The art of misdirection | Apollo Robbins (2023)


Visit to get our entire library of TED Talks, transcripts, translations, personalized talk recommendations and more.

Hailed as the greatest pickpocket in the world, Apollo Robbins studies the quirks of human behavior as he steals your watch. In a hilarious demonstration, Robbins samples the buffet of the TEDGlobal 2013 audience, showing how the flaws in our perception make it possible to swipe a wallet and leave it on its owner's shoulder while they remain clueless.

The TED Talks channel features the best talks and performances from the TED Conference, where the world's leading thinkers and doers give the talk of their lives in 18 minutes (or less). Look for talks on Technology, Entertainment and Design -- plus science, business, global issues, the arts and more. You're welcome to link to or embed these videos, forward them to others and share these ideas with people you know.

Follow TED on Twitter:
Like TED on Facebook:
Subscribe to our channel:

TED's videos may be used for non-commercial purposes under a Creative Commons License, Attribution–Non Commercial–No Derivatives (or the CC BY – NC – ND 4.0 International) and in accordance with our TED Talks Usage Policy ( For more information on using TED for commercial purposes (e.g. employee learning, in a film or online course), please submit a Media Request at


Do you think it's possible to control someone's attention, even more than that? What about predicting human behavior? I think those are interesting ideas.

If you could I mean for me, that'd be the perfect superpower actually kind of a evil way of approaching it.

But for myself in the past I've spent the last 20 years, setting human behavior from a rather unorthodox way picking pockets.

When we think of misdirection, we think if something is looking off to the side when actually it's often that things are right in front of us.

There are hardest things to see the things that you look at every day that you're blinded to for example, how many of you still have your cell phones on you right now? Great double check make sure you still have them on.

You always doing some shopping beforehand.

Now you've looked at and probably a few times a day.

But I'ma, ask you a question about it without looking at your cell phone directly yet, can you remember the icon in the bottom right corner? Bring them out check and see how accurate you were how'd? You do sure I hands.

Did we get it now that you're done looking at those close them down, because every phone has something in common, no matter how you organize the icons you still have a clock on the front.

So without looking at your phone, what time was it? You just looked at your clock, right? It's.

An interesting idea now I'll, ask you to take that step further with a game of trust, close your eyes, okay, I realize I'm asking you to do that while you just heard there's a pickpocket in the room, but close your eyes.

Now you've been watching me for about 30 seconds with your eyes closed.

What am I wearing make your best? Guess? What color is my shirt.

What color is my tie now open your eyes by showing hands where you write it's, interesting isn't, it.

Some of us are a little bit more perceptive than others.

It seems that way, but I have a different theory about that that model of attention.

They have fancy models of attention Posner, trendy model of attention for me I like to think of it very simple, like a surveillance system.

It's kind of like you have all these fancy sentries.

And inside your brain is a little security guard for me I like to call him Frank.

So Frank is sitting at a desk.

He's got all sorts of cool information in front of him, high-tech equipment.

He's got cameras, he's got a little phone.

They can pick up listen to the ears all these senses all these perceptions.

But attention is what steers your perceptions is what controls your reality it's, the Gateway to the mind.

If you don't attend to something you can't be aware of it, but ironically, you can attend to something without being aware of it that's.

Why there's the cocktail effect? We ran a party you're having conversations with someone.

And yet you can recognize your name.

And you didn't even realize you were listening to that.

Now for my job I have to play with techniques to exploit this to play with your attention as a limited resource.

So if I could control how you spend your attention, if I could maybe steal your attention through a distraction.

Now instead of doing it like misdirection and throwing off to the side instead, why choose a focus on is Frank to be able to play with the Frank inside your head, you're, a little security guard and get you instead of focusing on your external senses, just to go internal for a second.

So if I ask you to access a memory like what is that what just happened? Do you have a wallet you have an American Express in your wallet.

And when I do that, your Frank turns around, he accesses the file he has to rewind the tape and what's interesting is he can't rewind the tape at the same time they is trying to process new data, I mean, this sounds like a good theory, but I could talk for a long time and tell you lots of things.

