Don’t fumble when delivering bad news

By Mary Schrack

Ohio State Athletic Director demonstrates public speaking dos and don’ts

Projecting a confident and positive demeanor is critical when you must announce bad news or your organization is under scrutiny. Ohio State University’s athletic director did just that recently when he announced the resignation of football coach Jim Tressel. You can see Gene Smith’s grace and poise in this video:

 
When you have to deliver bad news, follow this advice:

  • Make eye contact with your audience. Smith never takes his eyes off the lens. Instead of looking over your listeners’ heads, at the back wall or your notes, look into their eyes to indicate that you aren’t hiding anything and that you have faith in what you are saying.
     
  • Recover quickly from your mistakes. Notice that when Smith stumbles on a word, he corrects himself and moves on. Don’t dwell on a mistake. Quickly correct it and continue your speech. If you don’t, you could appear nervous or distraught, and your audience may assume that they should feel the same way.
     
  • Avoid unnecessary movement. Smith sits calmly while he delivers his speech. You don’t have to sit, but don’t wildly gesticulate or pace—you’ll distract your audience from your message.
     
  • Don’t slander or badmouth anyone. Despite Tressel’s involvement in the scandal, Smith thanks him for his service to the school. Don’t be overly negative or you may come across as bitter or angry. Stay upbeat and neutral.
     
  • Look ahead to the future. Smith does not call the scandal the demise of the Ohio State football program. Instead, he mentions the promise the upcoming season holds. If you must deliver bad news in a speech, you should always end on a positive note, looking to the future with hope.

Avoid the common mistakes to which Gene Smith falls victim:

  • Injecting fillers into your speech. It’s not hard to count the times Smith says “Uh” in his speech. Fillers like “You know,” “Um,” “Right,” and the dreaded “Like,” make you sound ill-prepared or nervous. Rehearse your speech often to avoid fillers.
     
  • Using an overly casual tone. At times Smith becomes overly casual and sounds unprofessional. During a serious speech, don’t become buddy-buddy with your audience. Maintain a professional demeanor to keep your listeners’ respect and your credibility.

What recent mistakes have you noticed a speaker make during a presentation? How did it change your opinion of the speaker? 

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One response to “Don’t fumble when delivering bad news

  1. Pingback: The Best (and Worst) Ways to Deliver Bad News to Your Staff

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