Cold reading elements #2: facts and events

I am going to continue with extracts from Ian Rowland’s book The Full Facts Book of Cold Reading. These elements chiefly concern facts (such as names and numbers) which mean something to the client, and events in the client’s distant or recent past. Here is a selection of some of the techniques he employs:

1. The Fuzzy Fact

A Fuzzy Fact is an apparently factual statement which is formulated so that (a) it is quite likely to be accepted (b) it leaves plenty of scope to be developed into something more specific. Let us consider some common examples.

“I can see a connection with Europe, possibly Britain, or it could be the warmer, Mediterranean part?”

This example obviously varies with the geographical context of the reading. In Britain, the line could be “…a connection with America” or “Australia, possibly New Zealand”. The essential idea is to specify a large, distant part of the world with which the client may well have some sort of connection. Note that the psychic has not said whether this link is professional, social, domestic or romantic. She has not specified any particular part of Europe, which is a vast place (likewise America, or Australia). She has not said if the connection is current or past or in the future.

However, if the client has any connection at all with the named part of the world, no matter how vague, she can be encouraged to supply the requisite details, for instance that her husband’s family once lived there. The psychic then builds on this feedback to massage the initially vague statement into something more specific. The example given above might be massaged like this:

“I can see a connection with Europe, possibly Britain, or it could be the warmer, Mediterranean part. Now why might this impression be coming through?”

“Could that include Scotland?”

“The link I’m getting seems to have that sort of a Celtic flavour to it, but I wasn’t sure, I’m getting Edinburgh for some reason…”

“There is a link on my father’s side. His family comes from Scotland but it’s not Edinburgh.”

“Well, maybe that’s just a place that he or his family visited once or twice… but I’m definitely getting a link with that part of the world, and connection by blood and by marriage is indicated, so that makes sense to you does it?”

‘Yes, definitely.”

Thus the psychic shapes the initial vagueness into something much more specific. This is not just useful during the reading itself. It also affects how the reading is remembered afterwards. A statement such as this:

“I can see a connection with Europe, possibly Britain, or it could be the warmer, Mediterranean part”

can become mis-remembered like this:

“I see a family connection, on your father’s side, with Scotland, maybe Perthshire”.

Obviously, the mis-remembered version is far more impressive than the actual statement the psychic originally made. I will have more to say about developing statements into miracles later on, in the section on Presentational Points. The fact that clients often remember what was said inaccurately is well-known to sceptics. Non-believers are often challenged to “explain” how a particular psychic could have delivered some piece of devastatingly accurate information. Of course it is the tidied-up, specific version which is offered for analysis, not the Fuzzy Fact which was originally given.

2. The Good Chance Guess

This element involves making a guess which stands a higher chance of being right than you might think. (It is distinct from the outright fluke, or Lucky Guess, which we will look at next). To take a very common example, the psychic might say something like:

“And at the house where you live, is there a 2 in the number?”

This sounds like an outright guess, and in some ways it is. But the odds of the psychic being right are far higher than you might think. What’s more, the majority of clients lack either the mathematical sophistication, or inclination, to work out the correct odds. Let us investigate this a little more closely. Imagine a street with 100 houses, 50 on either side. How many houses have a 2 in their-number?

The correct answer is 19, very close to one fifth of all the houses in the street. So the psychic has almost a 1 in 5 chance of being right. (The probability increases for streets with more than 19 houses but significantly fewer than 100, which in practice applies to a high proportion of streets.) If client rejects this initial offering, the psychic might try widening it just slightly, like this:

“Oh, that’s strange… because I’m seeing this number 2. Perhaps it’s the house next door…?”

If we go back to our imaginary street of 100 houses, 20 of them (not among the 19 counted so far) are adjacent to a house with a 2 in the number. Therefore the psychic would get a hit if the client lived at any one of 19 + 20 houses, which is 39 in all. The possibilities do not end there. If the “house next door” ploy has not worked, the psychic can always smoothly extrapolate like this:

“…or maybe it’s the house you see opposite every morning.”

