While we strive to deliver positive presentations all the time, we do not live in an idyllic world. There would really be times when we have to break some bad news to our colleagues, bosses, clients, or classmates. This is not an easy feat; therefore, this needs much preparation and strategizing.
In delivering bad news in a presentation, there are three methods we can use — the sandwich method, comparison, and spin. Among all these methods, the sandwich is often used because it is quite simple: deliver some good news, state the bad news, and end with a positive and encouraging note.
To learn more about these methods and some other communication strategies that can help soften the blow of the bad news you are about to share, read this guide until the end.
How to deliver bad news in a presentation
Although it is quite difficult to deliver bad news, it is not an excuse to make the presentation too negative. Your presentation still has to be compelling and persuasive.
That being said, here are three methods that are meant to help you make the bad news appear not that bad:
Method 1: Sandwich method
The sandwich method works for most settings. This is called sandwich because the bad news is delivered between good news.
To be specific, you first share some good news with your audience, so they have positive energy when you state the bad news. The blow won't be that bad when they got something positive to hold on to.
The next step is to deliver the bad news in a matter-of-fact way. Don't be too emotional or excessive when presenting it so as not to alarm your audience with the gravity of the bad news. Put simply, deliver the bad news in a confident manner. It works wonders, I swear.
The final step in this method is to share some positive news and lift the optimism of your audience. This often contains an analysis of the bad news you shared.
Method 2: Comparison
The comparison method is often used when you are at fault for the mistake. In other words, you apply this technique when you want to justify the negative result that you will share to your audience.
The first thing you have to do is present similar situations as yours. For example, "While our project was not approved by the client, the same thing also happened to company X." This means that in this technique, you are already presenting the bad news first, but in comparison with others. Hence, it's not that heavy for the audience.
Next up, you need to lift the optimism of the audience by highlighting what was done excellently related to the bad news. In the case I presented above, you can state major achievements or how great the employees have performed for the project, albeit having an unwanted turnout.
Lastly, paint a picture of what will happen next, but make sure it is positive. Nobody wants to hear a doom and gloom picture right after learning about bad news.
Method 3: Spin
The spin is the favorite method of politicians, and it is not exactly very easy to do. It actually needs an expert to do this.
As an overview, the spin method is actually "spinning" the bad news, so it seems like good news. For instance, "Although our community project received 50% disapproval from the masses, 50% still believe it is good."
To use this method successfully, the key is to include statistics, research your audience, present facts, appear really intellectual, and be positive.
Note that this technique is not perfect. Some of your audience will recognize that you only view the terrible news from a selected perspective. Thus, be ready for the fallout.
15 extra tips and communication strategies for presenting bad news
Now that you are already familiar with the main methods you can use in delivering bad news, it's time that you learn about some more tips and communication strategies that can help further improve your presentation.
1. Prepare yourself
Don't face your audience without practicing what you are going to say or how you will deliver it. Also, prepare for the possible outcomes, be it good or worse. If you do this, you will be able to handle the reactions professionally.
2. Prepare the listener by using an opening statement
Put yourself in your audience's situation. Surely, you don't want to receive bad news without bracing yourself first. Thus, opening statements are really important. By giving a hint of what you are about to share, they would be more prepared for the unpleasant news.
Some examples of these opening statements are:
I'm really sorry, but…
We regret to inform you that…
3. Use positive language
Using positive language in delivering bad news softens the message and lessens the anxiousness of the audience. It directly influences how your recipient will perceive it and how they will react.
If you deliver it in a calm and positive way, your audience will high likely be calm as well. However, in doing this, choose your words carefully. You don't want to sound too vague because you are trying to be too positive.
4. Be slightly upbeat
A dour tone will not help raise the spirit of your audience when you deliver bad news. But I'm not saying that you should bring in some cheerleaders or be excessively funny to the point that you sound empathetic.
Just say things like you are already on top of the situation or praise the group even though the results are not that favorable.
5. Provide background information
Your audience will better understand and come to terms with the bad news if you give them background information. Nobody wants to be left in the dark. If, say, a project failed, or it didn't meet the standard of the client, explain the context behind it — the why, what, how, etc.
It would also help if you could state what is the involvement or the impact of the bad news to your audience.
6. Organize your narrative
In relation to providing background information, you should also organize your narrative before delivering bad news. This means that you gauge your audience's preparedness for the bad news and tailor your narrative according to it. People have different ways of reacting to bad news, so you must never skip organizing your narrative.
7. Be concise
In delivering bad news, don't beat around the bush for too long. Your opening positive statement and conditioning doesn't have to take one hour. Be clear and concise about your message.
Stick to the facts and don't add unnecessary details as your audience would find it hard to comprehend it more. Although it is quite natural to talk and talk when the situation is getting awkward, watch yourself and refrain from doing it so your audience can process the bad news.
8. Be objective
It is tempting to say your opinion regarding the bad news or blame others, but these are not suggested at all. If anything, this will only put you in a bad light and confuse your audience.
When delivering bad news, be very objective and only state what you know to be true. The audience deserves unbiased details and not your opinion.
9. Give the audience the opportunity to speak their mind
Although your audience's reaction won't really change the situation, allow them to air their grievances. This would make them feel that their feelings are validated and that you are one with them.
Don't be the kind of person who delivers bad news and doesn't care how the people take it in.
10. Be empathetic
As mentioned in the previous point, you should allow your audience to speak. And in response, you have to be sympathetic. You have to let your audience know that you respect their opinions or you understand their pain. Do not assume that they won't react since each individual reacts differently to bad news.
11. Be encouraging
It doesn't hurt to be encouraging. If, for instance, you are to break the news about a mass lay-off, despite the possible bad reactions of the employees, manage to say how much of an asset they are to the company or give them background detail as to why the layoff is happening. Also, tell them that you're sure better companies would hire them because of their skills.
Since you already gave them bad news, don't further kill their optimism or hope.
12. Plan for questions
If the bad news is that bad, you need to prepare for some questions. Although you are already very detailed in presenting the bad news, chances are, the details aren't sinking in with your audience because they are too focused on the bad news.
Be patient and gentle in answering questions. But if you really do not know the answer, be honest and point them to a person who can.
13. Express some apology
An essential part of delivering bad news is expressing an apology. Whether it is your fault, the company's, or the institution's, you must state an apology so the audience can move on.
Expressing an apology does not mean that you are liable. It shows that you care and that if you can, you won't put them in the same situation.
14. Offer hope and solutions
Your role is not only to deliver bad news but also to offer hope and solution to your audience. You can do this by helping them rationalize the situation, guiding them to look at a different perspective, so they feel a bit better, encouraging them to stay positive, or offering them strategies to deal with the bad news.
This is super important because it tells them that they can still do something, and it is not the end.
15. Appropriately deal with silence
Right after you deliver bad news, the audience may fall quiet. This is normal since the news is just sinking into them. During this period, let silence be your form of communication.
Don't say anything else so the audience can think and rationalize. Make some gestures or if you are delivering in a small group of people, give them a pat.
What to avoid when delivering bad news?
Although obvious, there are some communication mistakes that are kept being repeated by people who deliver bad news. I have listed them below so you can avoid them.
1. Don’t joke around
Joking while delivering bad news can come off as rude and disrespectful; hence, do everything to avoid this! I understand that it is natural to want to lighten the mood during an uncomfortable situation, but using humor will only make you that insensitive bad guy.
2. Don’t sugarcoat things
Don't sugarcoat the bad news or purposefully hide some details to lessen its blow. Relay the message on an honest approach so the audience can comprehend it right away. Once the audience understood the bad news on a deeper level, the actions would be immediate and appropriate.
3. Don’t be vague
Unless you are delivering bad news to kindergartners, you don't have to be vague. People appreciate honesty, and the more details you give, the more the audience can rationalize faster what has happened and why it happened.
4. Don't give advice unless you are asked
When your audience is upset about the bad news, it is natural to want to comfort them by offering advice. But if they aren't really asking for advice and only sympathy, offering one can only turn their sadness to anger.
What do you say when you deliver bad news?
Here are some phrases that can help you say the bad news without making your audience feel really bad:
- We regret to inform you that…
- I'm sorry, but…
- I'm afraid I have some bad news to tell you…
Providing background information
- Because of…
- Due to…
- Unfortunately, we found a problem on ___ because of _____.
- I can see why you might think that way…
- I can feel that you are upset and worried…
- I can see why you are reacting that way…
- I/We apologize for this news.
- Sorry if I couldn't be of help.
- Please accept my apologies for this inconvenience.
Delivering bad news doesn't have to be that bad. You just need to be prepared and be cautious of your words and actions.
I hope that through the tips I have shared above, you are now confident to deliver bad news to your audience and that you'll be able to deal with their reactions better.
For more resources to develop your public speaking skills while you are in the comforts of your own home, please check the articles Online Resources for Public Speaking and Where Can I Learn Public Speaking. If you would like to leverage the best presentation software for your next big speaking engagement, please read the article 'Best Presentation Technology tools