And they may be true portion of them, but I think it's better.

If I try to show that to you here live.

So if I come down I'm gonna do a little bit of shopping just hold still where you are.


How are you it's lovely to see you? You did a wonderful job on stage.

You have a lovely watch that doesn't come off very well.

Do you have your ring as well? Good just taking inventory you're like a buffet it's hard to tell where to start there's so many great things, hi, how are you good to see you? Alright, sir.

Could you stand up for me? Please just right where you are.

Yo, you're, married, your father directions, well, that's nice to meet you.

Sir, you don't have a whole lot inside your pockets anything down by the pocket over here.

Hopefully so have a seat there.

You go you're doing well, hi, sir, how are you good to see you? Sir you have a ring.

A watch.

Do you have a wallet on you? Well, we'll find one for you come on up this way, Joe give Joe a round of applause.

Come on up Joe mcquigg in pardon me don't think that he need this clicker anymore.

You can have that.

Thank you very much.

Appreciate that come on up to the stage Joe let's play a little game.

Now, do you have anything in your front pockets? Money? All right? Let's.

Try that can you stand right over this way for me, turn around and let's see if I give you something that belongs to me? This is just something uh, a half poker chip hold out your hand for me.

Watch it kind of close.

Now, this is a task for you to focus on.

Now you have your money in your front pocket here.

Good I'm, not gonna actually put my hand in your pocket I'm, not ready for that kind of commitment.

One time a guy had a hole in his pocket that was really traumatizing nice looking for his wallet.

He gave me his phone numbers, a big miscommunication.

So let's do this simply squeeze your hand squeeze it tight? Do you feel the poker chip in your hand? Would you be surprised if I could take it out of your hand say, yes, good open your hand.

Thank you very much.

I'll, cheat.

If you give me a chance make it harder for me, just use your hand, grab my wrist, but squeeze squeeze firm.

Did you see it go that was not here? Open your hand, see while we're focused on the hand, it's sitting on your shoulder, right now let's go and take it off.

Yeah, let's.

Try that again.

Hold your hand out flat open up all the way put your hand up a little bit higher.

But watch it close.

There Joe, see if I did slowly it'd be back on your shoulder, joke, we're gonna keep doing this.

So you catch it you're gonna get eventually here I have faith in you squeeze firm squeeze you're, human you're, not slow it's back on your shoulder, you're focused on your hand, that's.

Why you were distracted while you're watching this I couldn't quite get your watch off.

It was difficult yet.

You had something inside your front pocket.

Do you remember what it was check your pocket? See if it's still there is it still there? Oh that's where it was go ahead and put it away.

We're just shopping.

This tricks more about the timing really I'm.

Gonna try to push it inside your hand.

Put your other hand on top for me, would you it's amazingly obvious now, isn't, it looks like a lot like the watch I was wearing doesn't.

It Thanks it's only a start let's.

Try it again, a little bit differently.

Hold your hands together, put your other hand on top.

Now, if you're watching this little token, this obvious has become a little target it's like a red herring.

If we watch this kind of close, it looks like it goes away.

It's, not back on your shoulder.

It falls out of the air lands right? Back in the hand.

Did you see? It? Go it's.

Fine got a little guy, he's Union.

He works up there all day.

If I did slowly go straight away.

It lands down by your pocket.

I believe is it in this pocket.

Sir no don't reach in your pocket that's.

A different show, sorry is that's rather strange.

They have shots for that.

Yeah, sure, what that is this where they're bizarre is this yours, sir, you have no idea how that works we'll just send that over there.

That's great I need help with this one step over this way for me.

Now don't run away.

You had something down while your pants pocket I was checking mine, I couldn't, find everything, but I noticed you had something here, I feel the outside of your pocket for a moment down here.

I noticed.

This is this something of your serious I had no idea that's a shrimp.

You've entertained all these people in wonderful way better than you know.

So we'd love to give you this lovely, watch as a gift, hopefully matches his taste.

But also we have a couple of other things a little bit of cash.

And then we have a few other things.

These all belong to you along with a big round of applause from all your friends Joe.

