mentioned previously 90% of students in the Barnum statement example thought that the reading was for them specifically this means that 10% did not.

You want someone who is susceptible to suggestion and isn’t too much of a skeptic to begin with this will dramatically increase your chances of success.

5. Use negatively loaded statements

Use statements that are both win win. So talk about situations where opposites agree and human behavior is integral to. So say when your at a party you are extroverted and the life and soul of the party but when your at home on your own you are far more introverted.

6. Change your meaning

There are basically two strategies in cold reading to deal with not getting a hit and getting information wrong the first is to change your meaning the second is to play the blame game.

If you make a statement you either get a hit or flip it around and get a hit. Hopefully your subject will help you do this. If for example you say does john mean anything to you and they think and say no but joanne does just move across to this say “yes” and claim that as a hit.

7. Play the blame game

Even if you are wrong don’t admit it try and word it slightly different or work in a slightly different meaning. Or tell them they are wrong sit down and think about it then move onto the next subject.

Cold reading examples

Just to illustrate the idea that by practicing the 3 cold reading skills here that you will become better watch this awesome video of Orsen Welles about the day he pretended to be psychic it’s a great insight into cold reading. For a full day he pretended to be a fortune teller.

In the video he talks about how you warm up the “sucker” about things that they don’t think you could possibly know but whatever you are talking about will have happened to most people at some point. For example “between the ages of 13 and 15 you went through a great change in your life” this gets quite a few laughs as it’s quite apparent to everyone that they went through a change during that time but when it is said to the target they feel it is personal. He also says use the “you have a scar on your knee” as almost everyone will have a scar on there knee. If you see any scars on their head then you are probably pretty safe to say something like “when you were younger you hit your head very hard”.

Once you warm the target up and hit a few predictions correctly they generally believe you can read minds and loosen up and give away far more with their body language and except far greater room for error in your predictions. Once you warm someone up you could say “you have a brother” and it be a complete miss but they would say “No i have a sister” and think you got a hit or “I always wanted a brother” and you continue from there with the extra information that they just fed you.

From his very brief time of fortune telling he becoming a shut eye (the man who believes himself). He gives a great example of being a night clerk and telling what a person does and if they are suitable stay at your hotel by judging on what the evidence says about the person staying at your hotel at first you will make mistakes and it will take you a while to add up all the evidence and decide if that person can stay at your hotel and eventually you become so good at picking up the ques that you don’t even think about.

Derren Brown and a man called Joe show the difference between a “Psychic” and a “Mentalist”

Derren Explains how joe works. Basically the sitter does all the work trying to make what Joe says fit and throwing out a lot of information so somewhere there is a fit. They also talk about Barnum statements, a statement that can clearly apply to a lot of people such as the “you have a bad knee statement”.

Finally Derren Brown and Richard Dawkins discuss and dissect cold reading

Whilst i would say that cold reading in many of the ways you may have seen from psychics isn’t the way you would apply it being a mentalist there are certainly a few principles you can draw from. If you want more mentalism tutorials you could look at our selection of books on mentalism keep looking around the site or follow the link suggested for some of the best mentalism books