Setting the stage

An important aspect of the persuasion process is to set the stage for the reading; this includes careful consideration of how the reader advertises himself, how he presents himself, and how he manages the initial interactions. Its purpose is threefold: to persuade the client that the reader is genuine, to engage the active participation of the client in the reading process, and to provide plausible 'outs' should the reading nevertheless not be a success.

With regard to presentation, the reader should appear professional and in control of the situation. Earle (1990b), for example, urges magicians interested in specialising in pseudopsychic effects to dress smartly, and warns that "You will save about 80-90% of what you were spending on props, but you'll end up spending it on wardrobe". Dean et al. (1992) have described how graphologists can use polished presentation to triumph over lack of substance. They label this the Dr Fox Effect, after the first experimental demonstration of it in which a Dr Fox gave a well-received one hour talk on games theory to 55 psychiatrists and social workers (Naftulin et al., 1973). In fact Dr Fox was an actor, although

He looked distinguished, sounded authoritative, and lectured charismatically with much jargon, enthusiasm, jokes, and references to unrelated topics. His talk was highly entertaining but deliberately meaningless. Yet the audience found it to be clear and stimulating, and nobody realized it was nonsense. (Dean et al., 1992, p. 371).

Appearance may also be effective in inducing a Halo effect (Cooper, 1981; Kelly & Renihan, 1984). Here it is argued that if the reader possesses some positive characteristics (such as dressing well, appearing warm and friendly) we will readily attribute other characteristics (e.g. that he is sincere, genuine, trustworthy) to him.

The reader works hard, both in terms of presentation and through verbal exchanges, to establish that they are in control of the situation; they emphasise that they have a track record of successful demonstrations so their expertise is not in question - any 'failures' must inevitably be placed firmly at the feet of the client. Thus it is already agreed that much of the burden for making the session a success falls on the client:

If something that the reader later says does not tally with the client's beliefs or does not make sense, the client has been prepared to treat the apparent confusion as due to the client's own failure to understand adequately rather than to the psychic's lack of knowledge. (Hyman 1981: p. 430).

The reader also emphasises the co-operative nature of the reading. Messages may come through them which are only meaningful to the client and which cannot be deciphered without their help. Earle (1990a), for example, notes

The best readers always include a statement like, 'I only see pieces, as in a jigsaw puzzle. It is up to you to put them together', or, 'I may speak of a person being crushed by a house as in The wizard of Oz, but you recognize it as a friend with overdue mortgage payments'. This attitude has the additional advantage of enlisting the active participation of the client. She is always searching for meanings to your statements and, when she makes the connections, will vividly remember them later. The better her mental images the longer she will recall, and try to validate, your statements. (p. 6)

The client's active co-operation can be further encouraged by establishing a rapport with them. Hobrin (1990) stresses that the primary attribute in a reader is to have a pleasing, charming, disarming personality. Martin (1990) further suggests that by involving the client physically in whatever divination process is being used (such as shuffling the Tarot cards or casting the I Ching) they become participants rather than just observers.

Although the reader has asserted his expertise, he can use the process of setting the stage to also prepare an 'out' should the client not be able to understand elements of the reading, despite much effort. It should be stressed that this need not imply that the reader's psychic gift is fallible in some way (which would be contrary to the primary message conveyed during stage setting, outlined above). Rather, it can be understood as suggesting that the psychic ability is somewhat independent of the percipient him or herself; whereas the gift is infallible, the percipient and client are prone to misunderstand its 'true' meaning. Lewis (1991), for example, recommends saying of the reading

• This is like looking through frosted glass; I don't see everything, I only see little glimpses.

• Clairvoyance is not something you can just turn on and off like a tap, sometimes it comes and sometimes it doesn't.

• This is not the ten commandments. I don't know everything - if I knew everything I could win the pools.

Perhaps best of all, he draws a parallel with weather forecasting; just as weather forecasters get it badly wrong on occasion without our rejecting their predictive methods, so even gross errors of prediction here won't invalidate the method from which they were derived (i.e. the reader's claim to be psychic). Once the client has been sufficiently primed to work hard to understand the meaning of the reading, the pseudopsychic can move on to generate material for them.

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