How To Give A Speech About Bad News

When we have to deliver bad news, we need to find ways to soften the blow
When we have to deliver bad news, we need to find ways to soften the blow Image Credit: Apionid

When we give a speech, we are doing so for a reason. We understand the importance of public speaking and we have information that we want to share with our audience. We’ll take the time to understand what we want our message to be, we’ll craft a speech that we believe will deliver that message and then we’ll go out on the stage and deliver it. However, if it turns out that the message that we’ve been asked to deliver contains bad news, we’ve got an extra challenge on our hands. We now have a sensitive topic that we have to clearly communicate to an audience that really does not want to hear what we’ll be telling them. What’s the best way to go about doing this?

Work Through Your Emotions Before Sharing The News With Others

Let’s face it, when you are delivering a speech that contains bad news, you are going to be affected by what you are saying just as much as your audience is going to be. We need to understand that you may not like or agree with the news you must deliver, but there is a reason it needs to be done. Prior to standing on a stage and delivering your speech which contains the bad news, you need to come to terms with it so you don’t bring your negative emotional energy to the communication. We have to understand that your audience will take its cue from your approach. What this means is that if you’re defensive, nervous, weepy or angry, it will only fuel a negative response from your audience. This is something that no speaker wants to have to deal with.

Quickly Get To The Point

You know that the speech that you will be giving contains bad news. The big question that you are going to have to deal with is just how quickly are you going to get to that bad news? What you need to understand is that the fact that you are going to be giving a speech that contains bad news won’t be a surprise to your audience. They know that the bad news is coming, their only question is really how bad is it going to be? By the time speakers get through six long paragraphs of posturing and pussyfooting in your speech, your audience is on high alert, and are already filled with negative emotion. The result of this is that when you finally hit them with the unpleasant punch line at the end of your speech, their adverse reaction is intensified by the emotions you already nurtured in them. Often, the anticipation is worse than the actual news.

It’s All About Timing

Just exactly when you should give your speech that contains bad news is a key point. You are facing two different ways to go about doing this and you are going to have to choose between them. Procrastinating can often makes a situation worse (especially if rumors about the announcement were circulating). The flip side is that rushing to break the news just because you want to put it behind you also comes with great risk. Speakers need to understand that a knee-jerk communication is usually delivered with clouded judgment, high emotion and a lack of due diligence. Speakers need to consider when this news will best be received by their audience. Bad news is something that is never welcome, but as you decide on the ideal time, consider factors such as time, day and your audience’s state of mind.

Do Not Mislead Your Audience

As much as our audience does not want to hear us give them bad news, we really don’t want to give them bad news. Because of this there is always the chance that we may be looking for a way out and we may consider using some sort of form of misdirection or trickery. The answer is don’t do it. It can be tempting to load up bad-news communication with a bunch of good news in the hopes of distracting your audience. However, if you do this then it will only damage your audience’s trust in you. It is possible that you will choose this path because doing so will make you feel better about what you are saying (“Look – I’m not that bad – see at all the good things I’m sharing with you.”), but to the audience, it just looks like you are being wishy-washy and weak. A disadvantage of any of these attempts at misdirection is that in many cases, it can give the appearance of trivializing serious news and not treating it with the respect it deserves.

These Days, There Are No Secrets

A key point that any speaker needs to keep in mind is that in the modern world that we live in, there are very few secrets left – nothing is confidential any longer. We need to understand that emails can be forwarded, and social media has been designed to be the world’s fastest grapevine. Whatever you do and whatever you say, before you “go there,” answer this key question: How would I feel if 50 million people knew about this tomorrow? Nothing tames a speaker into acting gracefully like the thought of being vilified by an outraged public. We have to remember that no matter how we spin it or when we say it, our audience won’t like it. This is why it’s called “bad news.” We need to be realistic. If we expect to deliver bad news and have people walk away happy, this will not work out well for us.

What All Of This Means For You

As speakers we are called on to deliver all sorts of different types of speeches. One type of speech that I suspect not many of us look forward to giving is a speech that contains bad news. We understand that the audience that we will be addressing is not going to want to hear what we are telling them. What this means for us as speakers is that in addition to creating a speech that will allow us to communicate our message, we will also want to take the time to understand the benefits of public speaking and determine what the best way to deliver bad news is.

When we are sharing bad news with our audience, we need to make sure that we have taken the time to process the bad news ourselves before telling others about it. During our speech we have to quickly get to the point. We need to take into consideration when we are going to share the bad news: we don’t want to be too early or too late. Although it might be tempting to do so, we don’t want to mislead our audience in order to make ourselves feel better. Finally, we need to understand that whatever we tell our audience will quickly become common knowledge.

Understand that delivering bad news is not all about you. The audience does not want to hear about how you were up all night worrying about how to deliver this news or that it gives you no pleasure to do this. Asking for their empathy at a time like this will likely result in their wanting to walk out on you. Let them have their moment of sadness without trying to steal any of their sympathy.

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

Question For You: Do you think that you should ever apologize while you are delivering bad news?

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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 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

No matter where you are in your journey to become a better speaker, there will always be people who are behind you. You have an obligation to find ways to help those people become better speakers just like you did. One way to make this happen is to agree to be a mentor to someone. This is an opportunity for you to share with them what you have learned so that they can grow and become better speakers more quickly. However, just exactly how does one go about being a speaker mentor?