4 Tools to Increase Your Productivity in 2021

4 Tools to Increase Your Productivity in 2021 1572 664 Kevin Viner

“It’s another tequila sunrise . . .” or at least another year. And even though 2021 feels a bit different after everything we’ve been through, some things never change. We all have New Years’ resolutions, and one that pops up each year for me is increasing my efficiency. To that end, let’s ring in the new year with some of my favorite tech solutions that help me have more time to focus less on what I have to do, and more on what I want to do.

Habitshare (iOS, FREE): We all have weekly goals. Running a few times a week, taking our vitamins, reading 25 pages a day, etc. Habitshare allows you to track these on a daily or weekly basis and create streaks. For somebody who is self-employed like me with an erratic schedule, this helps me keep track of my daily tasks. And if you get a friend or spouse on the app, you can share your progress with each other to maintain accountability.

Things 3 (iOS and MacOS, $9.99): Things 3 is a to-do list on steroids. I’m a big fan of David Allen’s Getting Things Done methodology, which at its most basic level states that we aren’t productive because we think it terms of large projects, and not the action items that comprise those projects. Things allows you to do a “brain dump” of all the items into an Inbox, and then move them into associated projects, and to star specific tasks for certain days. I review it each night to determine what I need to get done the next day to stay on track. Look up Things in the App Store to purchase.

Boomerang ($4.99/mo personal, $14.99/mo Pro): If you use G Suite (formerly Google Apps) for email, this is a no-brainer. It allows me to reply to an email, and then have it automatically bounce back to my Inbox at a pre-determined time. How is this helpful? Let’s say that I email a client and I’m waiting on a reply. After I email. them, I can automatically bounce the email back into my inbox a couple of days later if I haven’t heard back. It doesn’t clog up my Inbox, and I know that anything in my Inbox on a given day is something that needs to be either rescheduled to another day or acted on immediately. I also use it for scheduling yearly reminders and more. You can visit Boomerang to learn more.

Copper ($59.99/month): Years ago, I used ACT! to track contracts, contacts, and emails. Copper is a CRM that integrates with my other software solutions (Quickbooks, PandaDoc, etc.) and helps me track where I am in a given stage with my proposals and agreements. Learn more at Copper.

Follow these 5 Zoom Tips for Successful Virtual Meeting Entertainment

Follow these 5 Zoom Tips for Successful Virtual Meeting Entertainment 768 324 Kevin Viner

For years, the entertainment industry has been at the forefront of technological advances. From lighting to film and audio, entertainers have led the charge for better equipment, and for more efficient use of existing technology.

As a leader in virtual meeting entertainment, I produced nearly 100 shows over Zoom throughout 2020, and there are a few common errors that I see people making. Here are 5 tips to make your virtual meeting entertainment stand out!

  1. Make sure that everybody is on the most updated version of Zoom. This should go without saying, but alas, I run into many clients running old versions of Zoom. Some of the newest features, like multi-spotlight, won’t work if your guests are on an older version of Zoom. I always recommend that clients send a brief email to their group, directing them to download the latest version at And did I mention that this also provides for the most security for your meeting?

  2. Know where to find the proper mute/unmute settings. Entertainers thrive on applause, and it’s a sure sign to attendees that everybody is enjoying the event. Until April of last year, it was easy to mute and unmute guests at will over Zoom. This functionality was removed for security concerns and replaced with “Ask to Unmute,” which means that you must ask a guest to unmute themselves. As an entertainer, this adds unnecessary delays to the performance, and there is no good way to get group applause. But there is a hidden setting that solves that problem for you! You can allow your guests to “pre-qualify” themselves to be unmuted by the host and co-hosts

    You have to enable two settings to make this work. First, go to your Zoom global settings, which your admin can access at Click on “In Meeting (Advanced)” and scroll to the last option. Toggle the switch on, as seen below.

    Now that you’ve enabled this setting, you’ll see a new option when you schedule your meeting. Check the “Request permission to unmute participants box,” as seen below, and you’re done! Now, everybody who joins will get a pop-up box that allows them to be unmuted at will by hosts. If they don’t want to, it’s no big deal! Not a security concern for your company, and everybody wins!
  3. Use the waiting room properly. The Zoom waiting room is a great thing. It functions like the lobby of a theater, allowing guests to wait until you are ready to begin your meeting. But once the meeting starts, it’s annoying to have to let guests in one by one. As a quick meeting hack, enable the waiting room at the beginning of the meeting, and then once the meeting begins, turn it off after allowing everybody in.

