Memory feat presentation


I would like to discuss about the best ways to present memory feats to an audience (not about how to do them in the technical aspect). I´ll start with some unconnected thoughts just to have something to start with, but this could go anywhere.

How much should be said about the memory techniques during the show? I think it´s not the same doing it as a magician than doing it as a mnemonist.

In a magic show I never use the word “mnemotecnia” or talk about “memorization techniques” at all, because I think it takes the mistery away; you are basically saying how you do it, or at least suggesting that it is something not so incredible everyone can do. And what you want is to keep the audience wondering how you did that: they are very likely to think about more incredible things than what is actually happening; they may think you have a special talent, or that you trained a lot to achieve some memory feat that is, in fact, very simple. When I do a memory feat during a magic show, I just say I´m going to show them something incredible that is going to change forever all their notions about the limits of mind capacity, and proceed to the demonstration without more explanation. Of course that´s my point of view, I know of magicians who openly say they are using memory techniques and even talk about the method of “making a history” during the show; I don´t like that. If I talk with someone after the show, I may say something about mnemonics, but never enough to let him know how I do it.

As a mnemonist who tries to divulge the techniques, it´s obviously different. But I think it´s not that good to say too much either. I had bad experiences with people who asked me how I did it and looked very interested, and all their motivation vanished when they knew enough to satisfy their curiosity; they never really learned to use the techniques well enough to be useful in their lifes as soon as they understood the “trick”. Many people think the techniques are stupid when they hear how it´s done, even when they where amazed with the result moments ago… I think the best way to take advantage of the curiosity is giving the information only when they have the time to learn it seriously and test it by themselves (in my case, I give a course, but I also teach to anyone who confirms that has “a few hours” to spend learning with me).

I want to share some thoughts about my experience with the feat of memorizing 30 words said by the audience during magic shows. A simple feat to do, but I´ll explain why I think it´s one of the best ones, and why I do it the way I do it.

I think that following the principles of how to build a magic routine, each demonstration must be more incredible than the previous one. That´s one reason to start by memorizing a list of 30 words said by the audience: it can be easily followed by almost any memory feat in your repertorie (I follow it with big numbers and piles of cards, all while I keep answering about the first 30 words). But I do it for many other reasons, and if I only have time for one memory feat in the routine, I do this demonstration even when I could do harder ones. That´s because:

  • I think this is maybe the most simple and clear way to demonstrate a powerful memory.

  • At least where I live, most people doesn´t even know that a human can remember 30 words by their number listening to them once, so the effect has more than enough power.

  • The effect can keep the audience entertained for several minutes

  • This may be the only magic trick I know in which 30 audience members participate in the effect in a creative and non-trivial way, each one affecting what the magician will say. They get really involved, and that´s very very important: even when I do something more powerful afterwards, in the long term they tend to remember and talk about the word memorization.

-There is a lot of room for improvisation and real communication with the audience while they say the words, and you can have some planed “improvisation” from the words you know people usually say.

I use exactly 30 because I think 20 is not impressive enough, and 40 is not more impresive than 30. To avoid having a few minutes with no magic happening while they say the 30 words, when they reach 10 and 20, I check the last 10 words “to see if everything is ok” (I pretend that the feat is a little hard for me, to give some suspense. If I happen to make a mistake, it´s not something that bad.). But when they reach 30, I surprise them with the fact that I also know the words by their number, and that´s a very powerful moment. After they ask for some words, I usually do as they please as long as I see them entertained, and finish by saying the list backwards to give it some kind of climax if I don´t follow up with some other memory feat.

I don´t know how many of you use mnemonics for shows enough to care about presentational details, but I hope something interesting can arise from here.

MEMORY DEMONSTRATION IDEAS- for an amazing memory show (NEW IDEAS)

I like how you do words picked by the audience during your magic shows

You can stand in front of each person as you are “reading” their mind for that word

In magic shows, you could use preprinted random numbers
For instance, have a board with 100 “random” numbers which you pre printed on a board (that you already memorized)
have an audience member pick one while you are blindfolded
tell them you need some help by telling you which row and column so you can “read” their mind
Do the same with two more audience members
they will be amazed

Then have a board with 104 “random” cards pre glued to a board (that you already memorized)
Do the same as above

Finish off the show by reciting multiple people from the audience their names and DOB (which you asked them to put on their nametags) and which you already memorized from when they came into the room and during the show

They will leave amazed!


I like the tricks you mention (the printed “random” numbers and “random” cards to do a mind-reading effect). The harder part of those tricks would be justifying why I must know the exact position of the number in the board and to make sure they perceive a previous memorization of that board so impossible that they don´t even consider it; but all that can be done with a proper presentation. I think it would be dangerous to include this kind of effects in the same routine with pure memory demonstrations, since that would strongly suggest the secret, but maybe it´s still possible if the memory demonstration comes afterwards.

About reading minds while doing word memorization, I think that if you turn the memory feat into a mind-reading, that´s already a totally different effect even when the technique is exactly the same; all the presentation should be different. Since I like to do memory demonstrations I´m not likely to do this particular feat as a mind-reading; but of course it could be awesome. Making each audience member say a word and think on it to read their minds afterwards, giving for granted that it would be impossible to memorize all of them, could be a mind-blowing trick if the audience doesn´t know about you having mnemonic abilities.

Reciting people names at the end of the show is something I always wanted to do. But I´m currently so bad with names and faces that it will have to wait until I get better.


Forgive me for reviving this old post, but presentation of memory feats is something I’ve been focusing on lately. I’ll pick up from Nerto’s justification.

When performing any kind of feat (memory, magic, juggling, etc.), you can really only give it 2 basic types of “why”.

You can give it substantive meaning, where you exploit people’s inherent wishes and desires about themselves, universal experiences, or some type of common curiosity about a topic (what’s it like to use your memory to get an advantage in blackjack at the casinos?).

Alternatively, there’s situational meaning, where the drama of the situation itself is what grabs and holds the attention. You’re up against an audience member (without antagonizing them!), a clock, a machine, your own nature, or something along that line, and you must overcome the odds. Writers like to boil this down to “timelock” (our hero only has so much time left to perform their task) vs. “optionlock” (our hero can’t save BOTH his friend/family member AND the 20 people in danger, so what does he choose?)

Basically, when performing memory feats, you’re an individual with a unique power. Now, demonstrating the same basic power over and over again can get boring very quickly. Yet, strangely, that’s exactly what the multibillion dollar comic book industry gets away with every month! Perhaps we should at least consider superheroes as a model.

A magician named Jon Armstrong has written about character development for magicians, and likened it to superheroes. The article itself isn’t available anywhere online, but it boils down to 4 simple ideas that are common among superheroes, and should be adhered to by performers:

• Superheroes are defined by their powers, to the extent that they’re often named after them (e.g., Spiderman, the Flash).

• Audiences are familiar with what a particular superhero is capable of, so the heroes have certain expectations (without being made predictable), and they’re made more memorable.

• Superheroes are limited by their powers (e.g., Batman doesn’t have X-ray vision, Spiderman can’t talk to sea creatures), creating focus, as well as opportunities for challenge.

• Speaking of limitations, many superheroes also have a weakness. How they deal with this weakness can be as engaging as how they use their superpowers.

Here’s an article, written for an audience of performing magicians, that gives further food for thought along these lines:

I hope this topic takes off again, because it could become a very interesting discussion.