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Dungeonscape has an alternative class feature for bards called "Lore Song" (page 8).

The key text is:

Bardic music serves many purposes, aiding your allies or manipulating your enemies. You have refined your performance of another group of bardic songs, full of lost knowledge, obscure lore, and relevant anecdotes. These lore songs inspire you to come up with new solutions to difficult problems.

Benefit: Once per day, as an immediate action, you can gain a +4 insight bonus on a single attack, check, or save.

I know it's supposed to be one question, but I'm sneaking two parts in to this one:

If a bard with Perform (Voice) uses this ability to improve a diplomacy check,

  1. Is the opponent (and other people around) aware of that?
  2. If so, can the bard use Sleight of Hand to hide the activation?
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I think there are no audible/physical manifestations for this ability

as Leezard's answer points out, it is an insight bonus wich is ''almost precognitive knowledge of what might occur''

I believe the important part of the description of the ability is:

These lore songs inspire you to come up with new solutions to difficult problems.

I interpret (and I believe it was intended as such) this as you learned some different knowledge from other bardic songs and instead of having the bardic knowledge ability you have the ability to quickly ''remember'' something from those songs and that helps you achieve what you want at the time being. You are not making a performance to get these bonuses, you are simply remembering things from different songs you know that gives you this knowledge, the ability should be named, ''Lore Songs Knowledge'' instead I guess.

So no one would know you used this ability, unless of course someone can read your mind.

For Sleight of hand, it would be hard since Lore Song is an immediate action! It's done very quickly and almost as a reflex, so it would not be possible unless you take a -20 penalty (assuming the ability would require some sound/playing an instrument etc. wich I believe it doesn't require such actions and that would be hard as an immediate action... since starting Bardic Music is a standard action) because:

Any Sleight of Hand check normally is a standard action . However, you may perform a Sleight of Hand check as a free action by taking a -20 penalty on the check.

SRD

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If a bard with Perform (Voice) uses this ability to improve a diplomacy check,

  1. Is the opponent (and other people around) aware of that?
  2. If so, can the bard use Sleight of Hand to hide the activation?

As a DM, I would start by asking myself, do they know what a bard can do? Much of that will be dependant on the situation, the NPC's in question, the culture of the world they inhabit, and so on. I'd continue with, do they know about that bardic power, "Lore Song"? More importantly, do they have any reason to be watching out for the use of that power? If I have nothing in the makeup of the NPC's to suggest such knowledge, I could just do a skill check to see if they happen to know enough to be looking out for this.

For the sake of argument, let's say they know and are being watchful for such shenanigans. Is there anything to see?

3.5 PHB, page 309

insight bonus: An insight bonus improves performance of a given activity by granting the character an almost precognitive knowledge of what might occur. Multiple insight bonuses on the same character or object do not stack. Only the highest insight bonus applies.

An insight bouns, in and of itself has no visible aura or emissions. It all happens in one's head. Nothing to see there, so let's look more closely at Bardic Music.

3.5 PHB, page 29

Bardic Music: Once per day per bard level, a bard can use his song or poetics to produce magical effects on those around him (usually including himself, if desired). While these abilities fall under the category of bardic music and the descriptions discuss singing or playing instruments, they can all be activated by reciting poetry, chanting, singing lyrical songs, singing melodies (fa-la-la, and so forth), whistling, playing an instrument, or playing an instrument in combination with some spoken performance.

It looks like some type of noise must be made. It could be a simple as whistling, some DM may allow humming to work, but some sound must be made. The NPC's would be aware of at least that much.

So far as using Sleight of Hand to conceal the "activation". Looking at Sleight of Hand on page 81 of the PHB,

You can cut or lift a purse and hide it on your person, palm an unattended object, hide a light weapon in your clothing, or perform some feat of legerdemain with an object no larger than a hat or a loaf of bread.

It seems that, RAW, one would not be able to conceal the use of voice with Sleight of Hand. It's not made to be used that way. That's not saying the bard couldn't try to use a low volume to activate Bardic Music, but it would not fall under Sleight of Hand, RAW. The DM may judge that an INT check could be made to make less sound but that would depend upon the DM's judgment.

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