Television viewers may know of The Amazing Kreskin, an entertainer who performs breathtaking mental feats that he says utilizes abilities we all have.

Calling himself a mentalist, he performs exercises such as finding hidden objects or knowing information about people he has just met. There was a period when he did his work on the “Tonight Show” with some regularity.

It’s that statement that we can do what he does that is an invitation that is the real mystery.
Since Kreskin does not claim extra-sensory powers, his abilities must lie in understanding things we can smell, see, and hear, with smell not the strong point among human beings.

His “Tonight Show” tricks occurred in front of an audience and it is immediately obviously that we must ask how an audience behaves. How does it look? How does it sound? How does group behavior compare with individual behavior?

Start with sound. Assemblages of people make random noise--there are people coughing, whispering, changing position, folding paper.

From repeated watching, I came to believe that when Kreskin hid an object with one audience member (at off-camera gatherings he was paid only if he could find the paycheck), the closer he got to the goal, the audience, in paying attention, stopped moving--and the sound level decreased.

This served as an indication of “getting hotter” and if Kreskin was “getting colder” people relaxed and began making more noise.

The other suspect in this mystery is the eyes. People try not to give away secrets. But some people will unconsciously tilt their heads towards the target, lean a bit, or just move their eyes. Who is watching will change, but enough people will be sneaking a peak from different angles that they will point towards the goal.

Most people are not this observant, which is why Kreskin has had a very successful career and gets his checks with regularity.

Non-verbal cues are extremely important, and, for most of us, something we read unconsciously.

This is why email communication is so treacherous -- the cues are absent. In telephone conversations, the pitch of the voice, duration of sounds, volume, pauses, and the pace of speaking all weave a message beyond spoken words.

Email also lacks the physical cues: a person’s posture, the distance one person puts themselves and another (very culturally dependent), nervous movements, all of these things are readable, although meanings aren’t always clear. This is why email comes across to bluntly. Non-verbal elements soften language. This has some very important consequences.

In the day of the Internet, there’s no logical reason for most conferences and trade shows. We can do this all electronically. But the product literature and mail messages are only part of the picture. We learn from these things that we don’t say.

In software, it’s so important to people that reseller and user conferences are booming.

There’s more to Kreskin’s ability than reading body language. He says he uses mental and verbal suggestion and I suspect he has the same talents as criminal profilers.

There’s nothing remarkable in this. Sales people influence behavior everyday. So do cons, therapists, ministers, anyone who uses persuasion. Kreskin just pays practices a lot more and he makes it his business.

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