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Confessions of a Reluctant Workshop Leader

Or why my terrifying first course was the first step to success, even if it felt like the last step I’d ever take


Hosting a workshop can seem scary, but it can also be full of opportunity

I ran my first ever workshop by accident. I didn’t want to do it. But as a father struggling to get by on a minimum wage job, I couldn’t not do it.

I worked from an alternative health centre in Kemp Town, Brighton. I was holed up on the top floor of an old tumbledown building in a seedy part of town.

I’d qualified in hypnotherapy in 1993, but now what? One year on, I was seeing three clients a week if I was lucky.

After I graduated, I couldn’t believe people would pay me £30 (remember, this was 1994!) to let me help them. At first it seemed like a lot, but as time went on it became painfully obvious that it wasn’t enough. I kept on hoping I’d increase my client numbers and make some kind of half-decent living eventually. But the truth was, I was going nowhere fast.

Then one day Bob, the owner, told me about a public open day. Would I give a speech on hypnotherapy?

I shook my head firmly, and said yes.

A public talk! The last time I’d spoken in public was at school. At fifteen, I’d been the subject of merciless jeering (the teachers could be very cruel!). But I wasn’t a kid anymore. I was an adult, about to do an adult thing, to talk to a bunch of adults! Fear and excitement wrestled, but excitement never stood a chance.

Want to see time speed up? Dread something. The big day was upon me before I knew it.

When I arrived the room was already bursting with practitioners exuding knowing confidence, elan, sang froid, and other French words I didn’t know the meaning of. At least, that’s the way it seemed to me. Soon ‘the public’ began to trickle in, looking menacingly good-natured. The fact they were arriving at all was menacing enough.

Desperate for some last-second public speaking tips, I keenly observed the acupuncturist urbanely discussing pricking, the homeopath smoothly explaining dilution, and the herbalist elegantly propounding the properties of plants.

They all had one thing in common: they sounded polished, sophisticated, and unselfconsciously affable.

Then it was my turn.

My impending sense of doom heightened as more and more people filtered in. I was about to leap into the ink-dark depths of the unknown, and every man and his dog was here to see it.

In fact, more people wanted to watch my talk than could even fit in the room. People were packed in shoulder to shoulder; some were even craning their heads from out in the hallway. All to hear this young (as I said this was 1994) guy talk about hypnosis. The terror mounted. But there was nowhere to go.

Like a newborn deer taking its first steps on greased ice, I took the podium.

I hesitated when I should have flowed, garbled when I should have paused, and collapsed crying on the floor when I should have stood and faced the music (well, almost!). But I got through it. And what’s more, people seemed interested. When I asked for a volunteer to demonstrate hypnosis, they ate it up.

And you know what?

No one asked for their money back. Sure, it was because they hadn’t paid any. But I realized at that moment that all along, that’s what had been bothering me. That’s what had been niggling away in the dim recesses of my frightened mind. That maybe what I had to say didn’t have value.

Afterwards I felt elated for having done it, and frustrated with myself for having made such a fuss about it in the first place. But I also felt something else. Something that changed everything. Something that wouldn’t go away.

Possibility.

There was a real interest in what I was doing! If so many people found hypnosis that intriguing could I factor group work into my business? What if all those people had paid to learn about hypnosis? A week later, buoyed by the interest in my talk, I printed 300 leaflets emblazoned with the unimaginative slogan, ‘Learn about hypnosis.’

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Whatever little I knew about presenting, I knew even less about marketing. I spent the next week plodding the rain-washed streets personally distributing those fateful flyers. I wandered diffidently from café to café apologetically advertising my weekend workshop.

But as soon as the flyers were out there my enthusiasm turned to trepidation. I found myself desperately hoping that people wouldn’t sign up. Then I’d have to actually run the thing!

But people did sign up.

Cheques (did I mention it was 1994?) started wafting into the health centre. Bob would wander in at least once a day to excitedly present the next batch of applications. From just 300 leaflets, I garnered 16 participants. Each paying £65!

Gobsmacked, I realized how easily a bundle of money could be made in one go. I took the equivalent of six weeks’ wages in one weekend!

I felt as if a ray of golden light had finally penetrated the gloomy canyon that was my financial life. I had to follow this light. I’d found a path, a real path. Paths don’t manifest every day, but when they do, they need to be followed.

Paths don’t manifest every day, but when they do, they need to be followed

The workshop arrived almost as quickly as the public talk had. But this time I was ready. I had my speeches prepared, exercises to demonstrate, literature to hand out. And the whole thing went well.

Sure, I was naive. I didn’t collect the names of the attendees or mail them. As far as I was concerned it was a one-time thing. But I did get a couple of referrals and, above all, just having done it gave me a warm glow.

In the following days and weeks, I realized I wasn’t finished with what I’d started. So I ran more workshops and, gradually, I got better at it. Then, in one of my day jobs, I met Roger Elliott. It was a meeting that would change the course of my life.

