Conversational NLP Anchors and the Control Panel


An anchor in NLP is a stimulus fired off by one or more simultaneous trigger signals using one or more of the 5 representational systems – visual, auditory, kinaesthetic, gustatory and olfactory. When fired, an anchor triggers a set of memories and the associated feelings, states, behaviours, reflex actions and unconscious programmes that were happening at the time the anchor was set.

A good example of Anchors in my own life comes from my late teenage years, when I went through a sad, lonely and confused phase. The feelings were strongest when I regularly walked along a sea wall on the East Coast quietly humming the latest Beatles record – Hey Jude. The whole repeated experience strongly anchored those memories to the song, the location, the feelings, the smell of the sea, the plants along the walk, the sounds of the boats, etc. Now 40 year’s later, the whole scene, the emotional feelings, all the smells, sounds, images and my state return whenever I experience one or more of those sensations. Sometimes it’s a mixed feeling, when one of the stimuli fires of another memory. If I hear the Hey Jude song, I get those sad feelings mixed with the pleasure of growing up in the 60’s and all those wonderful Beatles songs.

If these anchors can be set up automatically, as in the example above, I can set up anchors deliberately to trigger physiological and emotional states and behaviours – in myself and in others. All I have to do is to elicit the state and or behaviour that I want, amplify it and then anchor it clearly and precisely in as many representational systems as possible. Visual, Auditory and internal Kinaesthetic ones are best. Conversationally it’s unlikely that I can use olfactory and gustatory externally, unless it’s a wine or food tasting event.

Conversationally, whether in a one-on-one or group situation, I can use more or less any combination of clearly marked gesture, facial expression, word, phrase, tonality change, etc. to anchor my audience’s current state. Paul McKenna uses the word “Now!” spoken in a clear tonality with an exaggerated snap of the fingers of his left hand, out to his left side and level with his elbow, and combine with a noticeable dip of his knees. With physical gestures and actions, the location of the gesture is as important as the gesture itself.

At Paul’s training courses, each presenter has their own specific theme tune that booms out as they walk out to the stage at the beginning of their session. At the end of their session, they boost the audience crowd up to a crescendo and then anchor it by with the theme tune as the leave the stage. At the end of every lunch or coffee break, there is the usual hubbub of chatter and movement, but as soon as the theme tune starts, everybody changes state back to the crescendo and rushes back to their seat.

You may have noticed that stand-up comedians use different parts of the stage to anchor and later elicit specific reactions from the audience. If they move to a specific place and make the right gestures, the audience will laugh at whatever they say. They can move from slapstick to pathos simply by moving around the stage.

We don’t need to move around to anchor well conversationally; we just make the gesture parts of our anchors in consistent spatial locations around ourselves.

So what might I want to anchor conversationally? I might want anchors to let people know when I am being serious, sad, relaxed, focussed or elated. I might want to bring back a specific learning experience, such as a metaphor or story. I could use an anchor to stop an unhelpful action. There’s a story of John Grinder In fact, more or less any memory, behaviour or state that might help me to communicate better.

You can use anchors to stop unhelpful behaviours and states as well. There’s a story of John Grinder utilising a woman’s mild fear of snakes to control her repeated disruptive behaviour in a training course. He conversationally anchored her more focussed and interested states to a set of his eye movements, where he watched an imaginary snake wriggle its way across the floor towards her. Every time she looked distracted, he looked pointedly at her and then followed the imaginary snake.

Milton Erickson uses a conversational anchor for resourceful emotions of an old memory in the Monde case study in the book Patterns of the Hypnotic Techniques of Milton Erickson Volume II – Transcript I. Erickson asks Monde to find a happy experience and she remembers when she was 2 years old and splashing in the water. Erickson this verbally and whenever he needs that state in therapy, he says with a particular tonality “2 year old Monde … splashing in the water.”

My “Control Panel”

In conversation and when presenting, it is useful to have a consistent personal set of anchors to set and trigger to elicit particular memories and states in the people I talk with. If I use the same ones for every situation, they will be easier to remember. Whenever I am in conversation with someone new, I can then look out for or elicit a desired state in the other person or people and anchor it in my normal way for that response.

My initial control panel of conversational anchors are for when I want people to be

  • Amused – gently throwing my head up and back, while bringing my elbows in, back and up, smiling exaggeratedly with my lips closed and quietly chuckling to myself
  • Focussed – moving the top of my body and head slightly up and forward, while bring my hands up and slightly clenching my fists with the palms vertical and markedly focussing my eyes on the audience and saying “Now!” gently
  • Relaxed – slowly breathing out deeply, while bringing in a relaxed smile and saying/sighing “OK”
  • Excited – lightly clenching my fists as I lift my hands upwards in front of me from the elbows, while slightly smiling, widening my eyes and saying “Yes!”
  • Sad – slowly shrugging my shoulders in and down, dipping my head to my lift (their right), partially closing my eyes and dipping my forehead forwards while sighing quietly and saying a downwardly inflected “Huh!”
  • Quick – bringing my elbows in to my side with my lower arms pointing forward and level, while gesturing up with my fingers/hands, nodding my head slightly and a bit quickly and saying “Right!”
  • Slow – bringing my elbows in to my side with my lower arms pointing forward and level, while gesturing down with my fingers/hands, nodding my head slightly and a bit slowly and saying “Slow…” quietly and fading out
  • Visual – looking upwards a few times while quietly saying “see!”
  • Auditory – looking from side to side a few times while quietly saying “hear” or “here”
  • Kinaesthetic – looking down to my left (their right) while rocking my stomach slightly from side to side once or twice while saying “mmm…” quietly and inflexed upward for good feelings and downward for less good ones
Categories : NLP
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