Table of Contents
What the papers say …
Title Page
Copyright Page
About the Author
World’s Top Ten Pink Elephants
Section One - Dump the Baggage and Create Clarity
Chapter 1 - Drop the Pink Elephant
Chapter 2 - Every Picture Tells a Story
Section Two - Be Principled in What You Say
Chapter 3 - Staying on the Louisiana Highway
Chapter 4 - Sorry Seems to be the Hardest Word
Regret, Reason and Remedy
Chapter 5 - Tell the Unpalatable Truth, Rather than the ‘White Lie’
Chapter 6 - Thank You and Well Done
Chapter 7 - Who Looks Stupid When You Criticize in Public?
Avoid sarcasm (or had you managed to work that out for yourself?)
Section Three - Positively Assert Yourself
Chapter 8 - Flush Out the Watering Down Words
Yes, no and I don’t know
Chapter 9 - Talk Positively About Yourself
Be positive and proactive, especially with bad news
Assuming versus checking
Section Four - Think of the Audience
Chapter 10 - It’s All Relative
Put it into perspective
Chapter 11 - Email and Text - Bullets or Boomerangs?
The Queen’s English
Chapter 12 - Three Little Questions
What do I want to say?
Who am I speaking to?
So how should I put it?
Section Five - Create Deeper Understanding
Chapter 13 - Listen First to Understand
Pay attention to the percentages - 55, 38 and 7
Chapter 14 - Powerful Words
Chapter 15 - Think, Talk, Act … Then Tell the World
Appendix - What Do Your Words Say About You?

What the papers say …
‘What a great book. I would have no hesitation in recommending this book to anyone.
‘This book is a must-read for anybody in a client/customer-facing position. I think anyone who talks to other people could benefit from reading it.’
‘If your DNA’s short on charisma, here’s a guide to charm heaven. Learn how to captivate your listeners and speak so people understand you better. An easy read with perky drawings and bullet point summaries. ’
HER WORLD Magazine
‘McFarlan’s method for revolutionising communication … is as relevant to how we relate to family and friends as it is to how to get the best from a workforce.’
‘Even if you normally steer clear of self-help books, do try the very funny and perceptive Drop the Pink Elephant by Scottish television presenter Bill McFarlan.’
‘It is very rare that anything that is good for you is also fun … This book, however, is enormously pleasurable to read and the words of wisdom sink in without a murmur.’
‘… it goes on to tackle every aspect of personal communication in a crisp, entertaining style. Plain English supporters will be particularly interested in chapters dealing with jargon (especially unfamiliar abbreviations) and grammar.’
‘This is a fascinating must-read.’


This book is dedicated to:
My dad and late mum, whose love and security taught me realistic optimism.
My wife Caroline, whose loving encouragement has guided me through triumph and setback alike for 25 years.
My children Victoria, Emma and Andrew, whose tolerance of my Pink Elephant obsession is a credit to each of them.
May they - and everyone who reads this - benefit from sharing that obsession.
And special thanks to Caroline and Victoria for their incisive proof-reading of this book to ensure it follows my principles on punctuation, grammar and clarity.
Thanks also to John Moseley and the entire Wiley-Capstone team for their belief in this book and the opportunity they have created to share my principles with the world.

About the Author
Bill McFarlan is a journalist, broadcaster and Managing Director of one of Britain’s leading media consultancies.
He established The Broadcasting Business in 1989 to help individuals and businesses get their message to the world in a brighter, more positive and more vivid manner.
Since then, he’s conducted more than a thousand media training and presentation skills courses in Britain, France, Spain, the USA, the Caribbean and Africa.
He’s a regular speaker at conferences and passionate advocate of confidence-building techniques.
In tandem with his business life is a broadcasting career that began in radio in 1980 and took him through news presentation at Scottish Television to ten years with the BBC, anchoring Breakfast News, Reporting Scotland, Sportscene and World’s Strongest Man.
He’s fronted sports programmes on three satellite channels and is a regular contributor to news and current affairs programmes.
Bill lives in Glasgow with his wife and three children.
The Broadcasting Business can be contacted at www.broadcastingbusiness.co.uk or on 0141 427 2545.

