Art of Misdirection

What is misdirection?
Misdirection is a skill in which the attention of an audience is controlled to focus them one thing in order to distract its attention from another thing. For example, a magician first show the audience his both hands as empty then using some script/story/patter he will make the audience see his left hand in order to take something out from his right-hand sleeves in his right hand. Managing the audience’s attention is the aim of all professional magicians; misdirection is the central secret of all magic, most important principle of magic.

How to misdirect?
There are three basic ways to “misdirect” an audience. One is to encourage the audience to look away for a fleeting moment, so that the sleight or move may be accomplished undetected. The second approach is to make a large visible movement which looks significant but has no direct role to play in accomplishing the magic and behind large action make a small action which actually matters to accomplish the act. First two methods are used by almost all the magicians. The third approach has much to do with maneuvering the audience’s perception, where the minds of the audience members are distracted into thinking that an extraneous factor has much to do with the accomplishment of the feat, whereas in reality, it has no bearing on the effect at all. This approach is generally used by mentalists.

How to practice misdirection?
1) Magician Harlan Tarbell suggests trying this little experiment to prove to yourself that people follow your eyes. Pretend you are throwing a coin up into the air and look up to an imaginary point that the coin reached — but really retain the coin in your hand. The eyes of the spectators will look upward just as you did. You can do this many times and each time the audience will look upward.
2) Stand before your mirror and watch yourself. Take a coin in your left hand. You are going to get the effect of passing it to your right hand. For a few times really pass the coin from your left to your right hand. This is to give you Naturalness in faking the pass and also to give you an opportunity to observe how your eyes go from your left to your right hand. After you have done this a few times, go through the same moves but retain the coin by finger palming it in your left hand. Close your right hand as if you had the coin. Your eyes must follow the pretended passing of the coin just as they did when you actually passed it. Your audience will follow your eyes to your right hand and will not even notice your left hand. It is unbelievable until you try it yourself how easily large objects like bottles, glasses, balls and even rabbits and pigeons can be moved about almost under the very noses of the audience without their seeing or suspecting anything if you know the Art of Misdirection.

While applying misdirection magician need to be careful about the glance of his own eyes. The audience follows magician’s eyes. If you are showing left hand to the audience hiding something in your right hand, then you must never look at your right hand, you must keep looking at your left hand only. Your audience will follow your eyes to your left hand and will not even glance at your right hand and you can comfortably achieve the desired result. Even a sleight glance at your right hand will lead someone in the audience to follow your glance and suspect that you have something concealed in your right hand.
Almost every trick has some element of Misdirection in it. So remember, in performing your trick —never look at the opposite end of your effect. By the opposite end, Tarbell means the thing you are really doing — that is, looking at your hand which is holding the coin, rather than looking upward for the effect. If you look at your hand, the audience will look at your hand—that is the opposite end. If you look upward, the audience will look upward — that is the effect.

Audience Management:
One thing you must keep in mind is that it is a psychological fact that a person does not hold his attention on any one thing for more than a few seconds. Your job is to keep renewing his attention by the things you say or by varying the thing this person is to attend to — until you get your work out of the way. You must work fast so that you don’t bore the spectator and find him watching you instead of the thing he should be watching. You must remember that his attention wanders and you must be quick so that you are through with your “opposite end” before his attention comes back to you. Nearly the whole art of Sleight of Hand depends on this Art of Misdirection. Your seemingly miraculous effects depend on speed and cleverness in directing the attention of the audience away from the opposite end of the effect – away from what you are really doing.

Benefits of Misdirection:
Once you learn the art of misdirection you can perform unlimited magic tricks with it. With misdirection, you can perform magic tricks at any time and anywhere with no special props. A magician should never repeat the trick for the same audience but sometimes it may be necessary to repeat a trick within a short period of time and some of the old audience may be in the new one. You can throw these spectators off the track by presenting the trick by a different method of working. You can add some little twist to the trick, and even those who see it for the second time will not discover how you do the trick. There are “close investigators” in some audiences. You will have no difficulty in mystifying them if you vary your effects, even just a trifle. A magician with expertise in the art of misdirection often fools another magician with this skill. He will introduce a new twist of some kind or a new method of working and he has his fellow magician puzzled.

A considerable information of this article comes from magician Harlan Tarbell’s work.

– Amit Kalantri (Magician & Mentalist)


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