Paralysis by Presentation

Have you ever been hypnotised? You may not know it yet, but even if you think you’ve never been hypnotised it possibly happened whilst you were at work.

You may find this story of a coincidence enlightening.

I recently had the opportunity to participate in a group hypnosis session. It turns out I’m not particularly susceptible to hypnosis but after 20 minutes we were given a suggestion that we couldn’t move our arms. I wanted to prove I wasn’t hypnotised; I knew I could move if I really wanted to, but, somehow just didn’t drum up the energy to move – it was far too comfortable lying there without moving and I was effectively paralysed. This is apparently quite a normal experience of hypnosis.

Last week I found myself behaving in the same way but this time I hadn’t willingly or knowingly been hypnotised – and it wasn’t the intention of the ‘hypnotist’ either. At an economic forum update the room was comfortably warm, the seats were deep, the lights were dimmed for the slides and the speaker was familiar with his material.

After about 30 minutes he asked for questions. Nobody volunteered, so the facilitator asked some questions of the ‘expert panel’. One of them made a very interesting point with which I agreed wholeheartedly and wanted to voice my agreement, but I couldn’t rouse myself to say or do anything; I felt paralysed. And then I realised it was exactly the same physical and mental state as when I’d been hypnotised.

The conditions for this, and many presentations, are similar to those deliberately chosen for the hypnosis session; muted lighting, comfortable warm surroundings, lots of other people being still, and a voice talking to us.

And, on reflection, how often do speakers experience difficulty in getting the audience to actively participate or ask questions at the end of a presentation – are we regularly in a state of light hypnosis?

In a hypnotic state we absorb information quite effectively so this is one way way to present information to people. But a key feature of hypnosis is that the critical faculties are turned off – they stop evaluating what they see, hear or feel.

So if you need people to actively absorb information you present, and particularly if you want them to consider it, challenge it or engage with it, presenting it through the power of hypnosis is not the most effective way of doing it.

But that’s exactly what many, many presentations do.

Do you ever find that people said they were interested in your ideas before your presentation but then it’s really hard to get them to respond once you’ve got started; or you’ve told a group that you’d really like this to be interactive and they are to ask questions and then feel frustrated when nobody asks any. Even more frustrating is the experience when you’ve asked for a decision and then find people seem to be going against it when they are back in the office?

Then perhaps you may want to consider what state they are in when you present the information to them. Perhaps they are literally in no fit state to critically evaluate the information they’ve been given and respond. They can only do that when they’ve been reawakened by walking back to the office – by which time it may be too late.

So have you ever been hypnotised? Have you ever been a hypnotist yourself?