One of my more unusual “claims to fame” is that I’ve performed magic in front of a paying audience at Caeser’s palace, Las Vegas. I’ve also performed the same act in London, Johannesburg and Minneapolis—although all of this becomes far less exciting when you find out it’s actually a presentation that draws similarities between business analysis and magic (and there are a surprising number of similarities….)
Preparing for that presentation meant that I carried out research into various branches of magic and I was particularly interested in cold reading. This technique is used by magicians who want to appear to be able to read a subject’s mind. There are a whole range of ways of achieving this effect, from illusions and misdirection to clever language patterns and use of psychology. One that particularly stood out to me was the Barnum Statement.
Barnum Statements can be described as:
“…artfully generalised character statements that most people will accept as reasonably accurate” (Rowland, 2015)
A good Barnum statement may well feel personal, but it actually applies to a significant chunk of the population. It somehow simultaneously feels specific but actually says very little. Take the following statement: