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How to Get Started

There are two kinds of people who study cold reading: those who just want to read books, look at DVDs and appreciate cold reading in a conceptual way, and those who actually want to use or apply cold reading in real life. If you are in the first group, the 'how to get started' question doesn't arise. If you want to be in the second group, read on.

First of all, you have to have some enthusiasm for cold reading! I absolutely love cold reading, and I'm happy to try it out at every conceivable opportunity. I love the process of connecting with a complete stranger in a positive, pleasant, entertaining, intriguing and uplifting way. I love the fact that a little two minute reading might be the most interesting, fascinating and encouraging thing that happens to that person all day, and really makes them feel great about themselves and their life. I love the fact that I can entertain, delight or amaze someone more or less any time, anywhere. I love the fact that I can make the client feel that they are special and that they should feel good about themselves. I think this enthusiasm, and this positive intention, has to come first, and also makes the process of getting started so much easier.

Secondly, open your eyes to the many opportunities that arise every day to demonstrate a bit of cold reading. A builder came round to my house the other day and made a some written notes in a little book. I happened to notice his very neat handwriting, and so I gave him a short graphology reading. I told him all the good, positive things that his handwriting suggested about his character, and how this related to him being very good at his job. Once you start looking for opportunities like this, you'll see them all over the place.

If you see someone checking their stars for the day, or mentioning their star sign, you can offer a few insights based on astrology. If you happen to touch any small personal possession, such as someone's watch, cellphone or keys, you can give them a few observations based on psychometry. Whenever someone hands you something and you see their palm, it's palm-reading time. These opportunities are everywhere, all the time! And if you have the right attitude and the right spirit, it's a really fun, interesting, positive, pleasant and happy thing to share!

The next important point is: don't make life too hard for yourself. When you're starting out, you don't need to sit down and give someone a detailed half hour reading about every aspect of his or her life. You don't need to be that ambitious, or to work that hard. Let's say you look at someone's handwriting and mention a few (positive) things about their character and personality... this might only last thirty seconds, but it's enough. Someone mentions that she is Libra, and you say how interesting that is and a few things you like about the most prominent Libran qualities... this may only last a minute, but it's enough.

All you need to do is let yourself get accustomed to making statements to people you don't know, and learning how to do so in a way that is pleasant, likeable, perhaps even charming, but never inappropriate or unwelcome. The more comfortable you become doing this, the more easily you will progress to doing longer, more detailed readings.

There's nothing very difficult about giving these short, simple little readings that I've mentioned so far. You just offer them as pleasant, interesting observations in a casual, chatty way. A good formula is: observations first, explanation after. For example, consider a simple graphology reading. You might say, "Oh, that's interesting. Quite a decisive personality, although you'd rather be right than hasty -- strong cross-strokes on some letters but not at the expense of neatness. The writing is always the mirror to the soul! Also, a clear sense of honesty although you sometimes mix honesty with tact and sympathy: see these loops? Mostly closed but not quite, you don't fence yourself in."

You see what I mean? In each case you start by offering some sort of observation or piece of insight, and then you explain how you came to that particular conclusion. This is very reliable formula that many readers use.

I repeat the fact that when you're just starting you can offer very short and sweet readings. You only need to do enough to give someone a nice experience and a few, pleasant ego strokes. In doing this, you will gradually build up your sense of confidence, and learn how to relax and enjoy the whole process of making statements to total strangers.

Many people worry about not being very good at first. But 'not being very good at first' is OK. At one time in your life, you couldn't walk or say your own name. Now you can. It's called learning. Who says you have to be very good at first? Nobody. The first time you try a little bit of cold reading, maybe you won't be very good. So what? Nobody died and the sky didn't fall in. The second time, you'll be a little bit better, because experience is a great teacher. The third time, you'll be even better. And so on! After a hundred readings -- even if they are short and sweet -- you will have built up a lot of experience and you will have improved tremendously.

You don't need to try to improve. It just happens automatically, provided you allow experience to be your teacher. I can tell you that the journey is worth it. When you know you can give any sort of reading you want to anyone, anywhere, in a relaxed and confident way, and that both you and the client will enjoy it, it's a wonderful facility to have and a wonderful feeling. You can brighten anyone's day, and spread a lot of good, positive, uplifting feelings around.

Once you have built up sufficient experience, you may eventually want to charge money for readings. This brings up a lot of ethical questions. I don't have much to say except that it will come down to your personal sense of ethics and integrity, your intentions and what you think people are getting in return for their money. At the very least, please don't ever take money from people unless you know they can comfortably afford it. If you want my advice, always aim to make people feel good about themselves, about others and about life; always mention the need to take personal responsibility for one's actions; always mention the need to work hard to achieve one's personal goals; and always try to mention the importance of these six themes: love, peace, kindness, patience, honesty and fun.[ Back to Top ]

The Pros & Cons Of Different Systems

There are really four different approaches to cold reading.

