Catch Me If You Can

Catch Me If You Can 786 340 Kevin Viner

One of my favorite parts of performing for a living is catching up with old friends, as well as meeting new friends. At a corporate program in Phoenix earlier this month, I was able to meet Frank Abignale, Jr, who you may know as the subject of the hit film Catch Me if You Can (starring Leonardo DiCaprio and Tom Hanks). Meeting one of my childhood idols was a pretty incredible experience!

If you aren’t familiar with Frank, he executed a series of incredible cons from age 15 to 21. These included impersonating a Pan Am pilot, by which he was able to travel over 1,000,000 miles for free, impersonating a doctor, escaping from police custody multiple times, and successfully (and legitimately) passing the Louisiana Bar Exam without having ever attended legal classes. When apprehended, Frank served a small sentence before being brought onboard as a security consultant to the FBI, turning his life around and becoming an international authority on fraud.

What an incredible story of somebody turning their life around.

A few key takeaways from his lecture:

Your “Smart Home” Isn’t All That Smart
Be mindful of “smart devices” in your home. These include wifi connected TVs, cameras, thermostats, etc. These often aren’t built with robust security standards, and the weakest link in your home network can open you to a variety of attacks. Consider a router that allows you to create a guest network upon which these devices can live. Even if hackers can gain access to that network, your files and main hub will be protected.

Leave the Debit Card at Home
We’ve all had the experience of having our information stolen, be it from any of the recent major security breaches that have hit the news or from simply having our credit card information stolen after giving it to an unscrupulous employee. If somebody racks up charges on this card, you are backed by the credit card company and pay nothing. The thief has essentially spent the credit card company’s cash. Debit cards are a different beast, since they are tied directly to your account. Once the money has left your bank, it can require a deep investigation to retrieve. Keep that in mind, and realize that a stolen debit card can cause much deeper financial trouble than a stolen credit card.

Watch Your Picture
Especially on LinkedIn, we are told to use professional pictures that show us off in the best light. The problem is that these same pictures can be used by identity thieves to manufacture false IDs. By controlling the images that appear online to make sure that they aren’t standard headshots, we can help mitigate this risk.

For more information on Frank Abignale, you can read his book or watch the movie!

Surprise: An Emotional Multiplier

Surprise: An Emotional Multiplier 786 340 Kevin Viner

At one of my recent events, a client shared with me their company’s mission statement. The final word was “Exceed,” which they meant as exceeding their clients’ expectations.

For this particular company, there isn’t much they can do to go above and beyond in a traditional sense. Their hands are bound by numbers and regulations, and they don’t really have leeway to offer many services or features different from their competitors. But one thing that they can do is give their clients what they expect in a way that they didn’t see coming. In other words, surprise them.

In the 1999 film The Sixth Sense, M. Night Shyamalan created an ending that nobody saw coming. Largely in part to this surprise climax, the film went on to become one of the most successful horror movies of all time. The Harvard Business Review says that surprise is one of the most important tools in a marketing toolbox. And in my own show, I’ve built in surprises to leave the audience with an experience they will never forget.

But what exactly happens when we’re surprised, and why do we enjoy it so much?

According to research by Emory University and Baylor College of Medicine, scientists found that surprise can trigger the release of dopamine through increased activity within the nucleus accumbens (one of the “pleasure centers” in the brain). Scientists randomly squirted either fruit juice or water into the mouths of 25 participants. The patterns of the squirting were either predictable or unpredictable. When the scientists squirted the liquid in an unpredictable pattern, MRIs showed that the brain’s activity in its pleasure center was much more pronounced than when the liquid was squirted predictably.

Psychologists like Robert Plutchik have classified emotions into primary categories like anger, fear, bliss, love, etc., and it appears that surprise amplifies whatever state we are feeling. Think about when you watch a horror film – the adrenaline starts coursing through your veins as the music darkens. You know that you’re about to be surprised, and your fight or flight response kicks in. On the contrary, “good surprises” (flowers, promotions, etc.) make us much happier than if we had expected them.