    This way, guests can’t join prematurely, and you avoid the problem of having to admit latecomers one by one. If you haven’t done it before, you’ll want to click on the “Security” button at the bottom of your Zoom screen, and then click “Enable Waiting Room” to toggle the waiting room OFF. See the image below if you don’t know where to go! (Bonus Tip: once everybody is in your meeting, you can click “Lock Meeting” to keep anybody else OUT).

  4. Master the mute keyboard shortcut. If you are hosting from a computer, there is nothing worse than having to find the person talking and muting them. And to Mute All, you have to click the participants window, and THEN click mute all. This isn’t exactly quick. When you need to do it in a pinch, you can press Cmd+Ctrl+M (MacOS) or Alt+M (Windows) to quickly mute everybody but yourself.

  5. Ask guests to rename themselves. If you are bringing a speaker or entertainer into your event, bear in mind that they don’t know your group like you do. Which means that if your group has display names like “amd440029,” not even a mind reader like me can guess their name! I always recommend that you have your guests open the participants panel, and click on More –> Rename next to their display name to type in their first name. If they are watching with a significant other or their children, they can add their names here as well!

Please leave your comments below, and let me know if you think I missed anything. I would love to hear YOUR shortcuts that are helpful on Zoom or any other platform.

Battling COVID From a Numbers Perspective

Battling COVID From a Numbers Perspective 1572 664 Kevin Viner

It’s an age-old math problem that seems counterintuitive: Would you rather be given $1,000,000 right now, or one penny that doubled each day for 30 days? The latter solution would net you over $5,000,000, even though you would only be at just over $600k on Day 27. Let’s look at this from another angle. Imagine that there is a single lily pad in a pond, and it doubles in size every day until it covers the pond on Day 30. On which day did it cover only half of the pond? It’s tempting to say Day 15, or the halfway point. But that would be thinking linearly.

The correct answer is Day 29. By Day 31, it would cover the equivalent of 2 ponds. By Day 32, 4 ponds. And so on and so forth. It’s the same math that makes investments difficult for many, and makes it difficult to contemplate how a pandemic can get out of control so quickly. Things that seem benign early on can quickly spiral out of control to a point of no return.

And therein lies a huge problem. Understanding the mathematics of a pandemic requires an understanding of both exponential grown and conditional probability. That’s why we have so many articles written to explain the mathematics behind COVID-19. I was a mathematics major in college, and much of it is counterintuitive to me!

Because we have a hard time contemplating the future effects, we prioritize the present over the future. We believe that wearing masks “doesn’t matter,” we ignore the advice of top doctors who teach us that greater social distancing could curb this virus in 13 weeks (source:, and we create a holding pattern that is making things much worse than they need to be.

Add to this the concept of confirmation bias, which I wrote about extensively in an earlier blog post ( We attribute more validity to opinions that match our own ideology instead of trying to stick with facts. In other words, we substitute opinions for facts. So when we hear that masks don’t matter, that the situation isn’t really as bad as people think it is, and that it is going to “disappear on its own,” we ignore the science that shows us that it simply isn’t so.

In a world that seems to be increasingly divided, now is a good time for us all to admit that we don’t really know it all. If we subscribe to one set of beliefs, we should constantly question them to see if what we believe is actually true, or something that we are simply subscribing to because it is easier for our brains to consider. Great companies don’t just assume they have the right answer. They bring in 3rd parties to question, to audit, and to innovate. And we should do the same in our personal lives. Innovation expert Greg Satell says “Don’t look for a great idea. Look for a good problem.” We find problems by asking questions. If we can all ask better questions, we will get closer to a real solution. And I believe that is a goal that we can all share in unity.

PPP Loan Gig Workers

Where can I find a PPP loan?

Where can I find a PPP loan? 1572 664 Kevin Viner

In early March, I received a call from a trusted friend in New York while I was at the gym. “This coronavirus is going to shut down the entire country,” he said. Like most of us, I ignored the warning and attributed it to a cautionary overreaction. And like most of us, I was wrong. Fortunately, it seems like most Americans are complying with regulations, meaning that the initial grizzly projections may not come to fruition. And with these unprecedented times come silver linings — more time to spend at home with loved ones (and pets), more time to finish our seemingly unending pile of unfinished projects, and a world unifying under a common goal.