Thank you very much.

So same question I asked you to be before, but this time you don't have to close your eyes.

What am I wearing attention is a powerful thing like I said, it shapes your reality.

So I guess I'd like to pose that question to you if you control somebody's attention, what would you do with it? Thank you.


What is the irony with attention and awareness? ›

You cannot be aware of something unless you are giving it attention. Ironically though you can not even be aware that you are attending to something. At a party you can suddenly hear your name even though you weren't actively listening to the conversation of the people speaking your name.

What are the 3 main types of irony? ›

The three most common kinds you'll find in literature classrooms are verbal irony, dramatic irony, and situational irony.

What are the 4 parts of irony? ›

Today, we're diving into four of the main types of irony in literature: situational irony, verbal irony, dramatic irony, and Socratic irony.

What is the number 1 TED Talk of all time? ›

Inside the mind of a master procrastinator.

What is the most watched TED Talk of all time? ›

TED Conference

In first place comes Sir Ken Robinson's 2006 talk, "Do Schools Kill Creativity?", with almost 75 million views.

How much do TED Talk speakers get paid? ›

TED does not pay speakers. We do, of course, cover travel costs and provide excellent hotel accommodation -- as well as a covetable pass to all five days of TED. Most speakers stay for the whole conference, soaking up the talks and connecting with other attendees.

What type of irony is sarcasm? ›

Verbal irony: Verbal irony is when a character says something that is different from what they really mean or how they really feel. If the intent of the irony is to mock, it is known as sarcasm.

Are irony and sarcasm the same? ›

Verbal irony is a figure of speech that communicates the opposite of what is said, while sarcasm is a form of irony that is directed at a person, with the intent to criticise.

When someone says something but means the opposite? ›

Irony is when we say one thing but mean another, usually the opposite of what we say.

What is a famous example of irony? ›

One of the most famous examples of literary dramatic irony is in O. Henry's short story, “The Gift of the Magi.” A recently married couple chooses independently to sacrifice and sell what means most to them to buy a Christmas gift for the other.

What is an example of sarcasm? ›

Sarcasm refers to the use of words that mean the opposite of what you really want to say, especially in order to insult someone, or to show irritation, or just to be funny. For example, saying "they're really on top of things" to describe a group of people who are very disorganized is using sarcasm.

What is the purpose of sarcasm? ›

Sarcasm involves constructing or exposing contradictions between intended meanings. The most common form of verbal irony, sarcasm is often used to humorously convey thinly veiled disapproval or scorn.

Why are TED Talks only 18 minutes? ›

A TED Talk is 18 minutes long—a length that was chosen by TED organizers based both on neuroscience and strategy. They understood that 18 minutes was long enough for a speaker to flesh out an idea, but short enough that a listener could take in, digest, and understand all of the important information.

What does TED stand for? ›

A TED talk is a recorded public-speaking presentation that was originally given at the main TED (technology, entertainment and design) annual event or one of its many satellite events around the world.

What is the difference between TED and TEDx? ›

TED Conferences are organized and run directly by TED. TEDx events are fully planned and coordinated independently, on a community-by-community basis. The goal of TEDx is to inspire a passion for spreading ideas in local communities from within.

Are TED Talks memorized? ›

TED Talks are Often Scripted and Memorized

In the process of practicing, most of the speech becomes memorized. In the moment of performance, the memorization doesn't hinder the speakers authenticity. It simply allows them to deliver the speech they intended to deliver.

What are the 10 most popular TED Talks? ›

The 10 Best TED Talks Of All Time
  • Susan Cain – 'The Power of Introverts' ...
  • Amy Cuddy – 'Your Body Language May Shape Who You Are' ...
  • Tim Urban – 'Inside the Mind of a Master Procrastinator' ...
  • Hans Rosling – 'The Best Stats You've Ever Seen' ...
  • Brian Cox – 'Why We Need the Explorers' ...
  • Dan Pink – 'The Puzzle of Motivation'

Do Ted Talk speakers use teleprompters? ›

Using Technology

Slides are a commonly incorporated element of TED Talks. TED presenters typically do not use teleprompter or notes, but they do offer "confidence monitors" at the feet of presenters.

