[When I read the draft of this post, the title: One Simple Trick for More Intriguing Presentations, reminded me of a clickbait title, so I decided to just go all the way with it.]
This is a weird one for me, because I was positive I had already written this post before. It was one I had on my list when I first started this site. But when I looked for it in the archives to reference for something else I was writing, it wasn't there. So... I guess I didn't write it? I don't know. There's a chance I decided not to write it up in order to keep it to myself because I do think it's a pretty valuable short-cut towards creating more interesting presentations. And I'm not one of these magic content creators who is like, "I'm not holding anything back!" I hold a lot of stuff back from you guys.
I've definitely talked about similar ideas before, but I guess I never stated the concept clearly in a single post (or I'm just really bad at searching my own archives).
The idea arose from some of the focus-group testing I helped conduct in the past, but it wasn't something we set out to test. This was years ago and I honestly don't remember the exact genesis of the idea, but I know that's where it started and that it's something I've used ever since.
I'll call this the "Based On Technique." (Part of the reason I like to give things names is so I can refer back to them. And another part is so I know what to search for in the archives so I don't lose posts I thought I wrote.)
Here's an example. The spectator hides a coin in either hand and you know where it is. A typical presentation for this is that you can read the spectator's body language to know which hand holds the coin.
Trick: I can tell what hand holds a coin.
Implied Method: I can read your body language.
Now, as I originally said in the Sealed Room with the Little Door post, there are two ways for a spectator to react to a trick with a believable implied method (aka a believable explanation).
"1. The spectator believes it, which is good for your ego, but not great entertainment, I don't think. 2. The spectator doesn't believe it and is put into the awkward position of wondering if you really want them to believe this somewhat believable explanation. For these people, the believable explanation often seems less like a 'presentation' and more like you're lying in order to impress them with some skill/power your don't really possess. Which a lot of you are, of course."
The Based On Technique can be used any time you have an effect with a believable premise. Let's go back to the coin in the hand. Typically you might say something like, "By reading your body language I can tell which hand holds the coin." (Or maybe you read their facial expressions, or you can detect when they're lying, or whatever semi-reasonable presentation you're using.)
The Based On Technique works like this. It's a two step process. First, is the Set-Up, where you relate what they're about to see to some believable concept. But instead of saying that's how the trick is done, you say what they're about to see is based-on that technique, or inspired by that technique, or has its roots in that technique. So you might say some something like, "Ok, this is... well... it's kind of based on techniques that were first used in reading body language." And you say it almost reluctantly. As if you don't want to mislead them by mentioning body language, but that's the closest thing that they might be familiar with that you can relate it to.
The second part of the technique is the Turn, where you then make a claim that steers them away from the concept you just mentioned. Going back to the example: "Ok, this is... well... it's kind of based on techniques that were first used in reading body language. But with traditional body language reading, you would need to see the person. This isn't like that. That's why I'm going to be completely blindfolded for this."
You see what we're doing, yes? We're giving them something to relate to, but then we're twisting it in a way to make the supposed method more fascinating. What kind of evolution of body language interpreration could involve not actually seeing the person? Are you sensing some kind of... change in their aura or something?
This isn't just a hypothetical example. I've had Hugo Shelley's 6th Sense for a while. It allows you to know which hand holds a coin. The effect is so straightforward and clean that I just got the feeling that people thought, "Well, I guess he can tell which hand holds a coin based on my body language." They just seemed to believe it, which is not what I was going for.
But the reactions were much stronger when I changed my presentation to the one above. You still have the same outcome (you can tell them what hand holds the coin), but the proposed method is now interesting in its own right.
When using the Based On Technique, never tell them it's based on what it actually is based on. For example, don't tell them it's based on old mnemonic techniques, if, in fact, memory techniques could explain the effect.
Here are some other examples of the technique:
The Set-Up: "Have you ever heard of human lie-detecting? They teach it to detectives to use in the field. You can determine when someone is lying by paying attention to their breathing rate and pupil dilation when they talk. This is something like that."
The Turn: "But it's different because with standard lie-detection techniques, I'd need you to say something. And in this case I'm not going to need you to verbalize anything at all."
(After someone shows you the 21 Card Trick, or some other mathematical effect.)
The Set-Up: "Oh yeah, that's a classic. I have a trick that's kind of based on that one. It has its foundations in mathematics too."
The Turn: "It's a branch of mathematics known as chaos theory. Can you throw the deck in the air and let the cards scatter around the room."
(Let's say I have a self-working effect. I might say something like this.)
The Set-Up: "This is sort of a variation on some of the most basic sleight-of-hand techniques that I learned in books I got from the library when I was a kid."
The Turn: "But those techniques would require physically manipulating the object itself. This is a variation on sleight-of-hand that doesn't involve touching the objects."
As you can see, you don't have to be a genius to come up with this kind of construction. You just say the trick is "based on" some genuine thing. And then you add something that is also supposedly true about the trick that seemingly contradicts what the spectator knows about the subject you just invoked as being the methodological basis for what they're about to see.
Here are the two main benefits I see with this technique:
1. First, for those of you who are uncomfortable with a truly outlandish presentation, it's sort of a training-wheels technique to push you gently in that direction. It takes a believable premise and turns it into something a little more "out there."
2. This goes along with something I've written about frequently here. And that is the notion that a modern audience knows you don't have magic powers. So they know there's a secret involved. And instead of denying there's a secret, we can take steps to inject mystery and uncertainty into the audience's understanding of what secrets are and how they work.
This technique is an easy way to generate very intriguing implied methods. Let me put an example into Magician-ese. If I said, "I have a trick I want to show you. It's kind of based on the Gilbreath principle, but it starts with a borrowed, shuffled deck that I never touch." Now you have to try and wrap your mind around something that's somehow related to the Gilbreath principle but uses a shuffled deck. It essentially doubles the mystery. You have the mystery of the effect and the mystery of the method.
"But they're not really going to believe the method," you might say. "They're not really going to believe it has something to do with body language, but you don't need to see their body."
Yes, there's some truth to that. But I think you'd be surprised how attractive this type of explanation can be. If I say, "I'm going to read your body language to tell you which hand holds the coin," it's very easy to dismiss that as being nonsense. Especially if you know me and know I'm not a master of body language. But if I say that I'm using a technique that's related to body language but differs in some radical ways, it's actually harder to dismiss that, I think. It's harder to dismiss it because you don't know what it is you're dismissing. I haven't made it concrete enough for you to reject completely.
In the post I mentioned above, The Sealed Room with the Little Door, I wrote about the difference between tricks with believable implied methods and tricks with unbelievable implied methods. And I wrote how my favorite types of tricks to perform were strong tricks with unbelievable implied methods: time travel, witchcraft, evil twins. That's still true. I think when you can really pull that off you have the most "magical" type of effect because people know it's not real, but it feels real. The Based On Technique introduces another option that I like a lot as well. You have the believable implied method, the unbelievable implied method, and now the inexplicable implied method; where the concept behind the method is as mysterious as the trick it produces.