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Disarm With Charm: Obama’s Public Speaking Secret

We all attract criticism at some point in our lives.

From colleagues, friends, family, onlookers.

I believe that how we deal with that criticism says a lot about our character, especially when it comes to public speaking.

Will we blow up, Trump-style?

Will we lay down and allow them to walk over us?

Or will we assert ourselves confidently, and find common ground, Obama-style?

My answer is always: disarm with charm.

The natural reaction

public speaking scotland woman punches man in face.

I recently gave a talk to some 3rd year university undergraduates on the act of public speaking as a favour to a regular client.

It was unpaid.

I left a dark, wet and windy Glasgow at 6.30am and drove to the north of England.

I arrived at 9am to a text saying my colleague was held up and I’d be best introducing myself to the group of 20.

I did so, and presented enthusiastically for 30 minutes in an attempt to impart as much knowledge on the art of speaking in public as possible, before asking if anybody had any questions.

One hand went up.

“Why did you finish with a reference about Scotland, when we’re all English?”

It was the only question asked, and afterwards the audience filtered away to the cafeteria.



public speaking scotland man staring in disbelief.

A desire to turn round and say:

“Do you know what? I got up at 5.45am for this, and all I get is a flippant question? I don’t need this!”

What I actually said was:

“Well, the story related to 3rd year undergraduates, people in your position. And I believe if you remember the moral of that story next time you interview, it will help you enormously”.

I’d love to say that when I sat down with the students in the café, they formed an orderly queue and diverted their student loans money into our public speaking and presentation skills courses.

But I do believe the presentation had a positive impact – and I know it meant a lot to my client.

All around us in the media there are examples of people seeking confrontation.

Getting angry.

Losing their cool.

Rising to the bait.

We believe there’s another method that’s far more successful and essential for effective public speaking.

Disarm with Charm

public speaking scotland barack obama.

We received a call last summer from a client exasperated at the treatment they were getting from a local MP.

“He comes in, drinks our coffee, tells us how important we are to the local economy, then goes and mouths off to the local paper about what he calls a disgraceful health and safety record!”

“The next time I see him I’m going to punch his lights out”.


we suggested,

“You could thank him“.

The next week, they invited the same newspaper in for a full and frank interview.

In it, they praised the local MP for his work on health and safety.

“We absolutely share his passion for helping make Scotland a safe place to work, and we’d like to thank him for his work in doing so”.

Seven months on, they’ve yet to hear another word.

They found common ground, rather than points of difference.

They combined that with praise, rather than criticism.

public speaking scotland boy with boxing gloves disarm and charm.

Charm, whether in answering awkward questions politely, or in proactively praising your critics, can be an extremely effective strategy.

Especially if that critic is expecting a fight.

So next time you find yourself being criticised or wound up, disarm with charm.

I believe you’ll find life a lot easier as a result.



Andrew McFarlan is Managing Director of Glasgow-based media training and presentation skills firm Pink Elephant Communications.

You can view his profile here.

Photo credit: Paris on Ponce & Le Maison Rouge,  Free for Commercial UseJoe Crimmings Photography,  CJS*64 “Man with a camera” via / CC BY-ND


2nd February 2017 Featured in: Blog By:

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