World’s Top Ten Pink Elephants
Simply remove the word in bold letters to reveal the picture each phrase creates.
‘I did not have sexual relations with that woman, Ms Lewinsky.’
US President Bill Clinton in January 1998 on his relationship with the White House intern. Ten months later he apologized for misleading the American people with what he said
‘I did not rape Ulrika. I would never rape anyone.’ Well-known UK TV presenter, whose denials were quickly followed by further allegations from numerous women
‘There can be no whitewash at the White House.’ US President Richard Nixon, who relinquished the presidency because of … a whitewash at the White House
‘Telling my story was never about money.’ Paul Burrell, former butler to Princess Diana, who sold his story to the Daily Mirror for a reported £300,000
‘This is not a war on Islam.’ Tony Blair on the War on … Terrorism
‘I must state once and for all that I am not (Prince) Harry’s father.’
James Hewitt on that growing resemblance between Princess Diana’s younger son and her former lover
‘I’m not thick. I’m not a bimbo. And I’m not a tart.’ Big Brother 2001 runner-up Helen Adams on herself. The audience drew its own conclusions
‘I don’t do drugs. I don’t drink and drive and I don’t have five kids to three different women.’
Former Scotland captain Colin Hendry, accused only of elbowing an opponent
‘Read my lips. No new taxes.’ US President George Bush … before he increased taxes
‘It did not happen. Gennifer Flowers’ story is not true.’ Bill Clinton again, who later admitted under oath that he did in fact have sex with Ms Flowers

I’ve worked in TV almost all my working life and first met Bill when he joined the Breakfast News presentation team in 1991. It was clear back then that he analysed every word, every tone and every twitch of his own performance … and that of his interviewees and colleagues.
I saw why when I joined him in presenting some communication skills courses. The insight he offered into what each participant said … and what they meant … was tremendous. And after adopting his rules, each person showed a remarkable improvement in their ability to get their message across. Drop the Pink Elephant captures those rules and puts them in a bottle for anybody wanting to make more impact in their lives by really connecting with other people. It’s essential reading for everybody interested in creating a deeper understanding with their colleagues, clients, family and friends.
Eamonn Holmes, GMTV Presenter

We agonize over the words to choose in an important letter. Devising a report can give us writer’s block. Even writing a postcard can concentrate our mind on choosing our words carefully.
But in conversations, words can come gushing out of our mouths with hardly a thought for the impact they’ll have on their audience. We spend so much more time speaking to people than writing to them, yet we seldom give enough thought to the consequences of our choice of words.
This book sets out to change all that.
Drop the Pink Elephant draws its conclusions from what I’ve learned about communication in over a quarter of a century working in the media. It’s based on my career in journalism, which started in local newspapers as a cub reporter and took me through radio into television, presenting news and sports programmes for the BBC, Sky Sports and Independent Television.
That taught me to write - and to talk and behave on camera - with the reaction of the audience considered in everything I did. From that experience, I set up a media consultancy that has advised many of Britain’s leading companies on how to handle the communication of new orders, product launches, industrial action, plant closures - and, tragically, even deaths.
That is all very well. We are naturally inclined to watch what we say in formal communication. But so much of our communication at work and at play is informal. And it is here that the cracks begin to appear.
So I’ve had to struggle like everybody else with my human frailties that constantly test what I’ve learned - to establish whether I talk a good game through my work, or actually live it. From the many occasions on which I’ve got it horribly wrong - and there are many, as you’ll see - I gladly share my experience. That’s taught me, on reflection, where it went wrong and how to fix it. Applying the lessons will help you to avoid such pain.
Much of what I suggest is simple common sense. But most of us learn common sense from suffering from the nonsense of a bad experience. So the simple rules I’m suggesting will, if applied, help you through many a tricky situation with clients, colleagues, family and friends.
And while changing our behaviour is a slow and often painful experience - although essential if we are to grow as human beings - changing the way we talk to people is instantly achievable and highly rewarding. Indeed, it’s a first necessary step to changing behaviour.
Each chapter covers a different area of improving the way you communicate, but all are related. For instance, being positive in your language leads to eliminating negatives and the baggage we bring into our conversation. Removing words that water down your message - words like ‘hopefully’, ‘reasonably’ and ‘quite’, ‘I’ll try’ or ‘I’ll do my best’ - increases the commitment of the message.
Choosing the right word at the right moment every time is impossible. But applying the simple rules of this book is easy. If there’s one golden rule it’s this: make sure you engage your brain before opening your mouth.
But it’s like learning to drive a car. First, learn the theory of the Highway Code to understand the rules of the road. Next, put the rules into practice. This is, of course, where things go wrong.
Why? Almost certainly because the Highway Code was abandoned for a moment. As with driving, you will have bumps and scrapes when putting these rules into practice, often caused by the thoughtlessness of somebody else.
But be patient! And practise the rules at every opportunity. Practise them in job interviews, client meetings, over family dinners, with friends and colleagues. Use them at work, in the pub and at home. Apply them in the company of anyone and everyone with whom you interact. The more often you apply these rules, the more often you’ll communicate effectively. It will become as automatic as brushing your teeth. In fact, treat this book as your mental floss.
And, above all, have fun enhancing your communication skills. You’ll soon notice how others struggle to compete with your new-found talent. You will discover a new ‘you’. Subtle. Persuasive. Engaging. Confident. And you will relish every opportunity to try out your new skills.

