Hypnotism is not a mystical power or ability; it’s a skill that anyone can learn. As a skill, it is not particularly complicated and can be taught relatively quickly. Here’s the catch: knowing what to do with people once you have them hypnotized is a considerably more complex issue, and requires much more learning and preparation.
As much a performance art as it is an application of skill, entertainment hypnotism requires a deft touch, creativity, showmanship, and stage presence. Let take a closer look at the distinction between hypnosis as a skill and entertainment hypnotism as an art form, and explore how hypnotists can improve their craft to elevate their performances.
The Skill of Hypnotism
Let’s begin with hypnotism as a skill. To be able to hypnotize someone, you must have a fundamental understanding of how people go into hypnosis and what it takes to facilitate the process of going into hypnosis. You need to have excellent communication skills, be empathetic, and be able to build rapport quickly, as these are the foundations of successful hypnotism.
It makes sense that people getting into entertainment hypnotism start with these skills, since you can’t put on a show without being able to hypnotize people. There is a tendency, however, for people to put too much focus on hypnosis skills. They spend way more time than they need to learning lots of suggestibility tests and lots of inductions, hoping that they will find the “magic” one that gives them dominance and certainty of success on stage.
This is all driven by the fear of failing on stage, and that’s an understandable fear. What if nobody gets hypnotized? What if I pick the wrong volunteers to be on stage? These fears are smart. The core instinct, that you can’t do a show without well-hypnotized volunteers, is correct. But the answer isn’t to know more skills; it’s to hone the skills you already have so that those skills produce dependable results.
Here’s the key takeaway for this section of the article: a skill isn’t something you collect. A skill is something you learn and then master.
The reason many stage hypnotists struggle in their early years is that skills are being demonstrated to them, but not really taught. They leave their trainings with the most basic understanding of the skill, but without true proficiency, and so when they go off on their own and continue to practice, they get mixed results at best. This makes them feel like the skill doesn’t really work, and so they seek a new skill to replace it. They are now on the hunt for “the right induction” which becomes a time wasting loop.
The new hypnotist spends so much time on trying to figure out the skills of hypnotism that they don’t develop their artistic sensibilities as a performer, which leads to a whole set of other problems.
The Art of Performing Hypnotism
Now, let’s focus our attention on entertainment hypnotism. Entertainment hypnotism is an art form that combines psychology with showmanship. To be a successful entertainment hypnotist, it’s not enough to just know those fundamental hypnotism skills; you also need to possess a unique set of traits, including charisma, creativity, and an ability to command the stage. You must be able to read your audience and adapt your performance to their energy, as their enthusiasm is what makes your art successful.
However, many hypnotists struggle to find their own style within the entertainment space. Many resort to using the same routines in every show, leading to a less engaging and stale show. To elevate your art form, it’s essential to understand that entertainment hypnotism is an art form that requires practice, creativity, and spontaneity.
As with any art form, it takes time to develop a style that’s unique to you. Be willing to experiment with different approaches, and be open to exploring outside of your comfort zone. How do you do this? There are several things that will help, and some may be counterintuitive at first.
First, learn about show design. There’s a way to purposefully organize a show, to plan it out with an intention about what the show should achieve and the experience it should give the audience. For too long, performing hypnotists have been simply stringing together skits and bits with no real design or purpose behind it all. Since most audiences have never seen a live hypnosis show before, they are impressed by simply witnessing hypnotism for the first time, but as audiences go back to entertainment hypnosis shows again and again, they will quickly get that “if you’ve seen one, you’ve seen ’em all” feeling that is the main criticism of performing hypnotism today.
Next, spend more time sharing ideas with colleagues. For far too long, stage hypnotists have avoided collaborating because of the fear that someone will take their ideas, but that’s been happening all along anyway! Especially today, in the age of internet videos, content is being “borrowed” constantly by entertainers who struggle to come up with new ideas on their own. Copycats have always existed, and they always will.
You are better off working with your peers and getting a synergistic effect from doing so. You’ll come up with more ideas, be able to take action faster, and your end product will improve. Get into a mastermind, develop a partnership, or hire a mentor. Going it alone slows your artistic development too much.
Putting Them Together
The blending of science and art is what makes entertainment hypnotism so compelling. A good hypnotist can make their audience feel safe and relaxed, and then surprise them with unexpected twists and turns in the show. They can build rapport with their audience, get them to engage, and then spin off into creative directions, all while maintaining control and keeping everyone safe.
The key to being a successful performing hypnotist is to strike the right balance between continuing to develop your skills while also feeding your artistic awareness. As you move from proficiency to mastery with your hypnosis skills, you’ll get better and better groups of volunteers on stage. When you create clarity about the experience you want your audience to have, and design a show specifically with that outcome in mind, you’ll be performing as an artist rather than just demonstrating hypnotism skills, and by doing so, you’ll be able to create performances that are engaging, memorable, and artful.