3 Communication Skills for Presenting Bad News

By Mark Kyte

Updated Over a Week Ago

Minute Read

You can use your communication skills to deliver bad news without unduly concerning your audience.

Toward the end of the year, organizations present their financial results. Inevitably, for some organizations, the financial reports will not be good, and the bad news will need to be presented carefully to avoid upsetting investors and internal staff.

Bad news presentations can be challenging to deliver for leaders who are inexperienced in public speaking, so use these communication skills to help get the job done.

1. Sandwich Method

Of the methods outlined here, this is the most ethically appropriate for bad business news situations.

It relies upon presenting some good news while unemotionally delivering the bad news, then reinforcing a positive message.

Identify Good News

In this technique, you should present some positive news. This is a very important step as it starts the presentation on a positive note.

You give the audience positive energy and something to “hold on to” when you share the bad news later in the presentation.

Present the Bad News

Next, it is time to share the bad news. This should be done in a factual way. Avoid emotive language and excessive delivery.

Simply state what the bad news is and deliver it in a confident manner. You will gain the respect of your audience by not trying to disguise the bad news whilst not overly alarming them with poor results.

Outline the Positive

After delivering the bad news, it is time to lift the optimism levels of the audience by returning to some positive news.

Often, this is delivered as an analysis of what was learned from the bad news. Such as, “Our profit levels were below expectation; this is due to overproduction of widgets.

As a result, we have adjusted the rate of widget production to more closely align with the prevailing market conditions.”

Avoid Excuses

The last step in delivering the bad news is to avoid making excuses or apportioning blame. The bad news happened. There is nothing that can be done to change that situation.

However, the lessons have been learned and are being applied.

When you can convey this in your presentation, you will earn the plaudits of your audience rather than their condemnation.

2. Compare and Minimize

This technique is often used when you are at fault for the bad news and want to justify, to some extent, the reasons for the poor performance.

Identify Common Reference Points

The first step in this technique is to find other problems/sources of bad news that are similar to yours. This could be along the lines of, “Our company profits are down 20%, but generally, the market is down 25%”, or “While we made a loss this year, our competitors have also lost money.”

You will want to have a list of references available for you to use. However, you will want to save some for a question-and-answer session to help you fend off any tricky questions.

List All the Good Things

After building a case that the bad news you are delivering is similar to other external factors, you will want to start presenting a positive impression of the work that was done during the year.

You do not want to paint a doom and gloom picture. Instead, you want to start lifting the optimism of your audience by highlighting any major achievements or good work that was completed.

Focus on the Future

Finally, you will want to start presenting a picture of the coming year, highlighting how the good work that has been done provides a foundation for moving forward.

You should avoid identifying the pieces of work that were not completed. Instead, paint a picture of hope and a brighter future that can be built from the disappointments of the past year.

3. The Spin Technique

This is the traditional politicians’ technique for delivering bad news. It involves presenting the bad news in a positive manner.

For example, rather than saying customer satisfaction with your product dropped from 80% to 50%, you would deliver the statistic, “50% of customers are extremely happy with our products!”

This approach is very hard to do well. You need to be a professional politician.

Here are the steps you should follow if you want to use this technique:

Know Your Subject

To perform this technique well, you need to know your subject very well. The more facts and statistics you have, the more comfortable you will be in delivering the bad news.

The additional information will allow you to select the most appropriate information to “spin” successfully.

Use Statistics

Following on from step one, you can ensure your presentation includes ample statistical evidence to support the position you are spinning.

The more statistical evidence you provide, the stronger your position will be.

Present Facts

This might be obvious, but it requires good preparation to ensure you don’t inadvertently introduce facts that weaken your position.

In the process of preparing your speech, you will identify a large number of statistics you can utilize in your presentation.

Take the time to ensure each statistic that you use in the final version supports your position and does not detract in any way.

Appear Intellectual

Part of the process of delivering a “Spin” presentation involves you convincing the audience that you are sufficiently knowledgeable about the topic of the presentation.

Only when they have confidence in your knowledge of the subject will they accept the statistics you share in the presentation.

If you fail to convey your expertise on the topic, your audience will question the statistics and “spin” you are presenting them.

Be Positive

To sell anything, you need to have a conviction and energy that your audience can relate to.

When you deliver your presentation, you should ensure your energy levels remain high to provide the optimism that your audience needs to feel that the position of your company is good.

Be Ready for Fallout

Inevitably, someone in your audience will recognize that you are only providing a selected view of the position of the company.

They may interrogate you during a question and answer session or provide negative commentary to others about your presentation after you’ve finished.

You must accept that will happen and be prepared to defend your position professionally and passionately.


Communicating bad news is not something any of us want to do. Unfortunately, at some point, you will be faced with a situation where you have to deliver unpleasant information to an audience.

How the information is packaged and delivered will greatly influence the response of your audience.

Using the techniques above to deliver a bad news presentation will enhance your reputation and, ultimately, your career.

How Can You Present Bad News?

If you have ideas that you feel like sharing that might be helpful to readers, share them in the comments section below. Thanks!

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Mark Kyte
Mark Kyte
Mark Kyte is Presentation Skills Expert. Mark coaches clients around Australia helping them improve their public speaking and presentation skills so they can advance in their careers. Claim your FREE Public Speaking course. Also, connect with Mark on Facebook.
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