Can anyone attend a TED talk? ›

Attendance at a TED Conference is by both application and invitation. We read every application, and actively seek out leading thinkers and doers across a wide range of fields. Visit this page to learn more about how you can apply to attend a TED Conference.

Is it hard to get on a TED talk? ›

It takes time to select speakers because many local events go through 2-4 rounds of speaker selection. You should apply to any local event where you have a personal connection. Spreading a wider net will increase your chances of getting an invite.

What is the irony called when the audience knows? ›

dramatic irony, a literary device by which the audience's or reader's understanding of events or individuals in a work surpasses that of its characters.

What type of irony is when the audience is more aware of what is happening than a character? ›

The meaning of dramatic irony is when the audience is more aware of what is happening than a character.

What is an example of situational irony? ›

Situational irony is the irony of something happening that is very different to what was expected. Some everyday examples of situational irony are a fire station burning down, or someone posting on Twitter that social media is a waste of time.

What type of irony is it when the reader or viewer is aware of something in the story that the character does not know? ›

Dramatic irony is a form of irony. It is both a literary and theatrical device in which the reader or audience knows more than the characters they are following.

What are the 5 examples of irony? ›

The five main types of irony are verbal, dramatic, situational, cosmic and Socratic.

What is the difference between foreshadowing and dramatic irony? ›

But foreshadowing does not need to be obvious, and it often goes unnoticed by the reader until after the reveal has occurred. In contrast, dramatic irony requires that the reader understand where the story is headed. Foreshadowing might be used to intensify dramatic irony, but they are different mechanisms.

What are the three ironies mentioned in the story? ›

Irony is a literary technique that storytellers use to contrast expectations and reality. There are primarily three types of irony: dramatic, situational, and verbal.

What kind of irony is evident when a situation is understandable for the audience but not the fictional character actor? ›

Dramatic irony is when we have more information about the circumstances than a character.

What is the most famous situational irony? ›

Romeo and Juliet

Arguably the most famous example of situational irony (and dramatic irony as well), Shakespeare's play utilizes this literary device in the tragic scene of the two lovers' death. Romeo believes Juliet, who is simply drugged, has killed herself, so he kills himself as well.

What is an example of cosmic irony? ›

Cosmic irony examples in movies:

When Aladdin is transformed into a rich man by the Genie, only for Jasmine to reject him. In Bruce Almighty, Bruce is given God's powers but instead of making life better, he makes it worse.

What is an example of tragic irony? ›

One example of a tragic irony would be if your best friend decided not to go with you on vacation, but then got into a car accident while driving home from work. The reason we say this was a “tragic irony” is that you could see how your friend's decision led him right into an unfortunate situation where he ended up.

What is synecdoche irony? › Irony is when a person states one thing while meaning the opposite or an event happens with opposite results from what is expected, often with humour.

What type of irony does the audience know something the character does not? ›

Dramatic irony is defined as when the audience knows something that a character does not know. Verbal irony occurs when the intended meaning of something is other than what is communicated.

What type of irony is it when the reader expects something to occur and something unexpected occurs? ›

Dramatic irony occurs when the audience or reader knows a key piece of information or expects something the character does not. This type of irony makes us yell, “Don't go in there!” during a scary movie.

Top Articles
Latest Posts
Article information

Author: Lidia Grady

Last Updated: 10/12/2023

Views: 5235

Rating: 4.4 / 5 (45 voted)

Reviews: 84% of readers found this page helpful

Author information

Name: Lidia Grady

Birthday: 1992-01-22

Address: Suite 493 356 Dale Fall, New Wanda, RI 52485

Phone: +29914464387516

Job: Customer Engineer

Hobby: Cryptography, Writing, Dowsing, Stand-up comedy, Calligraphy, Web surfing, Ghost hunting

Introduction: My name is Lidia Grady, I am a thankful, fine, glamorous, lucky, lively, pleasant, shiny person who loves writing and wants to share my knowledge and understanding with you.