Roger and I started running hypnosis workshops together, and in no time we’d expanded to service Brighton, Nottingham, London, Cambridge, and Bristol. Roger brought a rigour to the process that I could never have done on my own.

We formed a database to record our attendees, made CDs for our delegates to buy, and printed proper notes. We improved the flyer design and copy, and distributed them in the thousands, not just the hundreds.

All the while I was picking up more and more new clients. Not just attendees, but their family and friends as well. Suddenly I was making a living – a real living – doing what I loved. I was seeing up to 20 clients a week, and the vast majority were from workshop referrals.

What’s more, I grew to love presenting our workshop. We taught people about hypnosis, the REM state, and language patterns. People learned how to take others into trance and how to self-hypnotize. I would demonstrate how a phobia or traumatic memory could be lifted. People loved it.

In 1998 we formed our company Uncommon Knowledge, and in 1999 we taught our first diploma course.

I was giving the best of myself to the world, and I was being rewarded for it. And none of it would have happened if I hadn’t said ‘yes’ when I meant ‘no’ all those years ago.

I didn’t know it at the time, but that initial faltering talk and those 300 paper leaflets were the turning point on my path to the present.

Nearly a million people around the world now read my articles every month, and our hypnosis downloads help people of all nationalities, religions, and backgrounds. Thousands of practitioners of all kinds read this therapy blog and learn hypnosis and other psychotherapeutic techniques from me online.

‘Me’ became ‘we’ as Roger and I built the Uncommon Knowledge team to become what it is today.

What do I put that down to?

Why I would do it all again if I was starting today

The Internet has been like magic to me, but if I were to start out again today, you know what? I would begin offline. I would run workshops and build them up alongside online work.

If you don’t yet have the World Wide Web working for you then running workshops is the best way to begin. At least, it was for me way back when.

When I got up on that podium all those years ago, I felt as if I was lost at sea. But there was a moment during that talk, even as I stammered and stalled, when I caught flickering glimpses of land amid the undulating waves.

I’m so glad I decided to swim.

I recently sent out a survey to our practitioners, asking who has delivered training in a workshop setting before. Of those surveyed, 1190 have done so and 586 have not. That’s an impressive number – we have a lot of brave practitioners in our community! Please share your tips, experiences and questions in the comments section so we can share our skills with each other and harness the exciting potential of workshop hosting.

Our original workshop (a tad more polished!) is available as part of our online course Uncommon Hypnotherapy.

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Mark Tyrrell

About Mark Tyrrell

Psychology is my passion. I've been a psychotherapist trainer since 1998, specializing in brief, solution focused approaches. I now teach practitioners all over the world via our online courses.

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  • Allison Sutherland

    This came at just the right time for me as I’ve taken the step of booking the venue for my first workshop in January! Thank you!

    • How exciting Allison. All the best for it, Mark.

  • Adrien Binh Doan

    Thanks for this article ! I’m actually organizing a workshop both online and offline, and it’s a great challenging experience. I understand the difficulties you’re talking about since i’m going through it now !

    • Sounds like your much better placed to begin now than when I began way back when Adrien.

  • Gail Christy

    I enjoyed reading your article Mark, especially as I was on one of your courses in 1999 in Brighton. Unfortunately I had to leave Brighton so didn’t complete the whole course & because of family commitments I didn’t have the courage to give up the day job! But now I’m retired, I start doing what I want to do, in January; I’m planning the marketing now. I’ve always had confidence in your ‘product’ as I was so impressed all those years ago, when you now tell us how you lacked confidence! Thank you for the knowledge!

    • A blast from the past Gail! The absence of fear isn’t the same as courage of course and we all need to exercise courage sometimes I think. All the very best of luck and courage Gail!

  • Rosie Thomas

    Thank you for a really interesting and positive post.
    I understand about jumping in when running away seems preferable. I have, by default, become a group leader. I would never have believed myself capable of running a supportive, friendly group. I have had to stop advertising because we had grown uncomfortably large, however newcomers still turn up!

    Today I overheard a member encouraging a newcomer to return as it was a lovely group and how encouraging I am, which made me glow with pride.

    Unfortunately I don’t get paid for my leadership but now know that I am more than capable. One day in the future I will take the major leap & charge for my classes.
    Until then, I will continue to learn from my mistakes and become better prepared for the big day ( which will happen.)

    Reading your words have shown that many people suffer with the same insecurities, all that I need to do is ‘go for it.’

    • I wonder Rosie if some people might get even MORE value from your groups (as assuredly great for these people as they are) if they paid. Just a thought. I think a really big step to becoming emotionally secure about these things is first recognising that most of us have these issues at some point-usually when we’re starting out, thanks, Mark.

