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The top 10 Pink Elephants of 2016…so far

Don’t think of a Pink Elephant.

We don’t want you to think of a Pink Elephant.

Thinking of a Pink Elephant would not be a wise thing to do.

So don’t think about it.

What are you thinking about?

Of course, your brain makes the connection between “think about” and “Pink Elephant”.

The “not” remains abstract and your brain can only think about something else when it’s given a positive cue.

Don’t think about the Sydney Opera House.

Don’t think I’m a liar – I never tell lies.

Don’t touch that big red button.

It’s impossible to not consider it.

The Pink Elephants we refer to in our media training and presentation skills training courses, represent unnecessary negatives.

And all around us, people are telling us what they’re not thinking about, speaking in Pink Elephants.

Sportspeople talking to the media, politicians giving presentations, actors, even homeowners, as we’ll see below.

And in doing so, they’re creating in our minds the exact opposite picture of what they want us to see.

Here’s our Top Ten that we’ve compiled from our Glasgow studios – but that stretch far and wide over the world.


10) Actor and comedian Chris Addison

presentation skills training courses glasgow sydney opera house.

The non-exclusive, non-posh Sydney Opera House

Back in January, French opera L’Etoile opened its doors to the British public, sporting an unfamiliar star.

Chris Addison, better known for his role as Ollie Reader in TV’s The Thick of Ittook a lead role in the production.

Addison loves the opera – and he wants to present the image to us that it’s inclusive; it’s accessible.

Yet his choice of words may leave a different image with you:

He told us that opera was not…

exclusive, impenetrable and super-posh”.

Now what are you thinking?

9) Mayor of London Sadiq Khan

presentation skills training courses glasgow Mayor of London Sadiq Khan.

Sadiq Khan’s election as the mayor of London made the news for lots of good reasons.

His style…

After years of Boris Johnson’s wacky media appearances and the fallout of previous mayor Ken Livingstone’s controversial comments on Zionism, Khan seemed to have brought an air of calm to the city.

His politics…

As a senior member of the Labour party, Khan’s election goes with the grain of a Labour resurgence in London. As a member of the party’s left and a close ally of former leader Ed Miliband, he represents a large proportion of people in London who drifted from Liberal Democrat or Conservative to Labour in the 2015 General Election.

His religion…

He is London’s first ethnic minority mayor – and the first Muslim mayor of any Western capital. At a time when far-right, anti-Islamic parties are gaining popularity in Western Europe, Khan’s election represents Britain’s politics of inclusiveness.

All positive, right?

But when asked about what we felt he represented, Khan told Pakistan Today:

“I’m not a Muslim spokesperson or leader”.

What are you thinking?

8) Abbie Sutton, wife of ex-British Cycling coach Shane Sutton

presentation skills training courses glasgow Shane Sutton (r) with Dave Brailsford (c).

Shane Sutton (r) with Dave Brailsford (c)

Let’s jump on our bikes and pedal backwards to March, when British cycling found itself embroiled in a sexism and disability row over comments made by (now former) Technical Director, Shane Sutton.

Sutton was accused of using derogatory, sexist and homophobic language to “bully” British cyclists.

Specifically, allegations surfaced of his behaviour towards female members of the team, including telling one member to “go and have a baby” (a claim Sutton strenuously denies).

In response to criticism from the Daily Mail, his wife jumped to his defence on Twitter and told us:

“I think he sees women as weaker”

Direct and honest. Followed by a seemingly unrelated comment:

“I can confirm my husband is not abusive!”

Don’t think of the abuse.

7) England rugby union coach Eddie Jones

presentation skills training courses glasgow England rugby union coach Eddie Jones

Let’s stay with sport for now.

Eddie Jones’ appointment as England rugby union’s head coach sent shivers down many a spine.

His former players knew him as a ruthless winner.

His competitors had seen how we turned Japan round from a rugby minnow to displace former World Champions South Africa.

And his current crop of players welcomed the announcement, before entering a gruelling training regime and ultimately winning the Six Nations trophy.

Those who made the team, that is.

Other players, including mercurial stand-off Danny Cipriani, would have been forgiven for feeling left out in the cold.

Why? Because Jones told them that:

The door is not shut for anyone. There is no such thing as a shut door because of injuries and loss of form.”

Open your door, Eddie.

6) UK Prime Minister David Cameron

presentation skills training courses glasgow UK PM David Cameron.

UK PM David Cameron

Both sides of the debate over Britain’s membership of the EU have received criticism for employing fear tactics, scaring people into either camp rather than persuading them.

Vote.Leave, the official campaign for those campaigning for Britain to leave the EU, publishing a report in January about a rise in migrant sex-attacks if Britain stayed in the EU.

It published data linking criminals, rapists and murderers to Britain’s immigration.

On the Remain side, we’ve heard in recent weeks of World War Three and Brexit putting a “bomb” under our economy.

Forced to defend his position, Cameron should have talked positively – whether about the dangers of leaving or the benefits of staying.

Instead, he told us:

“I don’t accept it’s scaremongering”.