Section One
Dump the Baggage and Create Clarity

Chapter 1
Drop the Pink Elephant
‘I did not have sexual relations with that woman,
Ms Lewinsky.’
US President Bill Clinton, January 1998
My friend Susan was lying in bed with the ’flu, barely able to move, but listening intently to ensure that her two-year-old next door was OK. The silence was unbearable. Susan sensed something was amiss. Finally, she had to find out.
‘David,’ she called out. Silence.
‘David, are you being a good boy?’ Silence, then a reply.
‘I’m not eating my crayons, Mummy.’
Susan leapt out of bed and ran next door to find David, the carpet and the walls covered in half-chewed crayon.
Very young children make poor liars. They fail to recognize that an unprompted denial only prompts us to question the very thing they’re denying. Once we grow up, we realize these things.
Or do we?
Let me quote Richard Nixon, President of the United States, in a televised address to the nation in April 1973: ‘There can be no whitewash at the White House.’ Until that point, the American people refused to believe that their president could have had any prior knowledge of the break-in at the Democratic Party HQ at the Watergate Building. That one phrase, linking the White House with a whitewash, reversed their thinking.
Surely a great communicator like President Bill Clinton would, 25 years later, avoid such a mistake. Surely a man whose every word has the power to change the world we live in … surely a man whose every carefully-chosen utterance has been spun and re-spun by the world’s finest spin doctors … surely he would escape being so clumsy as to be ‘caught short’? But we all remember the infamous ‘I did not have sexual relations with that woman, Ms Lewinsky.’ Ten months after making that televised statement, the President apologized for misleading the American people.
Try this one, then: ‘I didn’t stand on the radiator!’
This needs a little more explanation. I was in the kitchen of my home. A decorator was working away in my son’s bedroom, when I heard a tremendous crash. Expecting to see an upturned ladder on top of the decorator, I was surprised and relieved to find them both upright. The radiator, however, was on its side and water was gushing in all directions.
Unprompted, the decorator opened up with ‘I didn’t stand on the radiator!’
Ladies and gentlemen of the jury, I put it to you that his denial was in fact an unintentional confession. Who suggested he had stood on it? Only the decorator himself!
Put together, all these denials have a common thread:
• ‘I’m not eating my crayons.’
• ‘There can be no whitewash at the White House.’
• ‘I did not have sexual relations with that woman …’
• ‘I didn’t stand on the radiator.’
In conclusion, m’lud:
1. Rather than being in direct reply to an accusation, these were all volunteered denials.
2. Notice how the words of denial - ‘not’, ‘no’, ‘did not’ and ‘didn’t’ - are transparent. We automatically look through them for the real meaning.
3. They leave behind clear images: ‘eating my crayons’, ‘whitewash at the White House’, ‘sexual relations with that woman’ and ‘stand on the radiator’.
This use of unprompted negatives is, to me, the biggest single flaw we demonstrate in our conversations. To make them easier to spot, I have given them a name. They are our Pink Elephants. Each one is highlighted in this book - along with the transparent denial - to help you spot them yourself in every conversation you ever have or hear.
If I said to you right now ‘Don’t think of a Pink Elephant’, the don’t would disappear, leaving you with a clear picture of a Pink Elephant. Similarly, if I said ‘Don’t think of your boss naked’, that would be the image that first came to mind.
So a Pink Elephant is an unnecessary, and normally vivid, negative. It usually pops up unprompted because it’s part of the mental baggage we always carry around with us. If we’re worried that somebody is thinking negatively about us, we say it before they do.
Pink Elephants are a great device for guarding against sloppy and ill-advised communication. I urge my clients to remember this key principle: always tell us what you are, instead of what you’re not.
I ask them all to become Pink Elephant hunters.
The idea is to eliminate Pink Elephants altogether from your conversation, until you’re Pink Elephant free. The whole process forces people to think and talk more positively. You see, speaking in negatives tells us very little. It often stops at the problem and fails to find the solution.