Our businesses have all but shut down. Where my calendar was once full of bookings, I’m staring at empty dates. Like all massive shutdowns, this too will eventually revert to the mean. But in the meantime (bad math joke), the government has stepped in to help small businesses everywhere. Unfortunately, this has been a total disaster of a rollout. I’ve been working with accountants, journalists, and friends to keep abreast of the Paycheck Protection Program (henceforth the PPP) and the EIDL (Economic Injury Disaster Loan), and I hope this article will be a helpful resource to all small business owners. 

Please note, I am not a CPA or financial advisor, nor in any way credentialed to give financial advice. View the following only as opinions based on my research, and please consult with your own professional financial advisor or CPA before making any decisions. I’m not liable for any decisions you might make.

So now onto the good stuff:

In late March, the Senate passed the “Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act,” henceforth referred to as the CARES Act. $377 billion dollars of that act has been earmarked for small businesses. The two main components of this are the PPP and the EIDL.

EIDL Program

The EIDL program has been around for quite some time, and now includes COVID-19 assistance. Businesses must fit the following criteria:

  • In existence on January 31, 2020
  • Fewer than 500 employees
  • Co-ops, ESOPs, and tribal small businesses (fewer than 500 employees)
  • Sole proprietors
  • Independent contractors
  • Most private nonprofits

You will be eligible for a $2 million working capital loan at a rate of 3.75% for businesses, or 2.75% for non-profits with up to a 30 year term. Payments on COVID-19 loans are deferred for one year, and up to $200,000 can be approved without a personal guarantee. No collateral is required for loans of $25,000 or less,

But the EXCITING part of it is that there is a $10,000 GRANT (doesn’t need to be paid back) component, which should be in your account sooner than later. You can apply easily (took me about 15 mins) at The fine print says that IF you can also secure a PPP loan, the $10,000 grant will be subtracted from the forgiveness amount.

But seeing as the PPP loans seem a bit tougher to apply for (as you’ll read below), I think this is a good place to start. You can also use it for more flexible spending than with the PPP. It can be used to cover paid sick leave, payroll, and event repaying obligations that cannot be met due to revenue loss (for entertainers, think about those refunds we had to issue to clients, or contracts that we only received 50% of).

As a side note, the SBA explicitly states that “the Paycheck Protection Program loan funds and the Economic Injury Disaster Loan funds cannot be used for the same purpose.” Make sure to document how you use the funds! It may be wise to set up a separate bank account to house these funds so that there is a paper trail of their exact use. Just a thought.

PPP Program

This is the “loan” (it’s really a grant in theory, if used properly) option that is more stringent in its use requirements, but also potentially more rewarding. And definitely much harder to get. In theory, you should be able to apply with any local branch of your bank. But as I learned personally, many banks (including San Diego County Credit Union, whom I bank with) aren’t participating. And with many of the ones who are, you must be an existing customer. And even then, banks like Wells Fargo have shut down the loans because they got slammed with too many applications. In other words, I’ll be shocked if I ever see the money. But it’s definitely worth applying for. I’ll explain a bit about the program first, and then give you some options.

The loan can be used for small businesses with less than 500 employees that was in business on or before February 15, 2020. This means it works for S Corps, C Corps, LLCs, sole proprietorships, and even independent contractors. Independent contractors and “Schedule C” businesses will not be eligible to apply until April 10, 2020. 

In order to have the loan forgiven, you MUST use it at least 75% on payroll costs (which can include employer paid retirement contributions), and the remaining 25% can be used for business rent, interest on business mortgage debt, and utilities. You’ll want to talk with your accountant to structure this correctly, but it shouldn’t be tough to do. And remember NOT to double dip into what you’re using the EIDL for.

You can receive up to $10 million (!) dollars, but most of us won’t. You can qualify for up to 2.5x your average monthly payroll costs. How is this calculated? Well, it’s changed multiple times since the law was rolled out quickly and presents many contradictions. 

The basic idea is that you take your gross payroll for a year, divide by 12, and multiply by 2.5. And BINGO, that’s the amount. But it’s not really that simple. An approximate calculation can be arrived at as follows:

  1. Start with your gross payroll costs (these include employer paid state taxes, healthcare benefits, and retirement contributions contributions, but not ROTH IRA contributions) for employees whose principal place of residence is the United States. For a sole proprietorship with no employees, that’s your net profit (line 31 of your Schedule C).
  2. Subtract compensation paid to yourself or any employee over $100,000. For instance, if your compensation is $120,000, you would have to subtract $20,000.
  3. Divide this number by 12 to get your average monthly payroll.
  4. Multiply this by 2.5.

