Focus and Misdirection! Five Rules of Magic (and How They Can Improve Your Persuasion Game)

When I was growing up, my Grandpa always had a joke or a magic trick at the ready. My memories of childhood aren’t well defined, quite fuzzy really, but there are stand-outs with Grandpa Damie’s magic.

"dark jack" by Akki annant, Flickr, CC-By-2.0
“dark jack” by Akki annant, Flickr, CC-By-2.0

Throughout his life and beyond, I’ve heard great things about my grandpa. People remembered his generosity and personal touch. He would receive Christmas cards and accolades years after seeing old friends, coworkers, and neighbors.

How did my Grandpa Damie have such an impact on people?

An impact that was remembered long after?

He made people feel important.

Damie could recall peoples’ names and dates and information — years later. Even if he hadn’t seen someone for decades, Damie could recall amazingly personal information. (I’ll write about his memory methods in a future post.)

•If you can remember people’s names and treat them with respect, they’ll remember you for the good feelings you provide.


As I mentioned, Grandpa Damie was also quick with a joke and ready with an illusion. He was always trying to delight the adults and children around him.

•If you can get people to laugh, they get a hit of dopamine. They’ll remember you for the good feelings you provide.

•If you can amaze them with a trick, the cognitive dissonance that you create causes people to laugh. Laughter releases the tension from that dissonance, and provides that dopamine.

Be aware, some people dislike magic because of that cognitive dissonance. They want to know ‘the truth’ and your games may upset them!

Since starting PRL, I’ve renewed my interest in magic tricks. They are a matter of focus and misdirection (visual reframing), which are tools of persuasion.

It’s been slow going, but some highly-recommended books include these two “Now you See It” releases by Bill Tarr (I own both), and the classic card handling book “Expert at the Card Table” by S.W. Erdnase (which I do not).

Five Rules of Magic:

1. Practice, practice, practice!

You shouldn’t perform a trick if you’re not 100% confident in your skills. That said, at this point I seem to fail about as often as I succeed. Part of confidence comes from failure to know what works and what does not.

2. Know your angles.

Your illusion is exactly that — a false reality that you create for your viewers. If they’re looking over your shoulder, you might not be able to hide your slight in the same way as you would for a distant audience. Know what you can get away with, visually, and what you cannot. Remember that our visual senses override nearly every other sense, including common sense.

3. Never do the same trick twice.

People are drawn in the first time, but once they know what will happen they will try to focus elsewhere to uncover your secrets. Deny them that opportunity. Keep your secrets.

4. Never tell your audience how the trick is done.

Knowledge of a trick removes all of its mystery. Don’t let that happen! You may need to keep your audience away from your props, for example that deck of cards which is 52 of the same Aces of Spades.

5. Never show your preparation.

Illusions require the audience to believe what they’re seeing. If they know you have two birds, you can’t make one disappear and reappear. They’ll know it wasn’t the same bird because they saw you prepare with two birds.


Penn and Teller are two master magicians who perform their illusions in the open. As much as it helps to demystify their illusions, they still manage to stump viewers — even their fellow magicians!

Check out this excellent clip of a new spin on a classic cup-and-ball trick.