2017 Alkami 20/20 Conference held at the Plano Hilton Hotel from April 10-12, 2017

So look for ways to give people “good surprises,” realizing that you can harness the power of surprise as an emotional multiplier. Bring your wife flowers unexpectedly. Give your customers things that make them feel good, even if it’s just a larger smile than your competitors. A genuine, caring smile can be a huge surprise to your customers. Think about ways to meet your customers’ needs while giving them even MORE than expected. And if you, like my recent client, can’t give them more than your competitors from a product or line item perspective, allow your customer service to be the pleasant surprise.

After all, dopamine is a powerful neurotransmitter, and it can’t hurt to foster a company that encourages its release in your clients. Stop focusing on your new corporate white paper, and start focusing on truly surprising your customers in an innovative way.

Playing Cards: Espionage Is the Name of the Game

Playing Cards: Espionage Is the Name of the Game 786 340 Kevin Viner

Playing cards have been a huge part of my life since childhood. I’ve used them to learn sleight of hand, enjoyed games with family, and even cheated at gambling when I’ve had the opportunity (just kidding… maybe). As a mentalist, I’ve learned to read tells to determine what cards people are thinking of.

But the history of playing cards is even more colorful than one might imagine. Did you know that these simple pieces of card stock have played a role in the serious game of espionage?

The Great Escape

One example was a project between the United States Playing Card Company and American and British intelligence on a deck of cards designed to assist allied prisoners in escaping from German POW camps in World War II.

This special deck was called the Escape Map Deck and was produced with hidden maps of top-secret escape routes embedded between the two layers of paper that comprise a standard card. By soaking them in water, the card layers could be separated to see the hidden maps with the route to safety.

These wartime decks were highly secret for several years even after the war, partly due to their potential relevance to war crimes prosecutions. It’s not known how many were produced or how many remain. In fact, there may be only one in existence, rumored to be in a private collection.

A commemorative Bicycle Escape Map Deck is available featuring original artwork on the front and back of the cards. Portions of a map are also printed over the front sides that can be assembled when the cards are arranged in order.

Secret Messages

We’ve heard of invisible ink as a means of sending secret messages, but there is another method that involves hiding words in plain sight. According to research performed by the Conjuring Arts Research Center in New York, soldiers (also in WWII) would band together and memorize the random order of a deck of playing cards. This would sometimes takes days of hard work (or more), but in the end it allowed for transmitting encrypted messages across camp.

Operatives would write a message on the edge of a deck of playing cards while it was in the known order, and then shuffle the deck multiple times, rendering the message completely unreadable. Only by placing the deck back into the correct order could the message be read.

So the next time you sit down for a quick game, or try learning a card trick, remember that those common playing cards you’ve been taking for granted all this time are actually versatile and sometimes heroic players.



The Real Secrets: Improving Your Memory (pt. 2)

The Real Secrets: Improving Your Memory (pt. 2) 786 340 Kevin Viner

We left our previous discussion, in part 1, with one of the cornerstones of all memory technique, the linking method. If you missed that article, then this won’t make much sense, so please go read that first!

Also, a couple of great resources if you’re interested in learning more are Moonwalking with Einstein and The Memory Book.

At the end of the last article, I challenged readers to use the linking method to memorize a list of seemingly random words. I also promised to reveal the importance of this list, so here you go!

If you’ve memorized those items, you now know the top 20 countries in the world in order of population (as of today, at least). Drumroll please…

  1. Teacup (China)
  2. Indian (India)
  3. US Flag (USA)
  4. Mud Coffee (Indonesia)
  5. Brazil Nut (Brazil)
  6. Pack of Music Stands (Pakistan – “pack of stands”)
  7. Niger River (Nigeria)
  8. Bang on a Desk (Bangladesh)
  9. Nesting Dolls (Russia)
  10. Ramen (Japan)
  11. Sombrero (Mexico)
  12. Phillips Screwdriver (Philippines)
  13. Eating Opal (Ethiopia)
  14. Vietnam War (Vietnam)
  15. Pyramid (Egypt)
  16. A Turkey (Turkey)
  17. Hefeweizen Beer (Germany)
  18. Running Quickly (Iran – “I ran”)
  19. Gorilla (DR Congo)
  20. Tying Shoes (Thailand)

This exercise shows how effective memory technique can be for studying. It isn’t limited to simple grocery lists. If you can think of creative ways to link ANYTHING as a picture, you can remember it.