A few caveats and tips:

  • The CARES act specifically says to use the prior 12-month period for calculating payroll. In this case, that would be April 1, 2019 – March 31, 2020. HOWEVER, first quarter 941s haven’t been filed yet for companies who run payroll, so many banks are asking for calculations based on Jan 1, 2019 – December 31, 2019.
  • For sole proprietors, retirement contributions and healthcare come AFTER the schedule C, so the calculation is simple. Simply divide line 31 of your Schedule C by 12 and multiply by 2.5.
  • For LLCs, S and C corps, make sure that you use GROSS payroll for step 1. You’ll want to make sure that these are included in your calculations. Healthcare benefits, employer paid retirement contributions, parental and sick pay should all be included. The $100,000 payroll cap ONLY applies to the wages for the employee, not to their benefits. Don’t leave extra money on the table!

So now for the big question. WHERE do I apply?

Unfortunately, most banks haven’t been easy to work with. Make sure that you have all your required documents together, which may vary by state and lender. A preliminary list is:

Based on my research, you may apply at multiple banks, but only one loan will be approved. So I recommend spreading out multiple applications, as this is first come first serve, and we can’t control how fast banks will get to our application.


Start with seeing if your local bank is an SBA approved lender and participating. You may have received an email from them or found a way to apply online.

Secondly, visit and These FinTech loan brokers act as middlemen to process your application, and they get their commission from the bank. They have a financial incentive to source your loan.

After that, I would fill out applications with a few different banks who currently seem to be accepting applicants from outside of their clientele. A few that I’ve found:

Sunrise Banks:
Bank of Southern California:
Celtic Bank:
Hanmi Bank:

And finally, you can hedge bets by filling out inquiry forms with banks who seem to be preparing to hop on board. But keep in mind that the money may be gone by then. Two other banks to check in with are below.

US Bank
Umpqua Bank

Thanks for reading, please share, and leave a comment below if you have more information to add! And if you would like to receive my monthly newsletter and don’t already, you can sign up at the”Stay in Touch” form at the top of this page (or below on mobile).

What’s Your REAL Job?

What’s Your REAL Job? 1572 664 Kevin Viner

I posted an article on LinkedIn a few months back that got quite a bit of attention, and thought I’d share it here as well.

As a magician and mentalist specializing in the corporate market, I’m often asked by hotel staff and attendees if this is “my real job.” It just isn’t something people are used to seeing in a live environment. Even when we watch acts on America’s Got Talent, they normally have a storyline that involves some other source of income. In my case, I decided to make a career out of being a mentalist shortly after graduating from college.

For anybody who doesn’t know what a mentalist is, think of an illusionist who specializes in mind-reading entertainment. We do the same things that you might see a TV “psychic” do, except we present it as entertainment rather than purporting to be the real thing.

So back to being 21 and deciding to go into this full-time. My mentor, a magician named Jason Randal, posed a leading question — “Kevin, what do you think your real job is?” And given Jason’s resume, I tend to take his thoughts fairly seriously. Over his lifelong career as a magician and mentalist, he has also earned a PhD in social psychology, a seventh-degree black belt in karate, won multiple awards for different musical instruments, and is one of the top flight instructors in the world for both airplanes and helicopters. Not to mention moonlighting as faculty at both MIT and Harvard Business School. 

So back to “Kevin, what do you think your real job is?” I replied that it was to do impossible mind reading demonstrations. But he made me drill deeper. Maybe it was to fool people? Maybe it was to help guests network during cocktails? After throwing out a few guesses, he finally gave me the answer, or at least his take on the correct answer. My job as an entertainer is to change the way that people feel. And he told me that I should approach all events with that intent and purpose. Because most mentalists, and most magicians, simply go out with the intent to fool. And that’s only half the battle. In reality, mind reading demonstrations are only my vehicle, or mode of action, to a much more important goal. Thinking that way produces a scalability and a unique value for clients. 

