Answering Questions From Platform

There is a distinct difference between the Private Reader and the Stage Reader. We have seen what sort of answer is given by the first and now we must consider the second. Bearing in mind what we have said that "Entertainment is the prime object"—our answers must appeal to the mass and that is why you carefully choose the right questions in the first place.

There are numerous styles of presentation for the Stage Reader. Some performers prefer to start off by calling out the initials of the person who wrote the questions, having them hold up their hand for identification and then replying to them. Others answer the question first and have the spectator identify his question afterwards. Some do not have any identification or acknowledgment from the audience and some mix a bit of each and everything. The very last is the best.

It means that sometimes you start off asking "Who is 'M.G.B.' please?"— and sometimes "This is a question about buying a church—our friend is somewhere here tonight and we shall see who he is later . . However, since we have established a pattern that varies—i.e. sometimes we identify at the start, sometimes not, we leave ourselves with a delightful loophole. Every now and then we answer a question that is nothing bar a figment of our imagination! With a large audience, a bold performer will often take a fictitious question and start off by asking "who is 'B.B.*—the lady who wants to know if she should go to a marriage bureau ?" He then glances around and finally "sees" a hand raised at the back . . . "thank you" he replies to a lady somewhere in the audience—but in fact non-existent! Timed and acted correctly, there is little danger of anybody knowing that you did not receive a reply. It takes nerve, but it adds authenticity to the presentation.

So we have the pattern to work to; now and then we use real questions, sometimes we use fakes. It is practically essential to have some fakes lined up to give spice to the routine and as an emergency reserve. Learn to memorise which type of question goes over best—and get a solid reply ready worded in your mind. This is your fake and reserve question. Think nothing of the fact that you are cheating by using fake questions—because only a hypocrite declines the use of fake questions and then goes on to answer the real ones with the pretence that he knows what he's talking about.

The answer you give to any question should be directed to the audience as a whole. Occasionally you speak loudly and specifically to the person concerned. You frame your reply so that it appeals to everybody. Grab at any chance for a witty or comical reply (without hurting anyone's feelings.) Learn to infer that you know much more than you say. Keep the spectator saying "YES" as much as you can—even on reply to statements of fact. For example, a written question:—

"Will my daughter become engaged to the Doctor...? Mrs. Freeman".

You can score at least five 'yesses' out of this alone, without a few lucky hits on the road. During the spiel, you feed in the facts and each time put it as though you had made a discovery and wanted confirmation. For example, at various points along the road we can "enquire" . . . "We have a lady here who is concerned with her daughter and a professional man—will the writer please hold up her hand ?" Thank you. Madame—I believe you are a married woman (YES) and therefore you understand and appreciate what I will say. First, let me ask you, or better still, tell you—that I feel your problem does concern marriage, although it has not yet taken place? (YES) I would say that there is in fact an engagement with a view to marriage in the air? (YES). Now let me deal with a gentleman who has a very great bearing on this matter, who also has a very noble profession—the man we have in mind is a doctor isn't he? (YES) and there is a great deal of personal feeling in the family for this gentleman? (YES) . .

From this example we see that everybody is drawn into the question. We do not make cryptic replies that mean something to the writer alone. We let the audience hear by a continuous stream of yes, yes, yes—that you are right! They all think you are doing fine—how could you know all that about a stranger? And the lady is also none the wiser as to how you know—although as one in hundreds she may suspect you have read her question. Now you see how it appears to the audience as a whole, and when you think of it, you have not yet started—you have only used a few scraps of information. You can always scrape a few more 'yesses' by such statements as "might I say that you have indeed been concerned with money of late?" Just think about it. How many people can honestly say "No?" There are dozens of lines like that which you can sort out for yourself as they are easy to formulate. Whip them in quick and get on to something else before people stop to think how blessed silly it is!

The sure fire prediction is the emergency exit of every reader. When he can't get along with any spectator—the facts are few and acknowledgements less, you fall back on time honoured policy and talk about the future which cannot be denied there and then.

Within reason, you can go to town with the future. You can always call upon the "Letter soon to be received with surprisingly pleasant news" and "A journey to meet a strange man—something to do with your father's side of the family". You can take a small chance now and then and be specific. An old one that hits nearly every time—is "I see you have a scar on your knee," this, said to males, nearly always causes astonishment because few stop to think that most every male does have a scar on his knee. Try it—I'm not talking tripe (this time!).

Always keep a handy stock of sure-fire predictions in your mind. We all know that when you are right—they remember what you nid and when you are wrong they forget . You are not going to have the audience sit there for five years to find out if what you say is really going to happen—so don't hold back. Blossom forth with visions of money, promotion, travel and friendship. Paint the future bright and keep them happy.

Make use of fake questions—don't just sling them in to fill space. If you are playing safe (and you are with a fake) make it hot. Let me give you an example of a fake question and how you would create interest with the audience as a whole.

