The unwelcome messenger

One of the more difficult leadership moments is for you to master the process of communicating distressing news. Regardless if the news is about a business restructure; informing of tragedy, or taking a principled standpoint on behalf of your company – this type of speech requires diplomacy and structure.

Your energy state and demeanor

Due to the nature of the news that you are delivering, the power and emphasis needs to come from how you project your voice and the specific words that you use. An innocent mistake with the choice of words and how you say it, could play on emotional sensitivities on your audience, and this is something that you want to be aware of to avoid completely.

Your energy state needs to be focused on being calm and composed. Slow down the pace of speaking and eliminate crutch words completely to avoid coming across as uncertain yourself. Minimal body gestures are preferable to avoid being distracting to the message. Standing behind a lectern or being seated is a personal choice depending on the size of the room, the type of news being delivered and the spread of your audience.

Speak with respect, tact and professionalism.

Indirect structure

You will use this structure when the audience is emotionally connected to your message or is expected to be unhappy with the news.

  1. Begin with a neutral or positive statement giving context to the situation or perhaps to acknowledge the progress that has been made.
  2. Logically, without emotional bias provide reasons for the bad news. Keep this to a max of 3-5 points starting with the most important reasons first.
  3. State clearly what the bad news is. Avoid jargon, flowery language and tautology (repetition.) Be direct and concise. Immediately thereafter emphasise the good news.
  4. Close your talk with a positive, uplifting and forward-looking statement.


Direct structure

You will use this structure when the audience is emotionally unconnected or unaffected by the bad news or they prefer to hear the bad news first.

  1. State the bad news upfront. This will be your first statement.
  2. Provide details and explanation for the bad news. Talk about alternative measures if applicable.
  3. In the delivery of your talk, show your interest to resolve the matter and provide encouragement dealing with the matter until then.
  4. End your talk with a positive statement that aims to reassure and provide comfort to the listener.


Every day is an opportunity to deliver a talk incorporating either structure. Start with ‘smaller’ low impact bad news as it will build the skill you need to deliver the talk for the real crisis and bad news events.

Inspirational advice

  1. You should aim for around 3-5 minutes in total with either structure.
  2. Scripting is critical and really think twice about word choice in order to maintain neutrality.
  3. Whilst you may refer to your script, you still want to have eye contact to hold the emotional connection with your audience.
  4. Incorporate more pause and slower pace especially as you deliver the bad news to allow time for the audience to digest the information.
  5. Remember that you are a conduit of a message – avoid being emotional yourself as you speak.

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