When I show up to an event, I’m there for a greater purpose than simply fooling the guests. I’m there as an ambassador of goodwill, and everything from my arrival time to my communication leading to the event should reflect that. Given two performers of equal skill and expertise, who will do the better job? The act who shows up simply to fool the guests, or the act who shows up to create an experience that will leave them somehow changed for the better? 

So what’s YOUR real job? Leave a comment below and please share!

Fyre Festival: A Mentalist’s Perspective

Fyre Festival: A Mentalist’s Perspective 1572 664 Kevin Viner

Unless you’ve been living under a rock, you’ve heard of the now infamous Fyre Festival. A joint venture with Ja Rule and delusional serial entrepreneur Billy McFarland, the music festival was created as PR for the Fyre music app, but quickly went up in flames through a variety of frauds and deceptions. 

Promised luxury oceanfront villas and expertly crafted meals on a private island, concert-goers instead arrived to FEMA tents, wet mattresses, boxed sandwiches, and no music. The festival was promptly canceled and guests were sent home, but not before the damage was done. If you haven’t already, check out either of the documentaries streaming on Netflix and Hulu. They each provide a slightly different angle on the downfall of the festival.

As a mentalist, I couldn’t help but to consider the psychology behind the team trying to assemble this. Enter the Dunning-Kruger effect, one of the dozens of cognitive biases that seem to universally affect our decisions (learn more about cognitive biases). As described in a 2014 paper, the Dunning-Kruger effect “suggests that poor performers are not in a position to recognize the shortcomings in their performance.” In other words, those who are completely incompetent at a skill tend to know so little that they don’t have a realistic baseline for what their knowledge should be. This can be dangerous because it leads to reckless decisions based on overestimated abilities. 

A graphical depiction of the
Dunning-Kruger effect.

In a 1999 paper entitled “Unskilled and Unaware of It: How Difficulties in Recognizing One’s Own Incompetence Lead to Inflated Self-Assessments,” Kruger and Dunning created a series of tests based on humor, language, and logic. As suspected, those who scored in the bottom 25% overrated their skills by much more than their peers, and those who scored the highest (experts) tended to slightly underrate their skills (part of why successful, qualified leaders don’t pretend that they have all the answers).

The Fyre team set out to create an incredible experience from the beginning, but nobody knew what they were doing. That wouldn’t have been as problematic except that they didn’t seem to realize how over their heads they were. In particular, Grant Margolin (Fyre’s CMO) seemed to ignore advice from those with far more experience. A few great Grant quotes from the documentary:

  • “Let’s just do it and be legends!”
  • “I’m not a perfectionist, but everything needs to be perfect.”
  • “I’m a marketing prodigy!”
  • “I asked for sushi chefs!!” (after the food budget was cut from $6 mil to $1 mil.)

We’ve all heard the saying “You don’t know what you don’t know.”  In this case, Margolin operated under an assumption that his talents far surpassed his actual abilities. 

I’ve seen the same with mentalists and illusionists who have come to me with requests for advice on their programs. Too often, they don’t have enough performance time under their belts and their show needs a heavy amount of lifting to make it viable. After giving helpful thoughts, the comments are nearly always a defense of why they don’t want to change. And yet they wonder why their careers aren’t going in the direction they would like. You may have found the same problems interacting with both staff and other executives at your workplace.

A takeaway for all of us is to assume that there are always those who know more than we do. There is a fine line between being a visionary and being a fool, and the Fyre Festival should serve as a reminder to show humility in our cognitive self-assessments. You will become a better leader by thinking like an expert, not by pretending that you are one.

Lessons From Howard Schultz

Lessons From Howard Schultz 1572 664 Kevin Viner

A couple of months ago, I received a call to fly to Seattle for a last-minute event. Howard Schultz, the famed Starbucks CEO, was hosting a retirement party and wanted me to be the featured entertainment.

Although I visit Starbucks almost daily, I knew little about the man who revolutionized the coffee industry. So, as I do for all of my clients, I spent some time researching Schultz’ background and reading his book Pour Your Heart Into It. There were a few great takeaways on leadership that I think we should all keep in mind:

It’s Not All About Profit

For many successful companies, profits follow a motivated workforce. Starbucks has always opted to balance social responsibility with high profits and volume. By providing employee health care and other great benefits, Howard Schultz created a team of evangelical baristas for the company. This leads to less turnover, happier customers, and better relationships. All of which increase Starbucks’ bottom line. As an entertainer, I can be hired by anybody once. But to get repeat bookings and word of mouth, it’s important to deliver an executive entertainment EXPERIENCE that will unify the room. Working on increasing customer and vendor satisfaction can often yield better results than simply focusing on the money.