This adds 8 more houses of those not counted so far. Which makes a grand total of 47 houses, or almost a 50% chance of getting a hit!

3. The Lucky Guess

The Lucky Guess element is exactly that – a pure guess which lacks any of the subtlety of the “Good Chance Guess” explained above. The psychic simply offers a name, set of initials, date or place and sees if the client accepts it. If it is a hit, it seems miraculous and will be sure to impress the client. What is more, it can be used afterwards to give sceptics a thump, since it is apparently inexplicable. If it is not a hit, the psychic can easily move on to something else. Although there is nothing subtle about this element, it needs mentioning since it is so useful in cold reading terms. It is also worth emphasising that many clients apply great latitude when interpreting the psychic’s offerings. The same sort of ambiguity which helps Fuzzy Facts to become specific hits also helps Lucky Guesses. Take an example like this:

“The name Jane means something to you. I can see someone you have known quite a while, with blonde hair”.

The psychic is simply guessing. However, she has not said anything specific about how the name relates to the client, so more or less any connection will do. “Jane” could be a relative, a professional colleague or a friend. She could be alive or dead, known well or only distantly, linked with the present or the past. There are endless possibilities for this guess to count as a hit. If the client knows a Jean, Jenny, Janet, Joanne or someone whose name sounds close, she may well offer the mild correction and credit the psychic with a near-miss. This close-sounding name could be a first name, surname (“Jones”) or a nick name. It could be male or female (“Jan” is a common male name in some countries). Once you appreciate the interpretative latitude which least a fair chance of eventually being considered as a hit.

4. The Stat Fact

Stat Facts are statements based on statistics and demographic data. There is a wealth of such information available, from libraries, specialist publications, commercial databases and the internet. Some of the more headline-friendly data even makes it to the national press and becomes popular knowledge (or popular misconception). This kind of information can play its part in the cold reading process. For example, imagine that the psychic is giving readings in a region where, statistically, most of the women who have part-time jobs work either in the health services or the textile industry. If the psychic has reason to think her client is in part-time work, then she knows which two areas are most likely to be worth exploring. As with many aspects of cold reading, there are good and bad ways of using this information. Here is an example of the bad way:

“There is an indication that your career is related to health. Or possibly textiles.”

This is as transparent as it is trite and useless. In contrast, imagine the psychic is giving an astrological reading, and weaves her spell like this:

“…turning to the area of work and of career, the influence of Aries suggests that you have a great capacity for working with people and helping them. In fact the conjunctions of your fifth house suggest you could be very successful if you were working with people who needed care or counselling, in one form or another. The stars suggest that this could be right for you…”

At this point, the psychic pauses to see if the client seems to be agreeing. If not, the psychic changes tack:

“…but that’s more to do with your potential, rather than your actual current situation. The relatively rare influence of Saturn at the moment, coupled with your Capricorn nature, suggests you may have found your energy channelled into working with your hands, maybe in a form of manufacturing although, if my interpretation is correct, yours is work which other people will transform. Does this make sense to you?”

In this way, the psychic can hit on two likely careers – health and textiles- in a way which at least sounds like the information is coming from the stars rather than a web page of local census statistics.

Obviously, the success of this element depends on how reliable the information is, and how intelligently it is applied. Experienced cold readers make it their business to gather information which is likely to prove useful. Mediums and spiritualists, for example, have everything to gain from learning the statistically commonest causes of death, and to flavour their Stat Statements accordingly. There is certainly no shortage of demographic data available. There are tables and reports pertaining to educational attainment, careers, salary levels, marrying age, prevailing health problems and myriad other subjects. To rely on very well-known statistics is to invite unimpressed and rather cynical responses. But less well-known statistics can be extremely useful, as can attention to fine distinctions. For example, what is the most popular sport or pastime in Britain? Most British people would say football, which is true in terms of the numbers who have an interest as spectators. But in terms of those who actively take part, the top sport by a long margin is angling or fishing. Similarly, few of my fellow Brits would guess that doing jig-saw puzzles is something like the fifth most popular recreational pursuit in the country.

