You're Doing Impression Pads Wrong
Another "magic rant" for the views.
👋🏼 Hey! This month at oneahead.com, I’m sharing magic secrets, insights and tutorials every weekday. Paid subscribers get two secret posts per week. If you know someone who would benefit from this, feel free to forward it along.
A big-name mentalist performed at a party last week.
I know this as a friend of mine was in attendance.
The big-name mentalist actually used my friend for a trick.
They read their mind to reveal their first kiss’ name on stage.
I know all of this because my friend texted me.
They wanted to know why the mentalist needed them to write down the name of their first kiss before the show. “Was it carbon paper or something?” they asked.
Mentalists use impression pads to gather information from spectators secretly. Impression pads range from cheap and reliable carbon paper pads to solid, middle-ground analogue options like Psypher to expensive and sometimes unreliable Bluetooth devices.
If you ask most performers why they’re using an impression pad, they’ll tell you they need it for the method.
This is the wrong answer.
Forget the method.
Why are you using an impression pad?
You need a real reason; the audience needs a real reason.
Don’t give your audience a reason and they’ll be texting their friend at 2 AM, asking why the big-name mentalist had them write the name of their first kiss before the show and wondering if the mentalist hid carbon paper in the pad.
Ask yourself why, and consider using these subtleties:
Have an assistant use the impression pad. Anyone who is one step removed from the performer will get away with ten times more. They can act as a theatre usher, a production runner or a camera assistant.
Give them a reason for writing. Without one, most people will make one up, and their reason won’t be good. Maybe they need to write it down to commit/lock it into their memory, to show their friends, to show the audience later, to test their handwriting for the camera or to sign a waiver.
Offer an explanation for the time and place, especially if it’s before the show. Why them? Tell them, “you’ll be great for this,” “the client wants me to use you for this,” or “I need someone I can rely on to be brilliant on stage.” Why now? Say, “we have limited time on stage,” “we need to mic you up,” or “I’m showing some people some tricks now to see who will be great on stage.”
Consider ‘Mid-Show-Pre-Show’ to negate all the weirdness. Selecting an audience member, randomly and openly, and asking them to use an impression pad can sometimes feel more natural than awkwardly selecting the audience member who secretly wrote something on a pad before the show.
Receive the pad, don’t take it. Taking the pad back after they write down secret info can feel odd. If, however, they tear off the top page and you say you’re going to write down your own secret, too, most spectators will just hand you the pad automatically and not think much of it.
Time misdirection is everything. The secret is well-tuned time misdirection. You want to add time between gathering the info and revealing it. Carefully consider your scripting as you come back to it later.
Consider dual reality. Tell the audience the spectator will write down the name of their first crush. The pad has written directions to do just that with a line for their answer. Below it, there’s a secret additional direction to write about how old they were and where their first kiss took place. This extra info can be revealed, too, with the audience unaware and left none the wiser.
Do not care about the pad. Keep a regular duplicate pad to leave hanging around. Nothing says this pad is ordinary like you not caring for it at all. If you’re only using the pad for the trick where you need the impression, maybe use it at other points in the show to normalize it.
✌🏼 Hey! At the end of the month, I’ll move all of these daily essays behind a paywall and compile them into a rare book. The book is a gift for paid subscribers (just pay shipping). There are only 600 first editions. Pre-order now with your paid subscriber email. I will cancel orders placed by free subscribers, so upgrade now.