What’s Your Real Job?

Too often, our job title means something different than what we really do. About a decade ago, my mentor told me that I was looking at my career all wrong. I wasn’t in the business of being a mentalist, or a magician, or fooling people, or even making them laugh. Those are all methods that I use to accomplish my goal, but it isn’t really the core of my business. You see, entertainers are REALLY in the business of changing the way that people feel. We are brought in to touch the audience and to make them think, and we do that by engaging them and making them laugh with awe and wonder.

With Starbucks, Howard Schultz realized that it wasn’t all about good coffee. It was about creating a neighborhood environment and a location for people to gather daily. It was about warmth. It was about richness and depth. It was about capturing what he LOVED about coffee and creating a business that would pass that joy to others.

Lead By Example

Nobody was a bigger advocate for the Starbucks brand than Schultz himself. From a 2014 Inc. Magazine interview:

“Starbucks is not in business for Howard Schultz. Howard Schultz is in business for Starbucks. The company will evolve and survive long after me, because it’s built for that. But I’m not going anywhere anytime soon… I love this company so much. My emotional state in relation to the company is beyond normalcy. It’s a fanatical feeling.”

Creating incredible cultures at work and home are often a matter of leading by example. If you can be the most excited, you will excite those around you. And by creating something even bigger than yourself, you can share a goal and mission with your employees, or as Schultz called them, your partners.

How Groups Think, and Why It Matters

How Groups Think, and Why It Matters 1572 664 Kevin Viner

As a mentalist, I’m typically onstage in front of a group that ranges in size from 15 individuals to 18,000. While the sizes of the groups have varied, their dynamics for the most part have not. In fact, most groups have immutable characteristics that we can capitalize on (and defend ourselves against). The same characteristics can be found in friends, coworkers, city councils, and juries.

I’m talking about The Wisdom of Crowds, as well as the aptly named Groupthink.

The Wisdom of Crowds

The Wisdom of Crowds was a term coined by James Surowiecki in 2004. His similarly titled book begins with James recounting a phenomenon where the crowd at a county fair accurately determined the weight of an ox by averaging the group’s individual guesses. Oddly, this result worked even though many of the original guesses were wildly off. So what does this mean? It means that groups, when working together and leveraging each other’s knowledge, can achieve results not as easily obtained individually. It also means that if your child has a jellybean counting contest at school, they should average the guesses of all their friends around them! See, the average isn’t always wrong. In fact, it’s often right! And that’s why we should teach our children to just be  . . . average. 🙂

For this idea to hold merit, James gives 4 pillars that each group of people must stand on:

  1. Diversity of opinion amongst individuals.
  2. Independence, that each person’s opinion is their own.
  3. Decentralization, that people can draw on their own knowledge.
  4. Aggregation, that the ideas can somehow be merged into a communal decision.

Unfortunately, it doesn’t always work out that way.


When the above ideals aren’t met, The Wisdom of Crowds theory self destructs and we are left with a “black hole” so to speak, a vacuum of irrationality that yields inferior results. This is called Groupthink, named by William H. Whyte in 1952 and derived from George Orwell’s dystopian novel 1984. When members of a group don’t stand for their own ideals because they would rather have the group’s support (when they seek agreement rather than meaningful solutions), we wind up with the bulk of the group giving way to a few key leaders, or “thought leaders.”

In the past, it was often thought that that The Wisdom of Crowds only held true if people didn’t talk to each other, but the University of Pennsylvania’s Damon Centola recently proved that this isn’t true. In fact, groups who communicate with each other can achieve incredible results, as long all members hold equal weight. When “thought leaders” take over the decisions, it is “more likely to lead the group astray than improve it” (Centola).

As a Mentalist

Knowing the similarities and subtle differences between these modes of thinking creates incredible opportunities onstage. In any given room, I know that I can predict with reasonable accuracy the average behavior of the audience at large. By meeting the personalities in the lobby before the show, or during the cocktail reception, I can often gauge the overall makeup of the group. And by flipping that thought on its head to create groupthink, I know that establishing rapport with a few key individuals in each audience (the thought leaders) will relax the rest of my guests, making the job much easier since people have let their guard down.

