The Blog

Honest Blog - Pink Elephant Communications

How honest can you be?

How honest are you in your communication?

Court demands you tell:

“The truth – the whole truth – and nothing but the truth.”

But do you do that in presentations?

Do you do that in media interviews?

Do you do that at work?

And if you do, will your audience respond well?

Scots comedy legend Sir Billy Connolly discovered this week he’d been too honest for his fans’ liking.

In a BBC documentary, he’d said:

“My life is slipping away – and I can feel it – and I should.”

“I’m 75. I’m near the end.”

I grew up with Connolly’s breakthrough and rise to stardom.

He’s been there all my adult life.

I want him to be well.

But he has Parkinson’s disease and has had cancer operations.

His honesty drew horrified reaction.

Millions of fans feared his imminent demise.

So, he tweeted a video of himself looking relaxed.

Playing the banjo – in the sun.

“Not dying,  not dead. not slipping away”, he said.

“Sorry if I depressed you.

“Maybe I should have phrased it better!”

Was it his honesty that frightened his fans?

Can you handle the truth?

Honest Blog - Pink Elephant Communications

Jack Nicholson ad-libbed a phrase that’s become part of popular culture.

In the 1992 film classic A Few Good Men he explodes from the witness box:

“You can’t handle the truth!”

So, did Sir Billy reassure us?

No – he just underlined his thinking.

“Not dying,  not dead, not slipping away”

Three Pink Elephants, as we call them.

Unnecessary negatives that paint a vivid picture.

He was being honest in a melancholic moment.

Some fans were unable to handle the truth.

Sir Andy

I’m a huge supporter of Sir Andy Murray.

I’ve watched all his tennis Grand Slam finals.

All the losses – and the glorious wins.

He’s made me love tennis again.

After hip surgery and several failed comebacks, what’s his assessment?

“I don’t know how much longer it’s going to last – but we’ll see”.

I much preferred his earlier comment:

“If I can get to 95% of my best, that’s enough to compete at the highest level.”

He’s being honest.

And we dislike it; it disappoints us; makes us feel sad for him.

Also, it sends out a message to Sir Andy’s opponents.

Has he been weakened?

Is he vulnerable?

And to Sir Billy’s audience?

Will he be well enough to perform again?

Will he still be funny?

On our presentation skills coursesmedia training courses and crisis handling skills courses, clients repeatedly ask one question:

How honest can we be?

Honest Blog- Pink Elephant Communications

…when we’re presenting to colleagues, to clients, to the media?

Well in business it’s different.

Trust and reputation are everything.

As is optimism in business.

One client had a suspected outbreak of disease in his hotel.

“How honest can I be?” he asked.

“Tell the media everything,” I told him.

“People will stay away,” he replied.

“They’ll blame you forever more if you misled them,” I insisted.

He was up front – and applauded for his honesty.

Say as much as you can as soon as you can

Honest Blog- Pink Elephant Communications

If it’s bad news, break it early.

If people may be affected – tell them now.

I write this from a conference in Hawaii.

A forest fire caused an evacuation of a hotel less than two miles away last night.

A mobile phone alert told us what was happening.

The truth for hotel guests was inconvenient – but could have saved lives.

When announcing redundancies, we ask clients to be honest.

Tell them the numbers up front.

Explain the impact.

Deal with the bad news first.

Now add optimism

When there’s an ongoing crisis in your business or your life, be factual but optimistic.

“The hotel has been cleared because of the fire.

“But we’re working hard to get guests back in as soon as it’s safe to do so.”

“Production has stopped because of the electrical fault.

“But we’re working round the clock to fix it.”

“We’ve recalled the affected products.

“But all others are unaffected and safe to consume.”

There’s a place for vulnerability – as I realise more throughout my career.

Most of us want to look invulnerable.


Unquestioning in our decision-making.

However, we need to demonstrate honesty in accepting our flaws and weaknesses.

If we can explain what we’re doing to overcome them.

If we’re optimistic.

That was the problem with Sir Billy’s comments.

There was a weary resignation in his words, without any solution.

Why? It’s the truth.

He’s now 76.

The average male Scot lives to 77.

He has a point.

We just want him to go on forever.

And I thank him for his honesty.


Bill McFarlan is Co-Founder and Executive Chairman at Pink Elephant Communications in Glasgow.

You can view his full profile here.
Photos by Dreamstime & The Guardian Newspaper.

10th January 2019 Featured in: Blog By:

view all posts

Build Your Confidence

Some media trainers knock you down…and leave you down. Our media coaches show you how to deal with each knock…and still win through. So you have the presentation skills to perform – with confidence.

request a quote