A Magical Closer

Here’s a magic trick that does not require any sleight of hand. But it does require a confederate and a certain amount of chutzpah. You can use this trick as a concluding activity in a training session. You can use it with any instructional content.


Here’s what participants see when I conduct the activity: I ask the participants to write a brief action plan to specify how they will apply the newly-learned principles and procedures. Then I ask five random participants to show their action plans to people seated around them. Then each of these participants fold the action plan, place it inside an envelope, and seal the envelope. I collect the envelopes, hold one of them to my forehead and describe images that pop into my mind. These mental images are uncannily associated with the action plan. I tear open the envelope and read the plan so everyone can see the direct connection between the images and the plan. I work through the other envelopes the same way, reporting images associated with the action plan inside the sealed envelope prior to opening the envelope and reading the plan.


Do not announce that you are going to perform a magic trick. Conduct the activity as if it were a typical closer at the end of a training session.


To come up with a brief action plan for applying new principles and procedures.


Any number, preferably more than five.


15 – 30 minutes


  • Small pieces of paper
  • Envelopes


Before the start of the training session, secretly ask a participant to help you in performing a magic trick. Explain to your confederate that you will ask everyone to write a brief action plan at the end of the training session. Figure out exactly what sentence he or she would write. Have your confederate memorize the sentence while you memorize it too.

Example: Recently I conducted a workshop on giving and receiving feedback. Beth, my confederate, and I agreed on this action-plan sentence: I’ll give feedback to my husband about his frequent angry outbursts.


Brief the participant. Follow this important rule of magic: Never tell the audience that you are going to do a magic trick. Position the activity as a closer (which it really is). Explain that you would like everyone to write a brief and modest action plan that can be implemented within a week.

Distribute pieces of paper. Give a piece of paper to each participant. Ask the participants to write a short sentence outlining how they plan to apply their new skills and knowledge to a real-world situation.

Example: At the end of the workshop on feedback, I had participants to write down a sentence about how they plan to give feedback. I asked participants to specify who will receive the feedback and what the feedback will be about.

Pause while participants write their action plans. While everyone is writing individual action plans, your confederate writes the pre-arranged sentence. Keep yourself away from the group so nobody can accuse you later of peeking at action plans.

Ask a few selected participants to share their action plans. Randomly select five participants seated at different parts of the room. Include your confederate in this group. Ask these selected participants to show their action plan secretly to other participants seated near them.

Distribute envelopes. Give an envelope to each of the five selected participants. Ask the participants to fold the piece of paper in half (so that the written side is hidden) and place it in the envelope.

Collect the five sealed envelopes. Keep your confederate’s envelope at the bottom of the pile. Explain what you are going to do using pseudo-scientific terminology.

Example: This is my explanation: “Recent advances in accelerative learning and suggestopedia indicate that when several people concentrate on the same action plan, the chances of it becoming reality is very high. I have recently acquired certain metacognitive schema that enables me to perform stochastic forecasts of future probabilities of the success of action plans. I would like to try an experiment to see if this mathemagenic activity is possible today. Please help me by maintaining an atmosphere of quiet expectation and a focus on the selected action plan. Visualize images associated with the successful implementation of the action plan.”

“Read” the first action plan. Shuffle the five envelopes claiming that you are randomizing their sequence. However, keep your confederate’s envelope at the bottom of the pile. Pick the top envelope, place it on your forehead and describe a series of images associated with the action plan written by your confederate (even though it is not inside the envelope that you are holding up against your forehead).

Example: Here’s what I said: “This must an interesting action plan. I see the writer of this action plan talking to somebody very dear to her. She is making an appropriate statement using the format that we learned in the workshop. The person receiving the feedback appears to be unhappy. No, this person is highly irritated. Actually, he is very angry. His anger is rapidly increasing. He yells, “I don’t have a short temper.” But the feedback provider does not back down. She repeats the same message like she learned in the workshop. The other person is calming down. He is now accepting the truth of the feedback. He agrees that he tends to get angry. No more denial. He seems to have an important insight. He says, “I’ll try not to get angry. Thank you for giving me such clear feedback.” The images are now becoming blurred. Now they have stabilized again. I see a clear image of the two people living happily ever after.”

