Ian Rowland's Cold Reading Masterclass
June 14th & 15th 2008

Reviewed by Martin S Taylor

Ian Rowland is known to magicians as the author of "The Full Facts book of Cold Reading", the authoritative guide on how to spout forth on a topic of which you know nowt. His latest venture is the Cold Reading Masterclass, a two-day teach-in on the techniques described in the book, and last month I was one of the first bunch to try it out. And a very mixed bunch we were, too: there was a fair number of magicians, but there were also therapists, writers, journalists, and (as Ian was inordinately proud to tell us) a martial arts teacher.

The weekend centred on audience participation, and after a short period of instruction various of us volunteered to be thrown in at the deep end, and tried to describe a person someone else was merely thinking of. Sounds impossible? Well with Ian's guidance most of us were able to make a reasonable stab at it.

The masterclass isn't only for magicians (there's no mention of magic or mentalism in the entire two days), and in the afternoon we learned how to become an instant pundit on any subject thrown at us. Again, there was much supervised practice as volunteer interviewees were grilled by volunteer Jeremy Paxmans on everything from metallurgy to knitting patterns. (Ian eschews the term 'bullshitting' but this is, in fact, what he was teaching us.)

I have to admit that I wasn't sure about this. Bluffing is easy when the interviewer himself is only playing a role. It would have been interesting to see how the cold readers would have fared against more knowledgeable, better-prepared, and aggressive questioners.

The second day continued the theme of business-oriented techniques, this time using cold reading to talk knowledgeably and impressively about any industry we were faced with a skill Ian himself had used in his former life as a marketing manager. We were given a little time to prepare our strategies, and then we were pitted against 'experts' from the industry, who took a perverse delight in disagreeing with most of our bluffs, while Ian coached us on wriggling out of the hole we had dug ourselves into.

If anyone needed proof of how well we had progressed, it was provided on the last afternoon when some of the participants' readings were uncannily accurate. One chap with no previous experience of cold reading described in the most amazing detail a place merely thought of, and freaked all of us especially the woman whose imagination he was reading.

From the success of the weekend, I am sure Ian will be running the masterclass quite a bit in future, and details will be on his website at www.ianrowland.com.


Martin S Taylor, July 2008