An Evil Improv Game: A Brief Guide to Cold Reading

Woman showing palm - Illustration for palm reading cold reading guide article

I used to get paid to read palms at parties and other events. I didn’t believe in it. I knew there was nothing special about lines on someone’s hand. I was just doing it for the money, and because I occasionally got to hold a pretty lady’s hand. In my defense, I always told people it was “for entertainment purposes only”. Still, many of them took it seriously anyway. At some events, I would perform magic shows followed by palm reading, and people would still take the palm reading seriously, even though they had just seen me do card tricks for an hour. No one ever seemed to realize that I was a professional liar.

After a while, I began to feel guilty about spreading superstitious thinking, and I hated the idea that people might make major life decisions based on total nonsense, so I had to quit. To help protect people from being scammed by other phony psychics (and everyone claiming to be psychic is a phony) I’m going to explain how they work and what tricks to look for.

Every professional psychic works in the same way. It doesn’t matter if they call themselves an intuitive, a medium, a tarot card reader, or a palm reader. Those are just props, shiny objects to hold your attention while the sneaky stuff is going on. Every professional psychic uses one or both of the following techniques:

  1. Hot Reading – Secretly getting information on a client in advance, to later reveal during the reading. This used to require a trip to the library and public records office, but now is often as simple as looking up their social media profiles.
  2. Cold Reading – Secretly collecting information on a client during the reading itself.

I never used hot reading in my entire career as a phony psychic, mostly because it felt like cheating. Also, reading a stranger’s Facebook page is painfully dull. Cold reading is much more fun.

How Cold Reading Works

When people sit down for a psychic reading, most of them think the psychic knows nothing about them. This isn’t true at all. When people sat down in front of me, I had quite a few sources of information:

  • The event itself. If it was a private party, I knew that the client knew the host, and probably had a somewhat similar background. If it was a company event, I knew the client’s line of work, or their spouse’s.
  • Their body. Just by looking at someone, I knew their gender and approximate age and weight. Their overall appearance and the way they moved provided me with hints about what health conditions they were most likely to have, or to be worried about getting. Their age told me about their general stage in life, if they were more likely to be concerned with optimistic dreams of the future or regrets about the past.
  • Their clothing and jewelry. Things like this are a rough indicator of socioeconomic status, and are clues about the client’s self-image and how they want others to see them.
  • Tattoos might indicate a military career, specific interests like a favorite band or animal, loved ones’ names, and other personal details.

There are other, more subtle clues, things that are harder to describe in words. Giving a psychic reading is a bit like playing poker and looking for “tells”. If you sat down in front of me, hoping I would say you’re going to find your one true love around the next corner, something in your eyes would give it away.

To start the reading, I introduced myself and explained “how palm reading works.” One of the points I always made was that “palm reading works best for people who are open and receptive to what the universe is trying to tell them.” The implication here is this: if this doesn’t work, it’s your fault, not mine. So just go with it, or you’ll look close-minded and uptight.

I would also add, “The meaning of the messages might not be clear at first. Sometimes it takes a few minutes, or sometimes it takes a few days, but if you think about it, the meaning will make itself clear to you.” The purpose of this disclaimer was to encourage the client to think about what I’ve said, and if I make any mistakes, to try to rationalize and twist my words until they make sense and seem accurate.

Cold reading is essentially a theatrical improv game. The cold reading game only has two rules:

  1. Yes = And
  2. No = But

Make a statement about the client, a guess about them based on whatever available information you have. If they say “yes”, you say “and, here’s another statement continuing off that thread.” If they say “no”, you say “but, here’s a statement twisting my previous statement so it sounds correct.”

Psychic: I see that you have a box of unsorted, old family photographs in your closet.

If they say yes, add an “and”: And that’s because you’re a sentimental person, who values time with family and the memories you create together.

If they say no, their photos are all digital, add a “but”: But I wasn’t actually seeing the present. I was seeing the past. Before you had your smart phone, you took a lot of photographs with film. (Only try this statement with clients who were born before 1980.)

If you do it often enough, you can see the yes or no forming in their eyes and on their lips before they even say anything. You can make your additions or corrections so quickly that it seems like genuine mind reading.

During my readings, I would open with general statements based on my initial observations about the person. I talked slightly quicker than normal, and threw out a number of statements before the client had a chance to react. If I made four or five guesses about them, at least one was going to be true, or close enough for someone who already wants to believe that palm reading is real.

When I got a positive response from the client, I built on it. “I sense that you have occasional pains in your feet… Yes, and although the pain is at times severe, you have not yet gone to the doctor about it.”

When I got a negative response, I would back up and change direction slightly, until I started getting positive responses again. “Yes, of course you have gone to the doctor about it. However, I’m sensing you sometimes feel reluctant to go to the doctor, because you are sometimes very uncomfortable around doctors and hospitals, and worry about large medical bills.”

If I got several negative responses in a row, I would throw a wider net. I memorized a handy list of statements that sound like they are specific, but really apply to a large percentage of the population.

I sense that you have…

  • A picture of a loved one next to your bed
  • A piece of jewelry that belonged to someone who is no longer living
  • A scar on your left knee
  • A box of unsorted photographs either in your closet or under your bed
  • An old watch that you keep around, even though it’s been broken for some time

And so on. They might sound bland or obvious written out like this, but in the context of a larger reading, they worked wonders.

When I was wrapping up, I gave the person something to remember me by. Usually I would give the person a pamphlet about palm reading, with my contact info on it so they could book me for their own events.

When the reading is done, clients invariably forgot about the mistakes I made, but remember the things I got correct. Over time, the story of the “psychic reading” would evolve in their mind, and became more and more amazing. I would hear stories about my readings that bordered on the miraculous.

Now that you have this information, share it with others. Empower your friends and family, and help them avoid being scammed.

Let's keep in touch.

Get my newsletter for the latest posts, book releases, and free stuff!

We don’t spam! Read our privacy policy at for more info.

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *