It’s Been a Bad Day…

Statistically the most depressing day of the year has come and gone, like Christmas. Blue Monday; how was it for you? A combination of January Blues, gloomy weather and the long insufferable wait until the next Payday have earned last Monday (19th) this title. With this backdrop in mind the subject for this post is the difficult challenge we sometimes face of presenting negative news or facing an audience in less than ideal circumstances.

When I’m running courses on presenting I’m often asked about delivering bad news and if my usual advice of applying storytelling principles and even being entertaining goes out of the window. Well it’s a really interesting area where some aspects of presenting need to be reigned in and some brought right to the forefront.

Lets start with probably the worst possible context for presenting; a funeral. It is a great honour to be asked to speak and to pay respect to someone’s life but as a presenter you’re inevitably addressing a highly emotional and sad audience. Clearly the context is out of the ordinary and I wouldn’t recommend PowerPoint and bullet points (actually I wouldn’t ever recommend this). My advice here is to focus on the story of this special person’s life; over the years what touched you the most, what made you laugh and cry and definitely what you’ll miss; ultimately what is irreplaceable. If you present with a sincerity that is felt by everyone in the room your version of the story will connect with theirs and you’ll create a touching tribute.

In the Business world delivering a presentation that has negative consequences for everyone in the room, for example regarding job security, is also very difficult. Anyone who has presented in this context will recall the uncomfortable atmosphere, obvious audience awkwardness in body language and eventually a heated Questions and Answer session. How do you prepare and deliver in circumstances where it’s likely there won’t be any smiles come the end? In anticipation of a lengthy Q&A a first recommendation would be to accommodate this in the format. Some kind of information giving/presentation is likely to be required but don’t use this as a way of hiding behind a slideshow or delaying inevitable questions.

Although Steve Jobs delivered outstanding keynote presentations he would often instead choose a Town Hall type approach for internal presentations at Apple pulling up a chair and hosting a conversation with the audience. This kind of approach allows you to get your message across but most importantly to have an open and honest discussion with your audience. They need to be heard. An overly slick slideshow may not be perceived as the most genuine of approaches. I would also suggest making it clear you have time for your audience and that this isn’t an inconvenience; that you are listening to them. Sometimes there are limits to what you can do to change a circumstance but you can always hear people out.

Whether you’re delivering a difficult personal or business presentation the approach that Evocative recommend still applies. Adopting storytelling principles, being genuine, relating to your audience and knowing when to be interactive are just as important as ever. When circumstances are not ideal it’s a case of adapting what you know works to this unusual situation. It’s definitely not a time to suddenly forget all the things that normally help you deliver engaging presentations. These difficult circumstances are challenging for the presenter but remember the outcome of your efforts and your approach will mean a lot to your audience.

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Brett Gillman