It can be dramatic and surprising.
The hypnotist points into the crowd and invites someone onto the stage.
They ask the volunteer for their name and shake their hand. Maybe they have a little back-and-forth, maybe not.
Either way, the hypnotist quickly says “SLEEP!”
The subject’s head drops and their eyes close.
Boom, they’re in a trance.
It’s impressive because all you saw was the hypnotist saying one word. Is that all it takes? Could a hypnotist walk into a bank, yell “SLEEP!”, then rob it while everyone’s unconscious?
No – and not just because banks have decent security.
It’s because that one word was the culmination of a lot of subtle – almost invisible – hypnosis.
Stage hypnosis routines vary, of course. They’re entertaining and eccentric expressions of the hypnotist’s style, meeting what the audience wants.
It’s as much an art form as anything else.
Whether they’re on a stage in Las Vegas or on an early morning talk show, the routines often follow a loose formula:
The hypnotist will talk a bit about hypnosis – how it’s safe and pleasurable, how everyone can enter a trance, that sort of thing.
Then they’ll do a quick demonstration with the crowd. Maybe they’ll ask the audience to interlock their fingers… then find many people’s hands are stuck together.
Then they do the part where they invite someone on stage.
All that sounds pretty reasonable. The hypnotist is educating the audience about what hypnosis really is…
Yes, they certainly are.
And they’re also hypnotising everyone.
Those preambles where they talk about hypnosis are, themselves, hypnotic. If you don’t know how to identify embedded commands or tonal shifts, it sounds like a short lecture. What most of the audience never realises is that every word is carefully chosen.
The demonstration with the crowd deepens it. Not everyone will find their hands stuck together and that’s okay – it’s a numbers game.
The audience members who are more open to hypnosis will respond to the suggestions.
And responding to suggestions guides you deeper into trance.
Suggestions like “your hands are stuck together”.
But also suggestions like “come up on stage”.
The hypnotist doesn’t pick their volunteer at random. They choose someone who responded well to the demo. Right now, they’re more hypnotisable – in fact, they’re already in a trance.
Every instruction they follow makes it more likely they’ll follow the next one.
“Come up on stage.”
“Stand over here please.”
“Tell the lovely audience your name.”
By the time they get to the most dramatic instruction – “SLEEP!” – they’re already primed to obey.
When I meet with clients who want to stop smoking, I ask a lot of questions about it.
You might think I’m gathering information or being polite, which I am.
But I’m also priming you for hypnosis.
The trance begins before you realise it.
Yes, even if you factor in me telling you this.
See what I mean when you sign up for a session: