You have to do it. Be the bearer of bad news. The phrase ‘Don’t Shoot The Messenger’ comes to mind and you’re wondering where you put your flak jacket.
Whether it’s a project being cancelled, upcoming layoffs, big company changes, or even talking about a topic that makes everyone uncomfortable… sometimes we have to be the ‘bad guy’.
At these times especially, speakers want to “look fearless” and stay in control, irrespective of how they’re feeling inside. They often fall into the trap of pushing nerves away and being ‘hard’ to bring the bad news in a way that screams “IT’S NOT MY FAULT’ – a plastic sheen of confident public speaking. But so long as you’re pushing away your fears and nerves, you’re acting, rather than connecting with your audience. Yes, it’s especially important to connect with your audience when it’s a negative speech. Here’s how…
Being the bearer of bad news stinks, but you can get through it by talking from the heart.
You cannot NOT communicate. Refusing to talk about the problem issues won’t make them go away. It won’t win you your audience’s trust and respect. And, it won’t reassure them or gain their willingness to take the actions and make the necessary changes.
One way or another, the negative news will get out and you’re going to have to give the negative speech. The question is not whether but HOW to communicate it. You can make this potentially painful experience more positive, both for you and for the audience.
No one wants to hear a plastic voiced executive give news in a flat monotone. Show that you care about them. Show the audience that they matter. If you focus on sharing the negative speech in an authentic way, even if they’re upset, the audience will connect with you. More than ever this is the time to be honest and not ‘sugarcoat’ the truth.
If you’re telling people you manage that there’s going to be be major changes, it’s okay for you to acknowledge your feelings about the change as well. Remember that your attitude and the clarity of your message are two very important components when you’re speaking. Be open, clear, and honest. If you’ve done something wrong – it can help to rebuild trust if you apologize. If you’re speaking to a group of people about a topic that directly opposes their beliefs, listen to their opinions without judgment.
Empathy is about questioning yourself about the needs of the audience; their hopes and expectations of what they will “get” out of your speech. Time and energy invested into this step will help you create an empathetic talk that your audience wants to hear.
Acknowledge people’s feelings in a compassionate way without turning the event into a therapeutic intervention or a crying fest. When you speak, you consistently need to be both credible AND caring, give people reason to believe that their work has meaning.
Deep down people want to feel that their contributions have value and that they have potential. You have an opportunity to deliver hope, but be careful not to make promises that you can’t keep.
Don’t take it personal.
Although the audience may be really upset and make it feel personal, do know your audience are really on your side. The upset audience doesn’t want to cause you pain, they want an answer to their questions. Especially if it impacts their job. Avoid taking their bullet yourself by directing the difficult reactions back to the topic in hand, to see if the audience member’s view of the situation is legitimate. It may well be.
Listen to the audience comments and do your best to work with them rather than restricting them, or you will only stoke their fire. Resist the temptation to try and ‘win’ an argument. Provide reasonable and tangible evidence to support your point and leave it at that. Once they realise you’re not interested in a fight, their energy will often fizzle. Remember the news you’re delivering is difficult.