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Designing an NLP Workshop

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Susan Clements
2 April 2016

Title Designing a workshop where some participants have knowledge of the subject and some don’t.



I was asked to lead a day workshop introducing Neuro-Linguistic Programming  (NLP) to a group of participants on a Professional Practitioner Course in Clinical Hypnotherapy.



The workshop took place in a classroom with one main teaching room and three smaller rooms to use for practical work in smaller groups.   There were nine participants on the Professional Practitioner Course for Clinical Hypnosis.  I did not know in advance if any of the students had studied NLP before, and had no way of finding out. On the day I discovered that one participant had previously done an NLP Practitioners course and two had read books on NLP. The other students claimed to have no knowledge of NLP


I was asked to present an introduction to the main ideas of NLP so the participants could decide if they wanted to include NLP techniques in their professional work with clients.  The measure of success for me is whether the information given in the discussion parts of the workshop enables all the participants to do the practical exercises.  Also, at the end of the workshop, all participants should have enough information to be able to decide whether to study NLP further, or to use what they have learnt in the workshop with their clients when appropriate.


My first task was to select and prepare the material for discussion in the classroom before the workshop. Each participant would be given written notes as a reminder of the basic ideas we had discussed in the workshop.  The notes would also serve as a framework for the day.

I researched the basic ideas and most popular uses of NLP, as I thought they would be the most useful and recognisable.

I selected the activities that I thought best illustrated some of the basic ideas of NLP. I estimated how much time would be needed if the participants worked in groups of three, to allow each one to experience being therapist, client and observer. 

I identified the basic information they would need to know to be able to complete the activities.  When I had completed these tasks, I had an outline for the day to work with.

I found it difficult not knowing if the participants in the workshop had previous knowledge of NLP. This would affect how much explanation was needed.   I also found it difficult to estimate how much time each exercise would need, because it would depend on how much discussion took place within the exercise itself.  The only way to be sure of completing all the tasks was to impose a time frame on each activity, which may have been restrictive to the participants.


I began the workshop by asking who had knowledge of NLP.  I then drew the participants who had knowledge in as allies in explaining the basics to those who had no previous knowledge.  This was to avoid boredom, challenges and general disruption, which may have resulted if I had treated everyone as having no knowledge.


I discussed the basic ideas behind NLP as I saw them and invited the students who had knowledge of NLP to give their thoughts to the group.

I then opened up the discussion to the rest of the group by asking if they had come across the ideas in any of the studies they had previously done.


The open discussion began to drift away from the subject of NLP, so it was necessary to bring it back to the subject by selecting some of the relevant points for further discussion.  This meant ignoring some of the other points, and would risk participants feeling that they had not been heard. However, I was not aware of a problem in this case.


When the discussions showed that the participants had enough information to start the practical exercises, I explained the first exercise to them.  I made sure they understood what they were being asked to do by asking them how they thought they could complete the exercise. I then suggested they get into groups of three, one to observe, one to be therapist and one to be client. They could use the three practice rooms to work, as this allowed them to work without disturbing each other. I suggested that each group should contain one of the people who already had knowledge of the subject, to support those who hadn’t come across it before.


The participants said they had enjoyed the practical work, and in discussion afterwards were able to show that they had understood the basic ideas of NLP. I used this to gauge how to proceed with the afternoon session and decided that it was ok to continue with the other exercises.  The other option would have been to devote more time in the afternoon to discussion to enable the students to increase their understanding of the subject.


After the lunch break there were three more practical exercises for the students to try. Each exercise was preceded by explanation from me of what was to be done and why it was useful. I also invited comments and observations from the participants. They were then invited to use the three rooms to complete the exercises.

The day finished with all participants coming together in the main room, and each person saying what they had found interesting and what they had learnt.



All the participants said that they had enjoyed the experience of the practical exercises and in discussion it was evident that they had all gained some new ideas and understanding. 

Discussions had identified that everyone in the group had actually heard of some of the NLP techniques, even if they hadn’t realised they came from NLP. Most participants said they would use what they had learnt. 


One said she wouldn’t use NLP, but this wasn’t a surprise as she was very fixed in the method of counselling that she was already experienced in, and had not been open to new ideas.  I didn’t see this as a problem, because the choice of working methods was hers to make, and in discussion she had demonstrated an understanding of the ideas presented throughout the day.

The Organisation emailed feedback forms to the participants after the workshop and I was shown the feedback. Comments made by participants supported my thoughts that everyone had taken something from the workshop, even those who had studied NLP before.



I found that the discussions were very helpful in allowing the participants to come to an understanding of the basic ideas behind NLP, and how they could use the techniques in their work as therapists.

Using the knowledge of those who already had an understanding of NLP allowed different thoughts and perspectives to be discussed.  Without that it would have been only my thoughts and interpretations.

The practical exercises were important because it gave the participants an opportunity to experience NLP and also to observe others.

The groups of three worked well as it gave each person a chance to observe. 

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Ian Purdon
7:44am 3 April 2016

Thanks for writing about your experiences on the NLP workshop. It sounds like you rose to the challenge when faced with an unknown group with varied levels of experience/knowledge. The workshop sounded really interactive and engaging for participants, and I liked the way you shared your teacher role with others who had some knowledge of NLP. Your conclusions also sound well judged.

I’m interested to know more about NLP - please could you describe what it is in the context of clinical hypnotherapy? Also, it would be helpful to hear a bit more about some of the actual exercises you ran. Thanks!

Susan Clements
8:39am 3 April 2016

Thank you for your comments Ian. The basis of NLP is the interconnectedness of thoughts, emotional feelings, and behaviour.  NLP techniques are designed to uncover the thoughts and beliefs that lead to emotional states and the associated behaviour. Integrating NLP techniques with Clinical Hypnosis helps the client to quickly access the thoughts and beliefs that are driving the unwanted behaviour that they are attempting to correct. 

Exercises in the workshop include buiding rapport by activiely listening to someone and identifying how the world seems to them by identifying how they use their senses, noticing the language they use.  

Another technique which is useful for changing a negative mood is to ask the person to remember a time they felt really good, and then to anchor it by pressing together the thumb and finger of one hand.  if practiced, it works like a conditioned response, when the finger and thumb are pressed together the automatic thought is of the time that they felt really good.

I can imagine not knowing the existing knowledge of learners on a topic with training like this must be a real challenge but I thought the actions you took to prepare for this eventuality which in turn became a reality were great.  Incorporating existing knowledge from learners who had it was an excellent technique for avoiding boredom in the more experienced learners and will have added diversity to the sources of learning as I’m sure the opportunities for learners to have discussion did for all the learners.

Ian Purdon
8:46am 7 April 2016

Thanks for answering my questions Susan. It sounds fascinating. Given the highly personal nature of the activities, how does the learning design change when you're simulating an activity in a workshop with fellow practitioners and when you're actually working with a client/patient?

Susan Clements
1:35pm 11 April 2016

The learning design is the same whether it is used in the workshop or with a client.  It is the participant or client's decision what to work with and they can choose to share their thoughts or keep them to themselves.  

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