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Public speaking: a warm bath

A warm bath.

It’s funny how a few words can conjure up feelings of safety, comfort, relaxation.

Golf coach David MacKenzie noticed that top US golfer Phil Mickelson’s game was being badly affected by nerves.

He gave him some advice.

“Think of a word that makes you feel instantly calm”.

Mickelson thought long and hard, before replying:


The next time you see the five-time major champion standing over an important putt, you’ll know what’s in his head.

And it may just hold the secret to your public speaking success.


public speaking glasgow girl above water nervous.

You can feel nervous for a number of reasons before and during a presentation.

You’re unprepared.

You now only have five minutes instead of the twenty-five you were given.

You have a deep-seated fear of public speaking.

Your boss is there, and you believe she knows so much more about this than you do.

Whatever the reason, the nerves are most often unhelpful.

That’s where the warm bath comes in.

Triggers in public speaking

public speaking glasgow girl trigger on gun.

Just as the words ‘public speaking’ or ‘presentation’ act as a trigger for feelings of anxiety, your warm bath acts as a trigger for relaxation.

It’s the positive association your mind and your body have been craving.

We worked with a university lecturer last week, who was suffering from nerves and self-doubt before speaking to PhD students.

He envisaged everything going wrong before the lecture began.

“I kept on imaging myself forgetting my words, and then I forgot them!”

That was unsurprising, as his body was preparing for the exact thing that his mind was picturing.

After some careful consideration, he arrived at


As a keen runner, his favourite event was the Edinburgh Marathon.

“The Longniddry part is really hilly before you get to the flatter section towards Musselburgh Racecourse.

When you get to Musselburgh, you know you’ve done your 26 miles and you can start to relax.

The crowd is cheering and you can really enjoy the run.

It’s a wonderful feeling”.

Instantly, he found his nerves begin to disappear.

The next step

public speaking glasgow boy with book.

Crucially, in order to maintain your confidence, you need to have a well-crafted presentation.

The start is all-important during public speaking.

Getting straight to the point is a very effective way to engage your audience:

“Ladies and Gentlemen, we need to turn things around”.

A second way is to tell a short, focused story that engages your audience fully, before getting straight to the point.

The combination of a warm bath and a strong introduction is incredibly powerful.

My happy place

public speaking glasgow warm bath happy place 18th St. Andrews old course.

My warm bath is simple:

“Old Course”.

I can picture the sun setting over the 18th hole at St Andrews.

The waves lapping over West Sands behind me, and some golfers casually strolling up across Granny Clark’s Wynd.

It makes me feel relaxed – and that’s a great starting point when speaking in public.

Fancy a dip?

If you’re feeling nervous before your presentation, come along to Alan Clark’s next Masterclass on Thursday 7th September.

He’ll explore the warm bath, the psychotic parrot, the Pink Elephant and other techniques to help get you in the zone.


Written by Andrew McFarlan, managing director of Pink Elephant Communications. You can view his profile here


Photos by Flash Bros,  Ben WhiteSofia SforzaRobson Hatsukami Morgan on Unsplash

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