The Art Of Delivering Bad News

by drjim on February 23, 2016

How  you deliver bad news can have a big impact on how it is received

How you deliver bad news can have a big impact on how it is received
Image Credit: Steven Shingler

Let’s face it – not every speech that you’ll give will be one that your audience will want to hear. There are times that we are asked to give a speech that will contain bad news for our audience. When this happens, we will need a special set of speaker skills in order to effectively communicate our message in a way that shows sensitivity to our audience. It’s not only how you organize your message, but also how you go about delivering it.

Your Goal When Delivering Bad News

The one thing that you definitely don’t want to do when you have been asked to deliver bad news to an audience is to wrap it in a “good news / bad news” wrapper. This is an old technique that is too often associated with comedy routines and since what you are talking about will not make anyone laugh, it is inappropriate to use it here.

The reason that you have been asked to deliver bad news can be varied. Possible reasons can include announcing layoffs, reorganizations, announcing acquisitions, changes in benefit programs, budget overruns, schedule delays, and poor financial results. The group that you will be talking to can vary in size from large groups, to small groups, and sometimes even in one-to-one conversations. The challenge is that there is no easy way to deliver news like this. However, there are speaking techniques that can make your delivery of the information more effective and as a result, makes it easier for you to do it.

The first thing that you’ll need to do when you are asked to deliver bad news is to take the time to study your audience. What you are going to want to do is identify the information that this audience is going to both accept and understand. It is critical that you stay away from humor at this point in time – your audience won’t appreciate because the outcome of your speech is going to be very serious.

How To Start The Delivery Of Bad News

One of the biggest challenges that any speaker faces is in deciding how best to start a speech that is going to be filled with bad news. As you take the stage to begin your speech, the audience will be filled with dread as they eagerly await what you will be telling them. What you are going to want to do is to start your speech with a simple statement that contains relevant information for this audience. You’ll want to make a statement that everyone can agree with. Starting things off this way will allow you to draw in your audience and will set the stage for exploring the set of circumstance that lead to the current situation.

What you want your audience to do is to listen to you. The neutrality of your opening statement will allow this to happen. If instead you started your speech with a statement that members of your audience did not agree with, then you would have already lost them as they stopped listening and started to form arguments in their head. If you start your speech off with bad news then this will come across as being too abrupt. You won’t have given your audience enough time to both anticipate and prepare for the message that you are delivering to them.

You want to communicate to your audience that you’ve taken the time to carefully consider what you will be sharing with them. These ideas have not been casually created. In order to get this across to them you are going to want to include in the start of your speech a statement of a significant but evident fact. This will send a signal to your audience that the message that you will be delivering to them is a serious message and that you have spent time carefully considering it. This will set a serious tone for the rest of your speech.

What All Of This Means For You

Different speeches have different purposes. Some speeches are created in order to deliver bad news to an audience. This is not an easy task to perform and there are probably more wrong ways than right ways to go about doing this delicate task. However, the ability to deliver bad news is a valuable skill that every speaker needs to have.

The one thing that we need to realize is that a serious bad new speech is no place for humor. We may be tempted to try to break the heavy tone that often comes with bad news by using humor; however, we need to avoid doing this. Humor is inappropriate for this type of speech and so we need to stay away from it. You’ll have to take the time to study your audience – who will you be talking to? How you start a speech like this is critical. You’ll want to start out in a neutral tone and you’ll need to make a statement of significant fact early on so that your audience understands that you have spent the required time studying the issues that they are now facing.

Bad news is never something that any of us wants to hear. When we are placed in a situation where we are being asked to deliver a speech that contains bad news, we need to understand that how we deliver the news is almost as important as what the news is. Take the time to carefully prepare your speech so that the message that you will be communicating will come through loud and clear for your audience.

– Dr. Jim Anderson
Blue Elephant Consulting –
Your Source For Real World Public Speaking Skills™

Question For You: Do you think that the results of the bad news (layoffs, wage cuts, etc.) should be covered in your speech’s opening?

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Note: What we talked about are advanced speaking skills. If you are just starting out I highly recommend joining Toastmasters in order to get the benefits of public speaking. Look for a Toastmasters club to join in your home town by visiting the web site www.Toastmasters.org. Toastmasters is dedicated to helping their members to understand the importance of public speaking by developing listening skills and getting presentation tips. Toastmasters is how I got started speaking and it can help you also!

What We’ll Be Talking About Next Time

Guess what? There is bad news out there and sometimes it’s going to be your job to deliver it to an audience. Nope, this is not going to be an easy thing to do; however, it does need to be done and you are going to have to make sure that you do a good job of doing it. As with so many other things in life, it turns out that there is a right way and a wrong way to go about doing all of this.

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