Think of U.S. state capitals. An example would be California and Sacramento. When I think of California, I think of surfers. And Sacramento sounds like sacrament. So I imagine a surfer receiving communion in a Catholic Church. As another example, Juneau is the capital of Alaska. I picture a June bug trapped in a block of ice. Using this technique, you can memorize all the capitals in about an hour. Sure beats rote learning!

Another example, in the business world, is memorizing speeches. Let’s say you know all the information, but you need to remember the order of your slides without having notes.

Maybe your speech looks something like this:

  1. General overview of past year
  2. Top leaders
  3. Sales goals
  4. Biggest problems your company is facing
  5. Analysis of competitors
  6. Changes for new year

This is a very broad overview, and maybe there are many components to each of these. The linking method will work no matter how long this list! I would picture (i) a general speaking with (ii) all of his lieutenants, then (iii) boarding a ship with large “sails.” They run into (iv) rough water, then (v) some other ships try to overtake them. To conclude, they (vi) change course and move to smoother seas.

By linking information this way, you take a series of ideas and create a story arc that you can remember with ease.

Have any other ideas for ways to use the linking method? Email me and let me know your thoughts!

The Real Secrets: Improving Your Memory (pt. 1)

The Real Secrets: Improving Your Memory (pt. 1) 786 340 Kevin Viner

Do you have a photographic memory?” It’s a question that I’m asked after every show, and the simple answer is absolutely not. And gladly so. Here’s a Scientific American article that explores the burden of having a perfect memory:

This month, we’ll explore a method used to memorize lists of information. In future installments, we’ll cover a few more tricks for remembering names, speeches and even where you left the keys (hint: they are probably exactly where they belong — it’s the only place you didn’t check).

Exercise: Take about 45 seconds and look over this list, trying to memorize as many items as you can:

  1. Leather Jacket
  2. Pillow
  3. Business Card
  4. Television
  5. Coffee Maker
  6. Spider Monkey
  7. Lamp
  8. Curtain
  9. Door Handle
  10. Briefcase

These are all items that are around my hotel room as I’m writing this (except, unfortunately, for the spider monkey). Now, without cheating, try to recite as many of the items from memory as possible. If you’re like most of us, you will get between six and eight of the items correct, but it may take you a while. That’s because the human brain can hold approximately seven pieces of information at a given time in short-term memory. And why remembering a seven-digit phone number isn’t that hard, but remembering a full ten digits becomes a challenge.

By the time you finish what I’m about to teach you, you’ll know this list inside and out, backwards and forwards, AND you’ll even be able to remember it tomorrow. It’s based on the idea that our brain remembers images far better than words and numbers. That’s why stories and plots in films are memorable. They move seamlessly from one idea to the next, creating links and a story that take the viewer on a journey. We’re going to do the same thing with this list.

Start with the leather jacket. See it and involve your senses. What color is it? What does it smell like? How does it feel? Now that you can picture it, we are going to LINK it to the next item on the list, the pillow. But here’s the catch. The jacket needs to AFFECT the pillow somehow. And the crazier and zanier the image, the better. So let’s exaggerate. What if the pillow was humungous and shaped like a person, the jacket went over the pillow to keep it warm. When you try zipping the zipper on the jacket, the pillow starts spilling out all over the place. That’s the kind of detail we want.

Now we link the pillow to a business card. How so? Well, maybe there are thousands of business cards (exaggeration is key), and the huge pillow is trying to gather them all together. It can’t hold them, so it strips off its pillow case and stuffs itself full of business cards (a bit of a silly image, but it does the trick).

Now we link the business card to the television. Take a second and figure out how to do that. I decided that the business card looked like a model of an old TV set, antenna, knobs and all. By pressing a button on the business card, the TV turns on.

On to the TV and coffee maker. Remember, we want to affect the coffee maker with the TV somehow. How might we do that? What if the TV had a specific channel (like QVC) that sold coffee makers and all you had to do was turn the TV to that channel, tip it on its side and coffee would pour out? But the spout was broken so coffee got ALL OVER THE PLACE! Once again, use your senses to see the mess and smell the coffee.

