How to Present Bad News

Three Techniques to Present Bad News

At some point something will go wrong. For some organisations the financial reports will not be good, and the bad news will need to be presented carefully to avoid upsetting investors and internal staff. For small business owners it may be a situation where a client expectation can not be met. For a small business owner or a senior executive a “bad news presentation” is a challenging presentation to deliver – especially for those who are inexperienced in public speaking. Here are some techniques you can utilise to deliver the bad news without unduly concerning your audience.

1. The Spin Technique

This is the traditional politicians technique for delivering bad news. It involves you 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! There are some 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 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.

Only present facts that support your position

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 utilise 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 are sharing 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 recognise 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 need to accept that will happen, and be prepared to defend your position professionally and passionately.


2. Compare and Minimise

This technique is often used when you are at fault for the bad news, and you 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 “Whilst 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 that have been done

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 highlight 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. Sandwich Method

Of the methods outlined here this is the most, ethically, appropriate for most business bad news situations. It relies upon presenting some good news, while unemotionally delivering the bad news, before reinforcing a positive message

Identify good news

Firstly in this technique you should present some positive news. This is a very important step as it starts the presentation on a positive note – giving the audience a positive energy, and something to “hold on to” when you share the bad news later in the presentation.

Present the facts

Next, it is time to share the bad news. This should be done in a factual way. Avoid emotive language and an excessive delivery. Simply state what the bad news is, and deliver it a confident manner. You will gain the respect of your audience by not trying disguise the bad news whilst not overly alarming them with the poor results.

Outline the positive learning

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 learnt 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 and finger pointing

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 learnt and are being applied. When you can convey this in your presentation you will earn the plaudits of your audience rather than their condemnation.


Delivering 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 you will enhance your reputation and ultimately your career.

About The Author

Mark Kyte

Mark Kyte is a public speaking mentor and founder of the Public Speaking Skills Academy. Mark loves helping clients achieve dynamic results that help them increase their influence and get more clients. Read more of his blog and if you like what you see check out the mentoring programs.