NYC Magician Shares Psychological Tricks

The Associated Press
Wednesday, January 24, 2007; 1:39 PM

NEW YORK -- He likes to call himself the Millionaires' Magician for the many deep pockets he's dazzled with his sleight of hand. But Steve Cohen says everyday folks can use his performance techniques to change their lives for the better the way he wows a crowd.

No, Cohen, the host of a weekly sold-out Chamber Magic show at The Waldorf-Astoria hotel, isn't giving away the house of cards on how he performs his tricks.

"I'm giving away the psychological secrets," says Cohen, who has written a book on the topic.

Want to be bolder? Try secretly dropping a quarter in someone's pocket, he says. Shy? Try talking to strangers in elevators _ and you'll see how quickly people lower their guard.

The 36-year-old, who studied psychology at Cornell University, advises people preparing to speak before a crowd on what to drink, how to loosen their throats and mouths, how to breathe correctly and why humming can tune their voices to speak. He hopes that with his techniques, people can go beyond their comfort zones.

The bespectacled Cohen said he began sharing tips after meeting people at his show, where he uses cards, coins, jewelry, books and even his own heartbeat to entertain. His audience has included former General Electric Co. Chairman Jack Welch, actor Michael J. Fox, late astronomer Carl Sagan and former Intel Corp. Chairman Andy Grove.

"I had a lot of people, smart people, coming up to me after this show saying, 'That was really amazing, but you're more than doing a magic show, you're almost like a salesman. What kind of skills do you do that I could use?'" Cohen said.

So Cohen wrote the book "Win the Crowd: Unlock the Secrets of Influence, Charisma, and Showmanship," which was published in 2005 by HarperCollins Publishers Inc. and released in paperback in summer 2006.

So far, Cohen's favorite reviews have come from customers worldwide after the book was released in six languages.

"Business people say it has increased their confidence when they're giving presentations and even when they're trying to pitch one person on something," he said.

K.C. Hagin, a 25-year-old New Yorker, recently saw Cohen's act.

"It wasn't pulling a rabbit out of a hat. It was incredibly sophisticated," she said. "He would pick random people who you know aren't in on it with him and perform tricks based on their minds. I actually drew a picture with my back to him while he simultaneously drew the same picture."

She said the key to his magic is his ability to engage his audience throughout the show.

"They're as shocked as you are at what's happening," she said. "That's how he's so convincing."

Cohen describes magic as a mental game of cat and mouse in which proper preparation allows the magician to lead others along enough so that "they get trapped in your words or your plan."

Nothing, he said, is left to chance.

Cohen said some simple rules that give a magician the upper hand over his audience can be applied in life, too, for anyone who wants to command a room, read people better or get inside the minds of others to influence their thoughts.

"Being a magician is kind of like being a manipulator, but not with the negative connotation that the word 'manipulation' or 'manipulate' implies," he said. "I'm not trying to bilk anyone out of their money, convince them of a new belief system, create a cult."

He acknowledges that the skills of manipulation also could be used for evil. But he said it's no different from a gun in the dresser because "it could protect you or harm somebody."

In the book, Cohen discusses how to create a colorful personality, build confidence, prepare for important encounters with one person or many, predict the behavior of others and gain control over the way others behave, just like he does in his performances.

Ultimately, he said, he'd like his concepts to help people gain more from the magic in the world around them, whether it's the birth of a baby or "a flower blooming in the field with dew on its petals in the morning."

Cohen has been practicing magic since he was 6. Proficient in Japanese, he once worked as an interpreter for the Japanese government. Now, he lives in New York with his wife, Yumi, and their son, Alex.

Cohen said he had divulged more information about actual tricks in his book, but withdrew the details when fellow magicians balked. As a result, he said he gets nothing but praise from others in his field.

But he said there are limits to the powers of magic, even those tips he shares.

"These techniques I use are most successful in a controlled environment," he said. "In an auditorium somewhere if you want to persuade someone to walk across the room and kiss you, it's nearly impossible."

© 2007 The Associated Press