The first is to use Stock Lines (often referred to as just 'stocks'). This means you learn a lot of standard lines and then deploy them as you see fit whenever you give a reading. Different readers categorise their stock lines in different ways. One reader might have good stock lines for different themes: health, money, career, love and so on. Another might have stock lines based on the demographics of the people he or she meets: young and male, middle aged and female, and so on. These readers can get stock lines from books and other readers, or try out their own and keep the ones that seem to work well. This approach is good for readers who either dislike too much improvisation, or don't feel they are very good at it. It gives the reader a sense of confidence, if he has had time to build up a good set of stock lines that he trusts, and it gets rid of the problem of never knowing what to say. The disadvantage is that it can lead to readings being a bit 'repetitive' and 'stale'.

The next approach is to use a Trigger System (also known as an Association system or a Link system). For example, suppose you learn a stock line -- or a set of stock lines -- associated with the letter 'A', and another set associated with 'B'... and so on. When you meet someone, you either know or ask for their initials, and then you give a reading based on these letters. There are many different Trigger Systems, not all based on letters of the alphabet. This approach is good for readers who like using stocks but also want to make sure each reading is different and personalised. It gets over the 'not knowing what to say' problem and ensures each and every reading is different (within the limits of the system being used).

The third approach is to actually study a given field, such as tarot, palm reading, astrology and so on. This entails learning whatever your source (book or teacher) tells you to say. For example, you might study tarot and be told that the five of cups indicates an opportunity to develop new learning. Every time you see the five of cups, you'll know what to say. This is a route that many successful readers advise: learn a system and study it properly. This approach suits people who believe that a given system actually has some authenticity, or who enjoy embracing a given body of knowledge and learning all about it. It probably also helps the reader to sound well-informed and knowledgeable, assuming they can't achieve just the same effect by acting and improvising.

I have never bothered with this approach for two reasons. (1) I don't give any credence to tarot cards, astrology, palmistry and so on. I am not going to 'study' them as if they have any actual information to impart about people, life or destiny, because they don't. (2) I have never found that it makes the slightest difference to the process of giving a reading. I can give astrological readings that are just as good as those given by someone who has studied astrology for 20 years. Likewise for tarot, palmistry or any other discipline. My own personal view is that the studying makes no difference, so I don't bother with it. I completely accept that other people may have a different opinion.

The fourth approach is the one I use. I start by understanding the underlying structure, or grammar, of the different types of cold reading statements, and of the eight revisions that I mention in my book (a 'revision' is a way of converting a miss into a hit or partial hit). These statements and revisions are tools in my mental tool box: with them, I can improvise any sort of reading, anywhere, for anyone. What's good about this approach is that it is infinitely versatile, and it can't really ever fail. However, it requires a talent for invention, improvisation and delivery, which doesn't suit everyone. It also takes away the sense of 'safety' you can get from stock lines. When I start to give someone a reading, I haven't the faintest clue what I'm going to say, and I'm perfectly happy about this. I want it to be fresh and spontaneous. I enjoy the process of spinning the reading out of thin air, based on what I know about how cold reading works. To me, this is fun and exciting, but I accept that this approach doesn't suit everyone. [ Back to Top ]

The Validity of Psychic Claims

Some people think that psychic ability exists. The problem with this point of view is that there isn't a shred of credible, scientific evidence to support it. In other words, this belief is on a par with belief in an invisible pink unicorn. You can't prove it doesn't exist, but you can say with certainty there's no good reason to suppose that it does.

Some people think that psychic ability does not exist. The problem with this point of view is that belief in some sort of psychic or divinatory ability is found in every culture in history, in every part of the world. The specifics vary, but the underlying belief is a constant. That's an awful lot of human thought, feeling and experience to just dismiss as nonsense. At the very least, it tells us something important about human nature and anthropology.

Here's the truth in eleven words: psychic ability is as real as you want it to be. I'm not asking you to just take my word for it. All the evidence we have is consistent with this assertion. None of the evidence we have contradicts it. I think that's a pretty good position to be in.

I don't think there's any need for believers and non-believers to get into disputes, fights and arguments. I think this kind of dispute is a shame, especially when the fights get personal and unpleasant. I think people should sit down together as friends and get to know one another, share a drink or a cup of tea. I think people should treat one another with respect and kindness, even if they disagree about things. Instead of saying, 'Psychic powers are real', people should say, 'Psychic powers are real for me.' Instead of saying, 'Psychic powers are not real', people should say, 'Psychic powers are not real for me'. This way, there's no need for fights and unpleasant arguments, and we can all enjoy meeting one another and discussing our different opinions in a peaceful, productive and friendly way. [ Back to Top ]

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