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Presentation skills: being a chameleon

My wife and I went to see the Scottish stand-up Fred MacAulay on Islay last month and watched him rescue a tricky situation.

Having written his material for an adult audience, he spotted a 12-year-old boy in the audience.

He rewrote the second half of his speech to avoid embarrassing the lad and his parents with blue humour.

Over coffee the next morning, Fred told me he’d enjoyed a nightcap at the bar of his hotel with the boy’s parents.

This would only have happened by him switching material to spare red faces.

One of the biggest points we make on our Edinburgh media training and  Glasgow presentation skills courses is that material has to be relevant to the audience.

presentation skills edinburgh adapt like chameleon Fred MacAulay.

Let’s contrast that to our experience at the Edinburgh Festival Fringe last weekend.

We’d chosen five things to see in the day.

I could have predicted that my wife would enjoy the blues band more than me.

Also that I would enjoy the Richard Nixon monologue more than her.

Each of us thoroughly enjoyed the improv show Who’s Line Is It Anyway and the Johnny Cash tribute show.

presentation skills edinburgh adapt like chameleon fringe festival.

But the big unknown would be the Canadian Comedians in Sorry – Canada’s 150th.

Some of their material we found funny but much fell flat with the audience.

The reason?

It was the wrong material for the age group who were largely middle-aged and beyond.

They’d created stories and jokes in their presentation to late teens and early 20s and failed to adapt.

To engage them, they have to tune in to what we’re saying in our presentation and we have to do that right from the start.

presentation skills edinburgh adapt like chameleon lights captivating your audinece.

The mistake we often make is that our presentations and interviews are fascinating to us but deadly dull to our audiences.

And we can be guilty of pulling out today the PowerPoint presentation we made last month only for it to be poorly-received by a very different audience.

My feeling was that the Canadian comics were doing what they always do, regardless of the audience.

But Fred’s three decades as a top comedian had taught him to ADAPT his material to fit the audience.

Quite simply, we have to make it relate– before it’s too late!


Bill McFarlan is the Executive Chairman of Pink Elephant Communications in Glasgow.

You can view his full profile here


Photo Credit: Dillan Stradlin (Own work) [CC BY-SA 4.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons, Ian Sloan (Contact us/Photo submission) [CC BY-SA 3.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons, Hamburger ArtsHimesh Kumar Behera on Unsplash


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