You get the hint at this point, so try the next few on your own without my help. And we are halfway through. So starting at leather jacket, think how easy it is to move from one item to the next mentally!

Spider monkeys don’t typically know how to use a coffee maker. So the Keurig (or whatever brand you like) traps the monkey’s fingers in it. The monkey screams and knocks the hot cup out of the machine, burning its arm. In a fit of uncontrollable rage, the spider monkey starts flailing around uncontrollably and breaks EVERY lamp in the room, putting it into total darkness.

Now we link the lamp to a curtain. Imagine that the curtain in the room is really a giant LED lamp wall, and you use it both to brighten the room AND turn it off for darkness at night. Or imagine that a lamp breaks underneath a 100-foot-tall curtain and starts a fire. Or you could imagine that the lamp has giant legs and runs over to close the curtains because it’s trying to turn off all the lights including itself!

The curtain wraps itself around the door handle so that whenever you shut it, it throws the door wide open. The door looks like a gigantic briefcase, and you notice that when you open it, there are tons of papers and pens inside, like a gigantic version of an attaché case.

So even though that took a while to type, in practice the associations happen instantly. I’ve rehearsed to the point where I can have somebody slowly read me a list, make the associations in real time, and store the information in memory. It’s beyond helpful for grocery lists :). Next month, I’ll explain some other uses for linking.

Now that you’ve read this, try to recall the list.

  • Start with the jacket — what is wearing the jacket?
  • Now the pillow — what is the pillow stuffing inside of it?
  • Now the business cards — what happens when you turn the card “on?”

You should be at 10/10 on this. If you want to take on a challenge, use the linking method to memorize the below list. I’ll explain its significance next month. And if you can get ahead of me and guess, please email me!

  1. Teacup
  2. Indian
  3. US Flag
  4. Mud Coffee
  5. Brazil Nut
  6. Pack of Music Stands
  7. Niger River
  8. Bang on a Desk
  9. Nesting Dolls
  10. Ramen
  11. Sombrero
  12. Phillips Screwdriver
  13. Eating Opal
  14. Vietnam War
  15. Pyramid
  16. A Turkey
  17. Hefeweizen Beer
  18. Running Quickly
  19. Gorilla
  20. Tying Shoes


Have fun and practice!

Houdini – The Master of Self-Promotion

Houdini – The Master of Self-Promotion 786 340 Kevin Viner

If someone asked you to name the most famous magician from the past, what’s the first name that comes to mind? If I were to guess what you were thinking (and let’s be honest, that’s my job), my guess would be Harry Houdini. While Houdini was an illusionist and stunt performer, he is best known for his memorable escape acts.

What most people don’t realize, however, is that Houdini was more than just an incredible performer. He was also a master of self-promotion. It’s true that he was able to spark the fascination of his audiences with his near-death performances. But his talents went far beyond what was seen on the surface.

Houdini sought promotional assistance from a variety of traditional outlets such as radio broadcasts and public platforms. He even worked closely with the police by including them in some of his performances. His ultimate goal was to get maximum exposure for his act. By reaching out to media outlets and incorporating the police, Houdini knew that newspapers would have no choice but to write about the “Amazing Houdini.” He encapsulated PT Barnum’s mentality that he needed to get his name out in the world as much as possible.

Houdini was an original viral marketer, which allowed him to promote himself and his art to an extremely large audience. Every Houdini video, photograph and magic prop that we’ve seen is due to his own efforts to ensure he had visual records of his work.

On top of this, Houdini was also an actor, historian, film producer and pilot. It must have seemed like he was everywhere, which only added to his fame, similar to the Beatles during the 1960s.

Like Houdini, many of us have one mission: visibility. No matter what profession we pursue or dream we follow, we all have to go the extra mile and promote ourselves. How badly do you want to succeed, and what can the great Houdini teach you?

ESP / Zener Cards – Are You a Believer?

ESP / Zener Cards – Are You a Believer? 768 340 Kevin Viner

We’ve all heard someone say they have a “sixth sense” as an explanation for an unexplainable phenomenon. But have you ever wondered whether a sixth sense, also commonly referred to as ESP, can be proven?