This is the most important part of the magic trick and it requires you to play the role of a mind-reading psychic. Make up the images as you go along. Make sure that the images are related to the action plan. Use all your story-telling skills.

Confirm the relevance of your mental images. Ask if any participant has written an action plan that is related to the images that you saw. Your confederate will stand up and others around him or her will agree that your psychic images were right on target. Now say something like, “Let’s see exactly what you wrote.” Tear open the envelope and simultaneous do these two things:

  1. Pretend to read the envelope and repeat the action-plan statement that you and your confederate had memorized.
  2. Read and memorize the action plan on the piece of paper. Focus on remembering the critical details.

Casually throw the piece of paper on the table. Immediately pick up the next sealed envelope and place it on your forehead.

“Read” the second envelope. Repeat the same play-acting and story-telling activities as before. Report a stream of images associated with the action plan in the card you memorized earlier. At the end of this act, repeat the procedure of asking the participant who wrote the action plan to stand up, tear the envelope open, retrieve the card, repeat the statement you memorized previously, and memorize the new action plan.

Repeat the procedure. Go through one action plan at a time. Follow the same procedure with the last card. Open the envelope and “read” this card, repeating the details that you memorized the information that you memorized from the previous card. Ignore the fact this is the card written by your confederate.

Continue with the closer activity. Return the action-plans to the five selected participants, including your confederate. Give everyone new envelopes and ask them to place their actions plans inside the envelope. Ask everyone to write his or her address on the face of the envelopes.

Ask participants to exchange envelopes. Each participant should exchange his or her envelope with someone else, exchange the new envelope with someone else, and continue doing this until nobody knows who has got which envelope. Ask participants to take the envelope with them, place a stamp, and mail it after a week. Thus every participant will receive an envelope as a gentle reminder of the action plan.

Conclude the activity. Participants may clamor for an explanation of how the mind-reading trick was done. Politely decline to reveal the secret with a humorous response like, “If I tell you the secret, I’ll have to put an amnesia hex on you.” or “They will kick me out of the magician’s guild if I do that”.

A Magical Job Aid

Here’s a checklist to help you practice and rehearse this magic trick. This job aid reminds you of what you should pretend to be doing and what you should be actually doing during each step of this trick.

Step What you pretend to do What you actually do
1. Ask everyone to write an action plan. Your confederate writes a pre-arranged action plan.
2. Select five random participants. One of the selected participants is your confederate.
3. Selected participants share their action plans with others. Selected participants share their action plans with others.
4. Ask participants to fold the action plans and place them in an envelope. Ask participants to fold action plans and place them in an envelope.
5. Collect and mix the envelopes from the five selected participants. Keep the envelope from your confederate at the bottom of the pile.
6. Place the top envelope on your forehead and report a series of mental images that are associated with the action plan. Report a series of mental images associated with your confederate’s action plan. (This is not the action plan inside the envelope.)
7. Open the envelope and read the action plan. This action plan matches the mental images that you reported. Pretend to read the action plan inside the envelope but repeat your confederate’s pre-arranged action plan. At the same time memorize the action plan in the piece of paper.
8. Casually throw the action plan down and pick up the next envelope. Place the envelope on your forehead. Casually throw the action plan down and pick up the next envelope. Place the envelope on your forehead.
9. Report mental images associated with the action plan in the second sealed envelope. Make up mental images associated with the action-plan that you read in the previous step.
10. Repeat the procedure of reading action plans from sealed envelopes and confirming them. Work with the action plan from the previous envelope. Under the guise of reading the action plan in the current envelope, repeat the previous action plan and memorize the current one.
11. Read the action plan in the final envelope. Repeat the same procedure. Immediately continue with the other steps of the closure activity.