Alright, it’s 9.50 p.m. You’re on a dual carriageway, still a long way from home and in great need of a cup of coffee and a comfort stop. At last, a sign: ‘Services. Not 24 hours.’ (Pink Elephant!) Will they be open? Will they be closed? So what do you have to do? Slow down to see if the lights are on! That surely makes the case for a replacement sign reading ‘Slow down to see if the lights are on.’
I was filming from a helicopter for a golf programme. The pilot was about to touch down when his colleague said on the radio ‘That’s not where you’ve to land.’ (Pink Elephant!) Now hovering just 10 metres off the ground - more difficult than it looks - the pilot, somewhat exasperated, barked back ‘Would you like to tell me where I should land, then?’
Some phrases you’ll be all too familiar with in everyday conversation:
• ‘I don’t mean to be nosy, but …’ (Pink Elephant!)
• ‘I don’t want to gossip, but …’ (Pink Elephant!)
• ‘I’m not trying to impose, but …’ (Pink Elephant!)
• ‘No offence, but …’ (Pink Elephant!)
• ‘I don’t mean to be rude, but …’ (Pink Elephant!)
Remove the transparent denials and you’re left with:
• ‘I mean to be nosy …’
• ‘I want to gossip …’
• ‘I’m trying to impose …’ And so on.
Pink Elephants only draw attention to the very thing you want to avoid.
This first came to my attention when reading an article about my appointment as BBC Scotland’s sports reporter in 1986. The piece quoted me as saying my range of sporting interests would ensure that BBC Scotland was ‘not falling into the hole of only covering football’. (Pink Elephant!)
Was this some evil, twisted reporter in some scurrilous scandal sheet setting out to misquote me and make me look bad? No, this was an accurate piece, with an accurate quote in the BBC’s own publication, the Radio Times. I had painted the very picture - ‘falling into the hole of only covering football’ - that I wanted to avoid. I had meant to say that I had covered 17 different sports that year alone.
Three conclusions struck me from what I had said that apply to us all:
1. We must take responsibility for the words we choose, whoever we’re talking to.
2. We must put considerably more thought into our spoken words.
3. We must learn to DROP THE PINK ELEPHANT.
The thing was, I had been writing professionally since the age of 18 as a trainee newspaper reporter. By then in my late 20s, I had written for four newspapers, a radio station, Scottish Television and BBC TV news in Glasgow and London. I presented news and sport daily on the BBC. So was I really getting it wrong all the time?
The answer had to be a resounding ‘yes’. It was masked by the fact that almost all my broadcast work was pre-written. It may have been spoken on air, but I had crafted it carefully beforehand and was reading from a script. And that’s the situation we all face in comparing what we write in letters and reports with what we say on the phone and in face-to-face conversation. (I’ll deal with lightning-fast and highly dangerous emails later.)
Most of us would check a letter for accuracy. We would possibly re-word a phrase that’s woolly, tone down an inflammatory remark, show it to somebody else, chew it over and then send it. And what do we do in conversation? We speak, then we think, then we regret. And even that’s only if we know what we’ve done wrong. But we’re generally careless in conversation.
Most of us would benefit from spending less time worrying about what we guess others are thinking of us and more time telling them what we do believe in, what we have done, what we do stand for.
And, when an accusation is put to us, why repeat the allegation in the answer? If your partner asks if you’re ‘bored’ with their news, why on earth would you want to tell them ‘I’m not bored with your news’? (Pink Elephant!) That would only put the focus on ‘bored’. Tell them instead you’re keen to hear their news (providing you are, of course).
If your boss puts it to you that you ‘lack ambition’, tell him or her that you’re ‘highly ambitious’ (provided you are). Every single Pink Elephant can be replaced with a positive.
It’s all a question of agendas. Do you want to debate theirs or yours? If theirs is untrue, why waste your breath defending it? Tell them the truth instead. That applies equally whether you’re speaking to a friend, relative, colleague or even a television reporter.
In one media training session I ran, a client unwittingly came out with 12 Pink Elephants in one three-minute interview. On analysing the interview, they divided roughly down the middle between negative words I had put into his mouth and negative words he had put into his own.
Start looking at your newspaper today and spot the Pink Elephant to find out what’s really on someone’s mind. Here’s a selection to get you going. And remember to ignore the denial in bold letters to reveal the clear picture created. Because that’s what your mind does.