Psychology of Magic

We have a great handful of tricks on, but none of them really talk about the psychology of magic.

Use these techniques to enhance any trick that you already know. Or review these, and learn a trick on this site! Just performing some sleight of hand trick is not enough to really wow your audience, the conditions must be just right, and there are a lot of little things you can do to help enhance the awe-inspiring moment. So for this article, I'll provide a short list of things you can do to enhance the magic tricks that you already know.

1.) Make it look so easy it's that it will be difficult for your audience to believe that it isn't real magic. Part of this may be due to some poorly constructed routines, but whatever magic you are doing, make it look easy and smooth. For instance, if your face is telling a different story, that's not good -- make sure that if you are showing something that is gimmicked or tricky, your face better convince the audience that it's not a big deal at all. You'll need to be good about just letting the tricky things sit out there in the audience. Did you know, if you have an object hidden in your hand, and you want to hand another item to someone in the audience, it's better to use the same hand that already has something in it? Why? Because everyone wouldn't dare think that you'd try something so bold! Be bold!

2.) Get out your video camera and actually record yourself doing the trick. You'll be the only one watching it, so why not? If you can watch yourself and pick up only one or two things that you could do better, why not do that? It'll make the trick much more powerful. I record most of my shows, by setting up a video camera in the back of the room. It also works as a nice record as I can look back a few years and see the huge improvements. Another nice thing about videoing your show is that you can look for when the audience laughs. If one audience laughs at something, chances are, the next audience will too.

I was watching a replay of a show I did recently, and everyone laughed at a time that there usually isn't a laugh. I had to play it back, and I noticed that someone in the audience made a joke about me having way too much time on my hands if this was going to work. So then, in the next show, I made the joke myself, and it got equal laughter! What a great way to let your audience write your jokes for your magic show!

3.) Make sure that you practice enough that the difficult moments during a trick don't stand out as difficult - they should be just as natural as the rest of the trick. And the psychology behind this is everything! If you happen to slow down as you try to get your fingers to do the exact move, or if you even slightly squint your eyebrows as you have to think about what is going to happen next, or if you frown while you're doing a slight mental calculation, it lets the audience know that something... even if they don't know what it is ... is going on behind the scenes.

Now, that wrinkled brow can work to your advantage too. One time, I was doing a trick that did require pretty difficult mental calculations, and I was performing it probably too soon, according to my own rules of magic; however, I noticed something. As I paused at a part to come up with the final card (advanced calculations) I noticed that it dramatically built up the drama of the trick. I didn't mean to add this dramatic pause into the trick at this moment, but I could really tell it enhanced the trick. So now, even though I can find the card quickly, I make it appear as if it IS difficult, and I receive more credit for it because of that!

4.) Your voice - keep it upbeat and honest and well-paced. Think about how you speak a true statement when you are telling the truth. Your voice certainly does not get lower. It just speaks it as truth. Practice by reading the next line out loud. I know, you're home alone and you don't want to, but if you don't read it outloud you'll miss the quick lesson:

Please, take any card out of the shuffled deck.

Okay, now imagine you're actually doing a card trick where it's important that the top couple cards aren't chosen, and you don't want them to take a card at the bottom. Oh yea, and the deck has been cut, but not suffled. Now try it again.

Please, take any card out of the shuffled deck.

Okay, it's a little harder to do, isn't it? Especially when you are actually doing the trick, you naturally want to slow down over the words that you're lying about. The word "deck" is about the same both times. But "shuffled" changes slightly, because it's natural to slow down or speed up to get past the lie. First of all, the deck isn't shuffled and you don't want them to take any card. In fact, it would be ideal if they take the one that you're trying to force to them.

Now, try to add a little body language to this, to portray even more of a sense of honesty. You could slightly pout your lower lip, lift up your eyebrows and open your eyes. Look at them right in the eye. You can slightly shrug your shoulders as if it really doesn't matter. Also, make sure that your hands and arms are not in close to your body... they should be almost fully extended, and a little to the right or left. It will just appear that you have put everything out into the open, and everything is completely fair.

Maybe you didn't actually read that statement above outloud (heh, see I'm psychic) but you do understand my point of trying to portray that whatever you are doing is 100% honest... even if your audience isn't expecting it to be.

Vidotaping you performing magic can be helpful here as well. Repeat the same "tricky" move but do it in an honest way. Video yourself having a spectator truly pick any, and you really don't care which card they take. Okay, now assess the video: what did you say, how did you offer them the deck, how much time did you give them, etc. Now, as you try to force them to pick a card, what did you do? Anything different?

Once you find out what is different about yourself when you're honest and when you're cheating, you can more closely mask what you are doing when you are cheating!

5. Smile. A lot. Then smile some more. Even if you're just doing a quick magic trick that you just learned, smile. Isn't that what magic is all about anyway. People want to see that you're happy, and they'll like you more if you smile. So do it! Even if you are playing the image of an aloof mentalist/mind reader like Max Maven, you'll notice that Max still smiles and smirks an awful lot.