5. The Trivia Stat

This element consists of a statement about trivial domestic and personal details. Whereas the Stat Fact is derived from official statistics, Trivia Stats are based on widely-applicable facts gleaned from experience rather than bureaucratic compilations.

Experienced cold readers develop their own favourite Trivia Stats over time. Here are a few I have collected over the years. Some of them strike me as more likely to be hits than others. See what you think!

Regarding what you would find in most people’s homes:

a box of old photographs somewhere, not neatly sorted into Albums

at least one toy, or some books, which are mementoes from childhood

some item of jewellery, or maybe war medals, from a deceased family member

a pack of cards, even if they say they never play cards, and very often one or more cards missing

some electronic gizmo or gadget which no longer works, will never be repaired, but has not been thrown out

a few books concerning an interest or hobby which is no longer pursued

Regarding men and women:

most men tried learning a musical instrument as a child, buy then gave up

– most men wore a moustache or beard at some point, even if they have been clean-shaven for years

most men have at least one old suit hanging in their wardrobe which they can no longer fit into

most women own, or have owned, an item of clothing which they bought and then never wore

most women keep photos of their loved ones in their purse or otherwise near them, even if they do not seem the sentimental type

most women wear their hair long as a child, then adopt a shorter haircut when they get older

most people will have been involved in some sort of childhood accident which involved water

most people with fair skin have experienced bad sunburn at least once

It will be obvious that worthwhile Trivia Stats vary according to culture, region and content. The psychic who wants to use this element has to acquire examples appropriate for her region and clientele. The same is true for many other cold reading elements.

6.  Childhood Memory

As its name implies, this element consists of a character statement based on common experiences of childhood. The trick is to devise statements that are only slightly less than obvious, or at least seem to be so in the context of a reading. One of my personal favourites is ‘the abandoned interest’, and it goes like this:

“In your younger years I get the impression of a particular interest or subject you were very keen on, where you showed lots of promise. I get a feeling that this was something on the creative or artistic side, where perhaps your parents felt you might even have gone on to great things, as they say, but it was not to be.”

7. Folk Wisdom

Psychics are no enemies of tired cliché. Many readings are littered with that combination of an appeal to common experience and boundless optimism which passes for folk-wisdom. Here are half a dozen examples:

“After this past year, it’s not surprising you need a break. Let’s face it, we all need a little breathing space now and again to re-charge our batteries.”

“While success is assured, you may need to be patient. Never forget that the longest journey starts with a single step / Rome wasn’t built in a day.”

“We all need to talk things over with a friend from time to time, and it’s as true now as it ever was – two heads really are better than one.”

“This challenge might look a little daunting, but then again it’s surprising what you can do when you put your mind to it, isn’t it?”

“The main thing is not to worry. Let’s be honest, these things often have a way of coming right in the end, and then you look back and you think well, what was all the worry about?”

“There’s quite definitely light at the end of the tunnel. As the old saying has it, the sky is always darkest just before the dawn.”

This is not a particularly useful or productive element, but it is an element nonetheless, and can be useful for padding out a reading, or bringing one section to a neat coda before moving on to something else.

8. The Seasonal Touch

The Seasonal Touch is a very simple element. The psychic merely offers statements based on the time of year or other seasonal factors. These obviously vary according to the country, culture and society in which the psychic is giving the reading. For example, I live in England where the Spring months are typically associated with ‘Spring cleaning’ and embarking on major new DIY tasks around the home. January and July are the commonest months for major sales in the shops, which many women will flock to in search of bargains.

To get the most out of this element, give some thought to how many different ‘calendars’ we all live by, all the time. I have already referred to three, which we might call the household calendar, the retail calendar and the financial calendar. There are many others – the sports calendar, the entertainment industry calendar (seasons for hot new shows, or dreary old repeats), the food calendar and so on.