The short answer is that there has never been any proof of actual psychic phenomena, but it still makes for an interesting historical topic.

Zener Card

Zener cards, or ESP cards, were used to answer this challenge by conducting experiments with a deck of 25 cards depicting five different symbols (circle, Greek cross, vertical wavy lines, square, five-pointed star). Perceptual psychologist Karl Zener designed the cards in the early 1930s for experiments conducted with his colleague, a parapsychologist named J. B. Rhine.

To determine the validity of someone’s claim of ESP, Rhine created an experiment that started with shuffling the deck and picking a random card. The experimenter would then ask the person being tested which of the five symbols had been chosen, sight unseen. This would be repeated until the deck was exhausted, and they would see how many times the subject guessed correctly, which should be 20% statistically.

Unfortunately, the potential for cheating, along with sensory cues and other methodological flaws, ultimately discredited Rhine’s experiments. Due to such issues, card-guessing is no longer used in these kinds of studies.

Bill MurrayThe concept of this test has lived on through references in The Prisoner and X-Files TV shows, movies like Ghostbusters and Star Wars: Episode I, and several video games.

Rhine’s pioneering efforts, however, didn’t end there. He is credited with coining the term “parapsychology” and with founding the parapsychology lab at Duke University, the Journal of Parapsychology and the Parapsychology Association.

Today, the Rhine Research Center is an independent, non-profit organization that takes a scientific approach to anomalous phenomena and exceptional human experience, where research about ESP, psychic phenomena and parapsychology continues to be conducted. Its mission is to study unexplainable phenomena that a person may experience and to share its findings and resources with the public through online courses, educational events and meetings.

ESP and mentalism aren’t that far off from one another. Mentalism might seem to imply that a person has a kind of supernatural power, similar to someone having a sixth sense. But it’s through a keen sense of observation, combined with a knowledge of human psychology and behavior, that a professional mentalist like myself seems to pull thoughts from people’s minds, influence their behavior onstage and predict the outcome of future events.

Both imply that the mind is more complex than we fully understand. That’s the truly exciting part for me. And for my audiences. Mentalists and illusionists are now being studied by neuroscientists to help determine exactly why we think and believe the things that we do.


So, are you a believer?

Tips For Successful Meeting Entertainment

Tips For Successful Meeting Entertainment 768 340 Kevin Viner

As an entertainer, I see events from a slightly different perspective from the rest of the audience. And with an interactive performer, that lens changes even more. Here are a few simple tips that I’ve found make for the best interactive entertainment experience.


At many events, your audience will be at tabled rounds. That means about 50% of your group is facing away from the performer. Add to that distractions from servers, glasses clanking and guests busy enjoying their meals, and you’ll have a performance that loses 20% of its steam before it has even begun. So schedule your performance immediately following dinner, after dessert has been plated and coffee has been poured. Then you can halt service until after the show is completed, and everybody will be able to enjoy the program to its fullest.


Does the CEO need to give a speech? Is somebody in the company a stand-up comic on the side and wants to roast the incoming board? These can all be great components of an event, but I always recommend that they come after the main entertainment if they will be longer than 15 minutes. Guests have an energy spike immediately following dinner, followed by a descent into “food coma.” By scheduling entertainment first, you’ll ensure that the energy level of your group stays lifted.


Like speeches, awards can often take way too long. And as much as we would wish otherwise, most employees and peers don’t care about the awards that they or their friends are not receiving. For award presentations longer than 20 minutes, it’s advisable to end the evening with them rather than putting the entertainment last. More importantly, this will prevent your guests from leaving early and missing the entertainment entirely!


My top rule. Under no circumstance should you separate your entertainment from your audience with a dance floor (unless your entertainment is a band). Put the dance floor at the back of the room, or bring chairs in to fill in the dance floor while your guests enjoy the entertainment. Otherwise, you make front row seats the equivalent of mid-row seats, and the people in the back may have issues seeing the show clearly.


Should we surprise our guests by hiding the entertainment from them? Under my advice, no. Think about going to a movie or a concert. If you have some knowledge of what you’re about to see, you’ll be able to enjoy the program more. That’s one of the reasons I enjoy performing close-up illusions and mind reading before taking the stage for the full group. It gives your guests the chance to create a buzz in the room, preparing them to appreciate the performance to its fullest.