"This next question is something which 1 don't like to handle. It is very risky for me to offer any advice at all, but I can see that the writer needs help and so I will offer a few strong opinions. This is a very personal question so 1 will not ask 'G.D.S.' to raise his hand. You have asked me to help you with your weakness. I'm going to be very strict on this and say I don't approve of any forms of unnatural behaviour. You are not even trying to help yourself. You should go to a psychiatrist for professional treatment and 1 think there is no doubt that you will become involved with the law if you don't stop these activities. Now you knowr what I mean, make an effort—you are in great danger the longer you leave it".

To analyse that question and reply we see that it has all the essential material for general interest. If I wrote that paragraph on a slip of paper and asked fifty people to read it and say what they thought was the trouble—I would get many different opinions. That's good—it's the old "To Be or Not To Be"— we make them form their own opinions and jump to conclusions. You cume pretty near the mark in the Question and Reply—but you are not commital. Nothing really terrible is said but lots of inference is given! It has the suggestion of seriousness—(a psychiatrist is needed), of scandal (the police and the law), of sex (although you don't say it—our word is behaviour)-i~it has everything and yet when you read it as it is—there is NOTHING in ift Everything is inference for the proof is that every detail of the question and reply would fit to perfection either a timid kleptomaniac who stole green combs from Woolworth Stores, didn't know why and couldn't stop doing it. He would be in danger of arrest for stealing and need psychiatric treatment—BUT also, we might visualise a sex-maniac. It all depends on the thinker, how they think, what they think. Politeness forbids me to enquire what you were thinking when you read it!

Perhaps I should make clear that it is an accepted licence that you use inference to dramatise a Question and Answer, and yet you are bound by the laws of common decency to keep it clean. Some houses would love to have a dirty session and it would not be difficult for you to provide it, but you have a status to maintain if nothing more, and your position as professional Mentalists should keep you above the level of smutty, sordid and shameful behaviour on your part.

As with scandal, money and travel you have three popular and workable topics, so with all the minor interests like family, health, marriage, etc. Aside from these which you can use, there are other strong topics which, although strong, you cannot use. Without giving any explanations why and wherefore, please take my word for it that one rule you must set yourself and stick to—is keep off Religion and keep off Legal Matters. Another runner-up is keep off Politics. It is a fact that by Law you could become involved in a case simply by what you say. It is one thing to entertain and it is another to do ten years for opening your mouth at the wrong moment!

Aside from these pitfalls we have the other type of trap which is less deadly than a Legal error: we get the catch question and sometimes the heckler in the audience who wants to make you look two inches high. The answer is simple. Keep calm and remember all the time your first obligation is to be polite and that you are there to entertain everybody and not argue with one nark. If you can, be more clever than he is. Nine times out of ten they will iry something that has been tried so many times before—that we know the answer by experience. We get the usual catch which is thought to be a brilliant trap by the inventor:—

"What will be the name of my wife when I marry?" Any experienced performer will not hesitate to give the stock reply—"A gentleman wante to know the name of his wife when he marries—who asked that please? Ah, you sir—may I call you by your name—who are you? Mr. Henry Coat^, thank you. Well, Mr. Coates, it may come as a surprise to you—but there seems to be little doubt that when you marry, your wife's name will be Mrs. Coates—thank you!" He swallows the bait and tells you his name and you get a laugh and you are out of trouble.

When you get a technical catch question as sometimes you do, just pass it off quick with a joke. You might get "What are Streptococci ?" and you can deal with it simply ... "I am asked what are streptococci? Well ladies and gentlemen, I do not claim to be a qualified bacteriologist—a subject which I believe deals with streptococci—but if the writer is that keen to know, he should turn to Volume Eleven, page 1,325 of the Encyclopedia Britannica and there on the right-hand page, left column, seven rows down—is given a most comprehensive explanation! It is reasonably safe to assume that no member of the audience will have with them the thirty odd giant volumes of Encyclopedia Britannica. Don't be afraid to get a good laugh when dealing , with these routines. Let me give you a few more examples of quick replies to catch questions. Replies given with a view to getting rid of the question quickly or getting a laugh:—

Q. How can I win lots of money on the pools?

A. Very simple. Get eight draws correct on the Treble Chance for six weeks running.

Q. Are you really a mindreader?

A. No\ Actually Vm a millionaire—but I do this to pay my taxes!

Q. M.H. asks, "Can you lend me five shillings?" My reply is simple. Only just!

Q. G.Y. Asks, "I've got lots of little troubles—can you help me?

A. Have you tried insecticides?

Q. (Can be faked for laugh). "Am I good looking?—H.B"

A. In reply to H.B. who asks if he is good looking—can I say he's the prettiest bricklayer I've seen in a fortnight.

Q. Can I stop smoking?

A. Give me your cigarettes and Fll try for you\

Q. Which of my teeth are filled with gold?

A. If you give them to me for a moment I'll soon tell you!

Q. I'm troubled at home, what's good for mice?

A. Cheese is about the best thing I can think of I

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