Cold reading is a technique fortune tellers use to convince their audience that they know much more then they really do and that they know it from scratch, no prewritten cue cards here. Rather they read their cues on the fly such as clothing or fashion, gender, age, race or ethnicity, hairstyle and posture to draw information about a person, although they never tell the audience as much. The cold readers find themselves to be psychics, mediums and fortune tellers of the profession.
I’m always struck by those who think that some form of extrasensory perception is happening simply because readers don’t rely on spoken words to discover ‘truths’ about a person. In this case ‘truths’ is a bit of a stretch and not totally accurate, ‘leads’ is probably a better word. I suppose, the magic happens because the audience really is not aware of all the information available to the reader from simple observation. With a few additional cues derived from religion, place of origin and education, of which the reader can simply ask, or even the manner in which they speak, a lot can be learned about a person and quickly. As the cold reader moves forward with generalization and high probabilities guesses, he or she (usually a she, as women are more perceptive and so make better psychics), they navigate through a formulaic serious of potent topics before reaching conclusions. They pick up on cues emitted from their subjects to verify correct pathways and can reinforce certain chance connections and guesses.
Other basic procedures used by readers include techniques such as “shotgunning” allegedly used by mediums such as Sylvia Browne and John Edward where the reader quickly offers a huge quantity of general information to an entire audience hoping something will stick. General information used in reading is called the “rainbow ruse”, where a phrase is advanced that covers a large array of possibilities. The rainbow ruse might include statements that are not quantifiable or so general that it can apply to nearly everyone. The ruse can include statements such as “You are most often cooperative and pleasant, but when someone does you wrong, you are easy to anger and hold a grudge.” Does that not describe everyone you know?