Neuroscience of Organization

Neuroscience of Organization 786 340 Kevin Viner

I’m fascinated by books on how we can improve our thoughts, patterns, and ideas. Unfortunately, many of these get trashed away in the “self-help” section. Unfortunate not because of the content, which is brilliant, but because of a certain stigma that goes along with being caught in the “self-help” section.

I absolutely love that section of the bookstore. It holds some amazing truths and poses questions that can enhance our daily lives. One of my favorite books is Getting Things Done, by David Allen.

In his interview from the Washington Post, researcher Daniel Levitin explores the link between multi-tasking and a lack of productivity, amongst other things. He talks about how good organization is scientifically PROVEN to help the brain function better. One of the salient ideas is that our brain is not capable of true multitasking. In that sense, we are much more like an iPhone that an Android. We are hardwired to do one thing well at a time, and we tend to jump from thing to thing when we multitask. The problem with this is that we don’t allot enough time to finish one individual task, and our brain has to “reboot” briefly between ideas, costing us valuable time and resources. But as research has proven, multi-tasking can release dopamine into our synapses, making us FEEL good inside.

What’s the lesson? The lesson is to stick to the task at hand, even if it doesn’t necessarily feel like the best thing to do in a given moment. Have a clear, concise goal and map, and an agenda to keep yourself to it. Use your calendar religiously, and find some system of organization that can help you stay on task.

For more information, and to read the entire interview, check out the Washington Post article here.

Planning Meetings and Booking Entertainment for Corporate Events

Planning Meetings and Booking Entertainment for Corporate Events 786 340 Kevin Viner

It’s Friday afternoon, and you’re about to enjoy a relaxing weekend away from work. Suddenly your boss looms from above — “I’d like to put you in charge of planning our upcoming function.” Even though this is the last thing you would like to do, you really have no choice. Planning a meeting or seminar can seem like an impossible proposition, and the need to find unique entertainment for corporate events makes the task even harder. Fortunately, there are a few tips that can make your job easier.

  1. Prioritize. Discuss with your company the importance of different event components. These include your budget, entertainment for meetings, event location, date and time, catering, stage and decor, and event sound and lighting (A/V).
  2. Tackle your list one piece at a time, or build a committee, assigning components to different members. Make sure that confirmations are made in the same order as your priorities for the event. If entertainment is your top priority, for example, you’ll want to focus on booking quality corporate entertainment before anything else. Your other priorities (including date and time of the event) will revolve around the speaker’s schedule. If the venue has to be specific, lock it in before contacting anybody else. Done this way, you’ll make sure that your lower priorities are fulfilled without limiting options for the most important pieces of your event.
  3. Make sure that you set a realistic total budget for the event, and break it down according to your priorities. It’s almost certain that some vendors will cost more than anticipated because of their quality and demand, so know in advance whe that money will come from.
  4. Get creative with research. It’s obvious that most people go straight to Google for their research, but there are other viable options. Facebook can be used as a search tool as well. For example, if you were looking to hire a mentalist for corporate events, you can go to Facebook and type mentalist into the search box. If any of your friends have ‘Liked’ a particular performer, they will come up in the results box. This is a great way to get word of mouth recommendations without actually calling everybody you know! You can also visit review sites like, or ask other vendors for information. If you’ve already booked entertainment, for instance, you can ask them for a catering recommendation. If they’ve worked your area before, they’ll likely have a helpful suggestion.
  5. Have a backup plan. If your catering or lighting company has to cancel last minute for any reason, you need a few replacements in mind. But bear in mind, it’s important to get vendors with good track records. There are VERY few quality reasons for a vendor to cancel, and should they have to bow out, quality vendors will leave you set with a replacement.
  6. When all else fails, consider hiring a professional event planner. The demands of coordinating an event are many, and coupled with your normal job at the company, may be overwhelming. Explain the situation, and outsource to a quality planner or DMC (destination management company) in your area.

Hopefully this helps you to plan your next function and to secure your entertainment options in advance. For quality corporate entertainment, call corporate magician and corporate mentalist Kevin Viner.