  • Max Coates

    I have worked with a variety of groups, mainly in education, for 15 years. Wherever possible I try to get there first and chat to people. Crucially I want to show I am intrigued by them. I never do the walk on to the hushed audience! Also the nuggets of information and a few names are used during the presentation are used during the presentation. Always important to be authentic and not use the information cynically.

    Max Coates

    • That’s great Max thanks. Being interested in the audience and their experience is so important I think. Thanks for that, Mark.

  • lessli111

    Thank you for sharing your stories and success with us! I am a group facilitator working in Addiction counseling in the US. I stumbled on your blog the other day, and I appreciate your wit and sense of humor. I look forward to learning more about hypnosis and how it ties into counseling!

    • Thanks lessli, who was it that said “life is too important to be taken seriously” ?humour can be the capsule that makes some ideas palatable and memorable when it works of course : ) All best wishes, Mark.

  • Sharon

    Great article. Before becoming a hypnotherapist I worked as a training manager, this has been a huge benefit when delivering workshops or talks.
    What tips would I share?
    Really get to know your stuff, use bullet point prompts not just reading from a script, engage with audience, looking round and making eye contact with them. Avoid the use of jargon, you can very quickly lose an audience if they have no idea what you are talking about. Above all move, when you move around and jesticulate you feel freer and more relaxed, standing still or hiding behind a podium can leave you feeling like a rabbit in the headlights.

  • Lynn Roberts

    Great article. I have been teaching hypnotherapy for the past 4 years, and before that I taught other complimentary therapies for around 15 years. My biggest tip is be prepared for the unexpected! Have all your notes and handouts ready, a prompt for the topics you’ll be covering, and if you’re using technology have a back up of some kind – even if it’s using a louder voice than usual! People love to be interactive, but occasionally there will be someone in the audience who has done it all and got every t shirt. I love those challenges, because Milton Erickson comes to mind with his utilisation – if they say it, use it! Above all, enjoy!

    • Jay Keep

      Hi Lynn , i envy you you make it sound so easy

    • Thanks Lynn; some great tips there.

  • Jay Keep

    Excellent article, I completely identify. I qualified as a hypnotherapist two yeas ago and want to incorporate it in (my soon to be,
    niche business, specialist practitioner in Chronic Fatigue, ME, Fibromyalgia) but am reluctant to get it off the ground. I think i am going to have to bite the bullet and do talks and workshops but break into a cold sweat at the very thought! Having fully recovered from ME myself you would think that i would have the confidence to do almost anything…not so, i still have major issues with any kind of public speaking…i wonder if hynotherapy might help?

    • Yes indeed it might Jay : ) You are uniquely placed to run your workshop and for people who need it you might be their salvation.

  • Kyla Knott

    Thank you so much for sharing your experiences, Mark. It’s given me some encouragement to take the step that I’ve been hesitating in taking for some time. I have delivered a few workshops for my employer using their material. While it’s been beneficial in some ways, it’s left me feeling incongruent and a bit disconnected from my ‘audience’ because my style of counselling doesn’t fit with the material I deliver (I’m Humanistic Existential and the material is CBT) Reading your article and the comments so far has made me think about how much more I might enjoy delivering workshops that I have created with material that I connect with. I have a very small private that I would love to develop and just didn’t know where to start. I’ve been feeling stuck for quite some time and so your article has been a much needed and appreciated shove in the right direction!

    • That’s great to know Kyla and yes if the material you deliver connects with you then it will more likely connect, even impassion your audience. I suggest you do it : )

  • Debra Mowatt

    This came at a good time. I just finished putting together my handouts for my first coaching session. I am nervous. But your candor as you shared your experience has bolstered my confidence. Perhaps, after tomorrow, I will schedule the next sessions as workshops!

    • Good luck Debra. And yes why not do workshops at some point?

  • Ease Trauma

    One thing that has helped me in the past was my ability to get prospects to focus on my skills instead of my experience whenever asked. My answer, when my experience was questioned, was to always give a hypnosis demonstration. After making a hand stuck or causing name amnesia, people would forget about whether I was “experienced”. This taught me to always let my skills do the talking.

  • Hi Mark,
    Last Thursday night I gave my first presentation to a Madison Square Gardens-like, bursting-at-the-seams, crowd of 1000s …. Okay, 20 punters and a homeless guy sheltering from the rain at a local library. And I was brilliant! Okay, more crap than brilliant – but still, it was fun and no one puked :-) That’s a start in my book!

    • Ha ha ha No one puking has got to be a win Seian : )

    • Kyla Knott

      Love this! If this is your style when presenting, I’d love to see you! A sense of humour is vital for survival and you seem to have that in abundance!

  • Aditi Kulkarni

    Thank you for sharing this! I have presented a few talks/workshops – each time wondering why I ever agreed to do it. And coming out thinking ‘that wasn’t half as bad as I’d feared’! Every single time :)