Difficult Speeches: Talking After The Layoff Has Happened

by drjim on January 11, 2011

After the axe has fallen, what's a speaker to say?

After the axe has fallen, what’s a speaker to say?

A bad global economy means one thing for workers: loss of jobs. Just about every company has gone through this painful experience as firms have struggled to find ways to stay afloat during the most recent global recession. Into this environment, public speakers can find themselves asked to give a speech to a dispirited audience. How the heck are you going to give a good speech to an upset audience?

The Wrong Thing To Do

When you are asked to speak to a group of people who have just gone through a round of layoffs, there are a lot of things that you can do wrong. What happened to the employees who were let go was bad, what the employees who are left behind that you’ll be talking to may have been through could have been even worse.

What many speakers in this situation don’t realize is that when something bad happens to people around you, but not to you, it affects you also. There’s even a term for this “survivor’s guilt”.

When someone is going through this type of situation, they may find it hard to concentrate (even on your speech), may have low productivity, listlessness, and a deep desire to avoid risk. Basically, there’s a good chance that your audience is stuck in the past.

Although none of this is good news, the company that your audience works for is facing a much more serious problem in the future. Workers who are feeling the aftereffects of a downsizing will never be satisfied with their jobs. This means that when the opportunity comes along, they will be willing to jump ship to the next available job. In this situation, everyone loses. You’ve got a big task ahead of you if you want to fix things.

The Right Thing To Do: Starting At The Top

If you find yourself placed into this difficult situation as a speaker, you’ve truly got your work cut out for you. You’re not just going to be able to get up there deliver a speech and then go away hoping that you made an impact – because you won’t have.

In a single speech, you can’t change the world. However, the speech that you give to an audience that has gone through this set of experiences needs to help them at least start the healing process. At the very least, you don’t want to make things worse!

As a speaker, you are going to want to start at the top – you are going to need to have a long discussion with the person who has asked you to talk to this audience. Assuming that you’ve been brought in by the management that was in charge of the layoffs, you need to understand what they are going through. Contrary to popular opinion, a company’s managers are not cold-hearted bastards. Instead, they are real people also who probably are dealing with their own issues in regards to the layoffs.

You are going to have to take the time to explore what happened: the who, what, when, where and why of the whole event. What you want to do is to really dig down deep and find out what the organizer of your speech is feeling and why they are feeling that way. You are going to want to take that emotion and communicate it in your speech.

The Right Thing To Do: Helping Your Audience

One of the things that you’re going to have to discuss with your audience during your speech is that when it comes to layoffs, we all do the same thing. In order to shield ourselves from the hurt and loss of the upheaval, we enter into a state of denial.

The longer that your audience stays in that state of denial, the longer the damage will go on. What you need to use your speech to do is to show them a way out of this “closed box”. The only way that they are going to get better is if they open up and start to talk to others about the way that they are feeling.

Depending on the setting and what the event organizer wants, you can also use your speech as an opportunity to start the next phase of the healing process: venting. Carefully controlled venting will allow your audience to start to express how they feel and by doing so they will start the process of moving on.

What All Of This Means For You

One of the most difficult speeches that any of us can be called on to deliver is a speech to an audience that has just gone through a set of layoffs. This is an audience that is in no mood to listen to a speaker who can’t understand their pain or connect with them.

As a speaker you are going to have to work closely with the event organizer in order to determine what the tone of your speech needs to be. During your speech you are going to have to show your audience how to overcome their denial and start to talk about what has happened to them. Finally, if you can provide opportunities for them to start to vent their emotions, then the healing process can start.

There’s only so much that one speaker can accomplish in a single speech. However, once you know what you need to do, you can provide a hurting audience with the healing power of the right words

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

Question For You: Do you think that acknowledging that layoffs have occurred is a good way to open your speech?

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What We’ll Be Talking About Next Time

Do you use notes when you give a speech? As public speakers, we are always told by the “gurus” and self-help guides out there that we need to break ourselves of the habit of using notes. When we see highly polished public speakers deliver the speech that they’ve given a hundred times, we notice that they do it all from memory – no notes needed. Does this mean that notes should not play any role in our speaking lives?

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