The Messenger Has...
©2020, George J. Irwin. All rights reserved.

Every so often, you know that a presentation is going to be controversial. There’s bad news, or there’s something that leadership doesn’t want to hear, or the leader is not a fan of Lean Six Sigma (see “Stakeholder Analysis”). But the report-out must take place, difficult or not, and you’re elected to be the reporter. Or should I say, the messenger.

There’s an interesting backstory about the phrase “shooting the messenger” that pre-dates the ability to literally shoot the messenger (thanks, Wikipedia). Fortunately, this does not normally apply in conference rooms although the phrase “career-limiting move” could be applicable.

I needed to avoid that consequence even as I needed to deliver the bad news. A few nights leading up to this presentation were not the most restful I’d ever experienced.

The day before the meeting, with the rest of the presentation slides already prepared and rehearsed, I realized that one way to address the messenger situation was to meet it head on. My sometimes offbeat sense of humor provided some inspiration.

So I built one more slide. Using clip art (remember that?) I located a man in a suit, put him behind a podium, and “hung” an archery “bullseye” target with numerous arrows already embedded in it on the podium.

To this I added the caption, in large print:

“The messenger has been pre-shot...

“...You do not need to shoot him again.”

And with that, I felt a charge of confidence. I would be able to get through this presentation. If things got out of hand, I would refer back to the slide, not for the humor (whether it worked or not) but as the lever to return to the facts. As it turned out, I did have to refer back to the messenger being pre-shot on several occasions, and it was not a career-limiting move. It focused the attendees back on topic. It was still a difficult task, and I was still quite nervous, but I got through it, as did everyone else.

That, I understood later, was the point. And it’s the point I want to make here: if you are called upon to deliver a presentation that is not providing optimal news, take ownership of it, with a humorous slide, a favorite technique, or something else with which you are comfortable. Whether to inform the audience that the messenger has been pre-shot is up to you. It certainly worked for me.

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