9. The Push Statement

I have deliberately saved the Push Statement until last in this section. This is because it is without doubt the hardest element to explain clearly. It is also one of the most powerful. The elements I have listed so far are designed to obtain a hit, i.e. agreement from the client that the psychic’s pronouncements are accurate, or at least plausible. Push Statements are quite different. They are intentionally designed to be rejected by the client. That is, to be rejected at first. However, they can almost always be made to fit if the psychic pushes with sufficient confidence and, at the same time, subtly expands the scope for agreement. Push statements are hard to make up, and generally evolve with experience over many readings. I only have one or two that I trust, and I use them sparingly. One that I have used quite a lot is ‘the red floor’. It goes something like this:

“About three months ago, I see you standing in a room, and it seems a strange detail to mention, but for whatever reason I have to mention that I see a red or red-ish floor. I don’t think it’s your home or where you work – it’s somewhere else. And there’s this red colour around you, and this is a place of some significance to you. Now I can only tell you what I’m getting, whether or not it seems to make sense, and what I’m getting is that you are there for a meeting of some kind. I don’t know if there’s one other person involved or a group, but I sense that someone’s expecting you to be there, and you’re having to wait for them.”

This almost always gets a negative response from the client – which is the intention. I then begin to push the statement, and appear highly confident that eventually the meaning will become clear. This sense of confidence is important, and helps to place the onus on the client to find something that matches. As I continue to push my initial statement, I start to subtly include more options. The colour might have been a kind of rusty brown, or an autumnal shade. It might not have been actually the floor that was significant, so much as the general environment which employed a red-ish colour scheme, or a danger zone (red = danger). The meeting could have been intentional or accidental, significant or trivial, routine or a one-off. It could have been social, professional, family or romantic. Sooner or later, in a very high percentage of cases, the client will remember something that fits. The whole point of a Push Statement is that the psychic seems to be aware of something which the client herself had forgotten about. This is devastatingly impressive when it works. It is one thing for a psychic to detect things the client is aware of. It is quite another for the psychic to apparently ‘see’ things the client herself had more or less forgotten. It is not easy to devise new Push Statements that are likely to work. The details have to be just sufficiently unusual to lie beyond guesswork, but just sufficiently common to stand a chance of being right. The details must also be capable of being expanded and re-interpreted in progressively broader terms, so that the chances of success are improved as the psychic ‘helps’ the client to remember.

The shoe and the party

Another example is ‘the shoe and the party’, which I have used more than once on female clients aged under 35. It goes like this:

“I’m getting the impression of a party or a celebration that I think took place around the festive season, Christmas and all that, but not necessarily an actual Christmas party. There’s a car involved, and a problem with this car or with transportation. And I can see you holding a shoe, or having problems with one of your shoes. It could be something like a broken heel, which is quite common, but I sense something not quite as common as that, such as a strap that has broken or caught in something, or something has damaged this shoe and you’re obviously not pleased. And I can sense that you are making your feelings about this very clear to the people around you! Is this making sense?”

Naturally, this element sometimes leads nowhere, and in the face of persistent rejection an escape tunnel is needed. The simplest options are to suggest that if it has not happened yet then it is going too soon, or to ask the client to carry on trying to think back, because the meaning may come to her later.

A successful push

I was once demonstrating cold reading in a TV production meeting. In the course of a reading for one of the production assistants, I used ‘the shoe and the party’ and added the name ‘Charles’. She was unable to find any match. Ten minutes after I had ended the reading, and while I was in conversation with someone else, the girl suddenly became very excited. In tones of sheer disbelief, she exclaimed that she had just remembered a party from her teenage years during which she had indeed broken her shoe while dancing with one of her friends who was called… ‘Charlie’! Although this was by no means a complete success, the girl simply could not believe that I had managed to ‘perceive’ this long-distant event so accurately. I have had my successes and failures with Push Statements, but on balance I believe they are worthwhile.

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One Response to Cold reading elements #2: facts and events

  1. Cold reading has always blown away people. And what’s not to be amazed about? Even if the person cannot really read your brain as he could read words in a novel, there’s still something unquestionably astonishing about a person who can read you in an instant.

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