In The Office

Follow the lead of companies like Square, who hold weekly “Town Square” meetings where employees are encouraged to speak up about anything that may be on their minds. Give all individuals the chances to have their voices heard, rather than relying on the opinions of a select few. Of course, that doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t know the strengths and weaknesses of every employee (famed hedge fund manager Ray Dalio even had statistical performance and personality “trading cards” made of each employee) — it just means that you should at least recognize and listen to each individual voice.

In Your Personal Life

We’ve all been in situations where things don’t work out exactly the way we wished. Our friends decide to go to a different movie than us, or a different bar, or even just have a different opinion. While our first reaction is almost always defense, it might make sense to realize that the group may be creating a better decision that we would individually. And conversely, if one or two leaders in your friends always makes the decision, it might be time to voice your opinion in a kind way.

Confirmation Bias: Do All Those People Really Agree With Me?

Confirmation Bias: Do All Those People Really Agree With Me? 1572 680 Kevin Viner

As a college student, my writing 39C professor taught us to always question the source of our information. In a world where Facebook and Google know more about us than we know about ourselves (each company has a small book’s worth of information on our habits, desires, interests, and friends), it’s easy to make incorrect assumptions about the information that we receive.

In psychology, there are a series of mental “illusions” called cognitive biases. One of the most well known is the confirmation bias, defined as “the tendency to search for, interpret, favor, and recall information in a way that confirms one’s preexisting beliefs or hypotheses.” In a sense, we treat information that feeds our personal agendas as more important than that which does not.

Social media networks only help feed this, with algorithms that place “liked” posts higher in our news feeds. This creates a distorted reality field, causing us to believe in an inflated majority of the world sharing our beliefs.

Around the world, there are fraudulent psychics (think Sylvia Brown, the Long Island Medium, etc.) who greatly rely on this fact to create their sensationalized performances. At their programs, guests arrive already believing that they are seeing the “real thing.” This leads attendees to place more importance on what the psychic gets right than what they miss. They downplay information that doesn’t fit their mental model, and as such give the psychic more credit than would be otherwise deserved.

As a mentalist, I’m able to use this fact when I build my shows. At the beginning of the show, the audience has their guards up and will scrutinize every action. As the show progresses, I can take more risks and rely on bolder, more creative methods since the audience has relaxed more. They assume that I will be able to correctly guess the information, allowing their guards to drop and in a sense becoming easier to manipulate.

Want to test this with your friends?

Grab a copy of the horoscope with some astrologically-minded friends, and ask them to read the horoscopes and choose that which describes them the best. They will likely find ways to explain why their horoscope is the best fit of the 12. Now wait until there is a new set of horoscopes on a different day. Clip them each out and discard the heading that says which horoscope text belongs to which sign. Without having the information readily available, you’ll find that it is virtually impossible to select the correct horoscope. This is because horoscopes are written in generalities (called Barnum statements) designed to apply universally. It is only our confirmation bias that causes us to read our personal horoscope as more applicable.

So next time you are thinking that the rest of the world thinks exactly like you, sit back and ask yourself what information you might be dismissing.

The Rubber Hand Illusion

The Rubber Hand Illusion 1572 680 Kevin Viner

Mentalism is based in part on building performances that take advantage of natural cognitive biases and illusions. This is the first in a series that will explore the inner workings of our minds.

In a study called “Rubber hands ‘feel’ touch that eyes see,” scientists Matthew Botvinick and Jonathan Cohen published an optical and sensory illusion that has found great acclaim with neuroscientists as well as mentalists. This was a huge step in the knowledge of how we bodily self-identify, and the original study can be found at

Essentially, one of the subject’s real arms was hidden behind a screen, while a life-size fake rubber hand was positioned directly in front of the subject. 2 paintbrushes were then used to stroke the fake hand and the real (hidden) hand in sync, wherein the visual information of seeing the rubber hand being stroked along with the tactile information of the synced touch created a compelling illusion that the rubber hand belonged to the participant.

This has led to compelling advances in virtual reality technology, as well as helping to relieve “phantom limb” neurological pain. Other experiments have taken a more lighthearted approach, such as where you can see the reaction when the fake hand is suddenly smashed with a hammer!

And psychological illusionist Derren Brown even performed a routine based on this idea in his 2011 television special Svengali.

When you have a chance, give it a shot with a friend. You’ll have fun and learn something in the process!