If your team is preparing to announce layoffs virtually, calculated preparation for your executive team is critical. This isn’t just another Zoom meeting; this is an announcement that affects people’s livelihoods and the future of your organization. With the proper preparation, though, you can effectively and compassionately address layoffs online. You’ll need to do the following: first, block out rehearsal time so you’re prepared. Visualize your audience of employees to project empathy. Use body language effectively to appear authentic. Look directly at the camera to show honesty. And finally, stay calm and project confidence by remembering to breathe.
Alongside meetings, job interviews, and even social events, layoffs have entered the virtual era. It was, after all, inevitable. In a recent McKinsey study, 35 percent of respondents reported that they were able to work remotely full time. Logic follows that when someone works remotely, they can be laid off remotely, too.
But this doesn’t give managers and company leaders a pass on handling the matter without sensitivity and compassion. In fact, it means the opposite. As familiar as most of us now are with platforms like Zoom and Webex, expressing emotion and reassurance on them does not come easily for many of us. This is problematic as so much is at stake when employees are being laid off.
If your team is preparing to announce layoffs virtually, calculated preparation for your executive team is critical. This isn’t just another Zoom meeting; this is an announcement that affects people’s livelihoods and the future of your organization. Not only do executives risk losing the confidence of remaining employees and other stakeholders, but they could also make headlines for heartless “Zoom firings” and face backlash on social media.
Yet, with the proper preparation, an executive can effectively and compassionately address layoffs online. Here’s how your team should prepare for and deliver the virtual announcements.
Block out rehearsal time.
Layoff preparation should not be rushed. Skimming a script that has been written by a communications team is not sufficient preparation. Yet too often, this is what I see executives do. Instead, remember the elementary school mantra: practice makes perfect.
Once the announcement date is on the calendar, block out rehearsal time, ideally a few days before the announcement. Use this time to make sure the messaging is written and approved by legal several days before the announcement, and that you have ample time to review the script, make any changes, and read through it several times.
You may think you don’t need that much time to prepare — but you do need it. You must be comfortable with the material to come off as confident, calm, and trustworthy. You also need time to break down the talk into bullet points and know exactly what to convey at each point.
If you are going to read a script or use a teleprompter, you’ll need several rehearsals before audiences will trust your delivery as authentic. Alternatively, you can secure Post-It notes to your computer monitor or place a second monitor behind the camera with bullet points to stay on point.
Visualization exercises are key.
It’s difficult to deliver a message online, where you don’t have a physical audience to make an emotional connection with. To create that emotional connection on Zoom, you’ll need to visualize the audience. To do this, think about the following:
- Where is the audience watching from? Home? The office?
- Who’s with them? Their families? Colleagues?
- What will they feel as they hear the news?
- What are their immediate concerns?
- What will they ask that I can address right away?
- What fear can I alleviate?
You might take this a step further by creating “avatars” who represent key employees, such as a 45-year-old father of three kids or a 63-year-old woman nearing retirement. You can pretend you’re talking directly to these specific employees, refer to their fears, and attempt to alleviate them.
Watch your body language.
Body language is important. Your audience will be watching for signs that you’re nervous. If you play with your wedding ring, move your glasses, touch your face, scratch your beard, or shift or swivel in your chair, they may take this as a sign that they shouldn’t have confidence in you. Instead, to appear more engaged, try leaning toward the camera just a bit.
Many executives have been coached not to use their hands when speaking. This is terrible advice, as our hands help to convey emotion and passion. If we’re restricted from using them, we can appear stiff. Particularly pertinent to this conversation, when we keep our hands out of view, it can suggest we’re hiding something. For all these reasons, you should feel encouraged to use your hands naturally when you’re speaking.
Look directly at the camera.
Getting the camera shot right is also crucial. The camera should be at eye level. If the camera is lower than your face, you will look overbearing. If the camera is too high, you will look meek. While speaking, look straight into the camera — not at the individual audience members appearing in boxes on the screen. This allows you to maintain eye contact with every employee.
The exception to this rule is if you take questions after the announcement. In this case, you should look into the computer monitor at the employees while they’re asking questions. This is natural and will help you “read the room.”
Remember to breathe.
It’s understandable to be nervous in a meeting like this; you’re probably bringing in a lot of your own emotions and you might feel angry or embarrassed. It’s important to remember to breathe. Not only will it help you do your job, but anxiety can dramatically alter one’s voice. To project strength and confidence, it’s essential to try to counteract this through proper breathing.
Before you begin your announcement, take a deep belly breath that engages the diaphragm and expands your stomach. Do it again after the first two or three sentences. And keep doing it. Without these breaths, you won’t get full lung capacity, and the words at the end of your sentences may get cut off as you run out of breath. This will make you sound less confident.
Supporting employees when they need it most.
Layoffs are never easy; they’re even harder when you’re doing them right, by thinking about the people who will be impacted by job losses and insecurity. Adding in to the mix the difficulties of virtual communication makes it even harder.
Yet, with the proper preparation, mindset, and body language, your leadership team can deliver difficult news effectively and compassionately. When you deliver the message well, former employees will feel supported and respected. Meanwhile, the remaining employees will feel motivated to keep working because you made them trust the company is going in the right direction.