Stage hypnosis may be an art, but it’s also a craft. Every aspiring stage hypnotist will need to understand and master certain performance techniques that go way beyond the actual hypnotic inductions. In fact, it could be argued that the hypnotic inductions are the easiest part of the whole process! Here, then, are the stage hypnosis skills that are essential for a good performance.
1. Prepare Your Audience
Stage hypnosis depends on audience expectation. As a performer, you need to ensure that your audience arrives fully primed to watch and participate in the evening’s events. Although it’s possible to put on a show before an audience of hostile skeptics, it’s obviously going to be much, much harder.
An expectant audience meets the hypnotist halfway. They wantto watch people being hypnotised to act in funny ways, and they want to be hypnotised to act in funny ways, too. All the performer has to do is give them what they want. An expectant audience also creates a subtle, social pressure on the volunteers, who will feel subconsciously obliged to perform well.
So how do you create audience expectation and turn it to your advantage? Pre-publicity is essential. Everything you do to promote your show must convey the message that volunteers are hypnotised to behave in unusual and out-of-character ways. Emphasize the fact that you will demonstrate the extraordinary powers of the human mind. If you deliver this message consistently, your audience will arrive at the theatre expecting to see just that.
The more you perform, the more expectation you will build, as you develop a fan base who come along regularly to your shows. A useful trick is to give free tickets to your next show to all of your volunteers. They’ll bring their own friends and family, and will do a lot of your pre-publicity for you (providing you put on a good show, of course!).
Once your audience is in the theatre, continue to build expectation by talking about hypnosis as an ordinary phenomenon that produces extraordinary results. For example, you might talk about people who undergo surgery or dental treatment using hypnosis instead of anaesthetic. It’s also a good idea to suggest that only sane, rational and intelligent people can be hypnotised. This helps to overcome people’s natural wariness of hypnosis and their dislike of being told what to do by a complete stranger. After all, if they don’t accept your hypnotic suggestions, they’re basically demonstrating that they’re not sane, rational and intelligent!
2. Select Your Volunteers Carefully
Ideally, your volunteers should select themselves, since anybody who is willing to get up on stage is by definition an extrovert and comfortable performing in front of other people. This is why stage hypnotists always ask their volunteers to come up on stage, rather than going into the audience and picking them out.
To get to that point, however, you need to narrow your audience down a little. The classic way to do this is to ask the audience to clasp their hands together, and suggest that they cannot pull them apart. Fifty percent won’t bother to do this, and fifty percent of the remainder will instantly pull their hands apart. This leaves you with twenty five percent who are more compliant and suggestible. Select your volunteers from this remaining percentage! The big secret of stage hypnosis is that volunteers are already hypnotised once they get up on stage.
A word of caution. Once you have a group of people on stage, check them carefully to make sure that nobody is drunk or obviously faking. Although stage hypnosis is all about unpredictable behaviour, to a degree, drunks and fakers are likely to behave in unpredictable ways that are most definitely not to your advantage. So weed them out.
3. Act Confidently
Confidence is the magic ingredient that makes any sort of hypnosis work. In effect, the volunteer is hypnotised because you say that they’re hypnotised, with absolute assurance and confidence that this is the case. So practice confidence! The great thing about confidence is that you can fake it until it becomes real. Even if you’re performing before a baying, drunken Saturday night crowd, smile, keep your head still (an actor’s trick for conveying authority), and know that you are in control of the evening’s events.
4. Go With The Flow
The great paradox of confidence is that it allows you to be in control without having to control every single aspect of your volunteer’s behaviour. Part of the fun of stage hypnosis is that volunteers behave in surprising ways that can’t possibly be scripted, so accept whatever happens and go with it. No matter what your volunteer does, accept it and tell your audience and volunteers that this is a sign that they’ve been hypnotised. This reinforces the impression of confidence and control.
These four essential skills – audience preparation, volunteer selection, confidence and the ability to go with the flow – are the foundation of any successful performance. It is these skills that you should focus on, rather than the hypnotic inductions, which are easily learned. Hypnosis is not entertaining in itself. It’s stage craft, imagination and performance skills that will set you apart from the competition.