The headline was published all over the UK.

It’s an own goal – he needs to answer the question (“No”), avoid the word “scaremongering” and instead choose his own words, rather than perpetuate those of his critics.

5) Celtic manager Brendan Rodgers

presentation skills training courses glasgow Celtic manager Brendan Rodgers.

Celtic manager Brendan Rodgers

In any other period in the last fifty years, you could have forgiven Celtic fans for feeling smug after years of dominance of Scotland’s top league.

Yet the early exits of European competition, the substandard performance in many domestic games and crucially, Celtic’s departure at the hands their resurgent rivals Rangers, ultimately led to Norwegian manager Ronny Deila walking the Parkhead plank.

All doom and gloom.

Until, that is, the Bhoys appointed former Liverpool and Swansea manager Brendan Rodgers, a man described by many as one of the most exciting young coaches in Europe, into the hot seat.

At his first conference, he was asked about the new role at Celtic.

He talked of it being a childhood dream, but eventually succumbed to a Pink Elephant that grabbed headlines the world over:

“Of course this is not the same as down south but I can assure you this is not a step down.”

Mind the step Brendan.

4) Hollywood actor George Clooney

presentation skills training courses glasgowcGeorge Clooney addressing the crowds.

George Clooney addressing the crowds

Just as Donald Trump was harrumphing his way to the Republican nomination stateside, wearing his iconic business suit-baseball cap combination, compatriot George Clooney was coolly sipping a Martini in Cannes in the company of Jodie Foster and Julia Roberts.

There to promote his new film, ‘Money Monster’, Clooney instead decided to grab world headlines by reassuring the watching world about Trump’s presidential prospects:

“There’s not going to be a President Trump”.

The crowd cheered – so he gave them more:

“We’re not afraid of Muslims or immigrants or women. We’re not going to be afraid of anything”.

President Trump, fear of Muslims, immigrants and women.

Don’t think of them.

3) Washington, D.C. homeowner Kristy Debruhl

presentation skills training courses glasgow Kristy Debruhl not haunted house for sale sign.

Let’s move away from the spotlight for a second.

And imagine you’re buying a house.

You want a great location, but at an affordable price.

It needs to be roomy.

Ideally, with a garden.

And the Home Report, that’s important too.

Oh yeah – and what about the ghosts?

Well, if you hadn’t thought about sharing your house with unwelcome guests, I guarantee you will be now.

2) Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton

presentation skills training courses glasgow Democratic hopeful Hillary Clinton.

Democratic hopeful Hillary Clinton

Wannabe President Hillary Clinton finds herself in second place.

In fairness, when you’re campaigning across 50 states to 300 million people over two years, you say a lot.

It’s hard to stay away from negatives.

Presidents in the past have said such things as:

“I am not a crook”.

“There can be no whitewash at the White House”.

Or her own husband:

“I did not have sexual relations with that woman, Miss Lewinski”.

And it seems that Presidential hopeful Hillary, despite the best advice, has fallen into the same trap.

Speaking to a packed gymnasium in Fresno, California, Clinton aimed to reassure fears over Trump’s claims about immigration and deportation.

“1.2 million Americans will not be rounded up and deported”.

What can you see?

1) Cambridge geneticist Giles Yeo

presentation skills training courses glasgow obesity.

The pick of the bunch comes from geneticist Giles Yeo, whose programme on BBC Two at 9pm this evening aims to get the root of the nation’s obesity problem.

Yeo’s hypothesis appears to be simple: we’re fat because our bodies want us to be.

He tells us he wants to “dispel some of the myths about obesity”.

And here is a snippet of what he tells his audience, gathered round to hear the myth-busting:

“You’re not lazy, it’s not because you lack will power”.

I dare you…go home and say to your loved one,

“You’re not fat”.

Good luck.

So what can we all do about it?

It’s simple – tell people what is the case.

When asked if you agree with something and the answer is ‘No’, then say no.

Move on to what you do want to say.

Here are some alternatives:

“Opera is inclusive, it’s for everyone, it’s great fun”

“My husband only ever treats me with respect”

“Celtic is a massive club”

“My door is open to every player”

Simply telling people what is the case puts the right image in their mind – and accurately represents what you actually believe.

So only ever use positive words, especially in difficult situations – and see where it gets you.

Even better, send us your own and we’ll include the best in our Big Fat List of 2016 Pink Elephants.

Thanks for reading.

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

You can view his full profile here.

Photo credit: NickiMM via / CC BY (Sydney opera House); DIUSGOVUK via / CC BY-ND (Sadiq Khan); johnthescone via StoolsFair / CC BY (Shane Sutton); Belinda Lester via / CC BY-SA (Eddie Jones); theglobalpanorama via / CC BY-SA (David Cameron); WBUR via / CC BY-NC-ND (Brendan Rodgers); csztova via / CC BY (George Clooney); US Mission Geneva via / CC BY-ND (Hillary Clinton); MLazarevski via / CC BY-ND (Giles Yeo)

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