Upon meeting Irish mentalist and brain hacker Keith Barry, I’m finding it hard to believe he has the ability to pluck thoughts swirling around inside my head.
But as he edges forward in his seat and stares intensely into my eyes while simultaneously monitoring my body movements, I find myself desperately trying to expel inconveniently timed thoughts that he’s a bit of a looker.
A few questions and bouts of nervous laughter later, I must admit, the guy knows what he’s doing.
Barry now knows the name of the person with whom I had my first kiss, how old I was, and what this person roughly looked like, just by looking into my seemingly transparent and annoying predictable brain.
To make sure it wasn’t a fluke, I ask him to try another of his tricks on me – guessing a word I’ve randomly picked from a magazine – and sure enough, he nails that too.
"Planting thoughts into people’s brains and extracting their thoughts" isn’t a skill the 35-year-old, who’s performing two shows in New Zealand this week, learned overnight.
Starting off as a magician at the age of five, Barry was studying chemistry at university when he took up an interest in his girlfriend’s psychology and hypnotism books.
It’s taken years of serious studying, researching, observing and practice, often up to 18-20 hours a day, and multiple fails, for Barry to perfect his craft with which he shares on an international stage through live performances and TV shows.
"Our eyes really never lie," he explains. "Even though we all look different, we all look the same when we lie - a dilated pupil, raised eyebrow, upturned lip, the slightest body movement, can all tell me something about a person.
"We have a couple of hundred muscles in our face, and by reading micro expressions and using all of these things collectively I can hack into people’s brains," says Barry, who makes it clear he’s not a psychic.
"I can’t read minds, I make it look like I can by reading all these different subtle clues that people’s bodies give away."
But it’s not just one technique that Barry uses to get inside the heads of his audience.
By being blindfolded, he’s learnt how to compensate for his loss of sight by increasing his other senses each by 25 percent, (watch the video here of screaming Pussycat Doll Nicole Scherzinger being driven by a blindfolded Barry along a cliff at top speed), and how to induce 'gustatory synesthesia' – a condition whereby a sound can lead to an automatic taste sensation in the mouth – in himself.
"While blindfolded I can guess what drink people have in their mouths by the noise they’re making."
In his years of hacking into people’s brains, Barry, who’s worked with A-listers such as Ellen DeGeneres, Bob Geldof, Samuel L Jackson and Charlize Theron, admits he’s uncovered a multitude of weird and not-so-welcome revelations.
"I’ve figured out celebs that are cheating on their partners, but it’s not really something that I can bust out and talk about," he says. "At a show the other week a girl ran off the stage screaming after I inadvertently discovered she’d been having an affair. Strange things happen all the time, I live for those moments."
Aside from entertaining, Barry also uses his talent to cure chronic phobias, and just like TV’s 'The Mentalist' Patrick Jane, has been hired to assist police in the past.
But of course, there’s always a downside to such a rare skill.
"I’m banned from most of the casinos in Las Vegas now because I can memorise a shuffled pack of cards in order in less than 20 seconds."
While Barry is unable to use his techniques on his wife Mairead due to her learning so many of them with him, his daughter Brianna is a keen mentalist in the making.
At just four years of age, she can recite the alphabet backwards – something Barry taught her "just to mess with her teachers more than anything", and is on her way to mastering the skill of cold reading people.
"I find it hilarious," he says. "She can do it pretty well already."
He adds: "I want to make people laugh until their faces hurt, and hopefully they’ll be fooled by me as well."Keith Barry is performing tonight, August 8, at Auckland’s Bruce Mason Centre – tickets available from Ticketmaster and next Monday August 13 at the Wellington Opera House – tickets available from Ticketek