What, So What, Now What — The Communication Structure
When I talk about communication, I don’t just mean when we speak. The way we communicate and the ability to structure it can make a significant difference in how it is received by others.
We have a wide array of communication interactions in our workday. From the water-cooler talk, to phone calls with angry people, to assisting a colleague, to providing internal advice. The thing to managing these different types of communication is to utilize an effective structure.
Matt Abraham from Stanford explains that “Communication structures serve as scaffolding for our messages. They allow us easy starting points, transitions, and clear endings.”
There is a structure I’ve been a big fan of which I use when I communicate a complicated program or want to articulate an idea in a systematic way, I use the ‘what, so what, now what’ structure.
From my research, this structure has been previously used as a means of reflection by a group — generally for looking at a specific event or a situation. It’s been used in sprint reviews for those who follow the agile methodology for working and all of that stuff. However, I’ve also seen it used for communication and I must say, it’s pretty awesome.
The ‘what’ section is your opportunity to provide the context and highlight the main point you will be answering or discussing. This is where you can outline the background.
If you’re answering a question for someone, this is where you can clarify and outline that point, idea, or question as a means of leading the discussion. Ask yourself, what is the critical bit of information that needs to be conveyed and answered here to maximize the communication?
Our ‘so what’ section is where we really dig into the explanation part.
This is where we explain our opinion, can connect the question with the answer to support our audience, and then it’s where you can present your arguments.
This is where you provide your most valuable information and demonstrate your knowledge. It’s critical to remember and focus less on what you want to say and more on what your audience needs to hear.
The ultimate question for this section is “what is the bottom line for my audience to know.”
And the ‘now what’ section.
The now what is where you highlight your thoughts, conclude on what you were saying, and any next steps or calls of action. Is there something that you need your audience to do? This is where you can outline the next steps for them.
Your tone will be important to convey the message and the actions as this will affect your audience's perception about what they should be doing based on the information you’ve provided.
This structure allows you to get the cognitive ability to think about what you want to say rather than how you want to say it — the structure is provided for you.
The what, so what, now what can be used for other communication actions as well.
Want to answer a question in a job interview. Sure. Let’s say you were asked ‘why are you the right person for the job?’
What — I’m the right person for the job because I have over 8 years of experience in a similar role, and prior to that, worked in a complimentary role for 4 years.
So what — These previous experiences have provided me with extensive knowledge which I’m able to apply in a new environment. I’ve been able to achieve significant results, and helped to streamline processes and I’d be able to do similar in this organisation.
Now what — I provided some examples of this in my written application, but I have others which I can refer to including …. The results achieved were really positive and my referees will be able to support this as well.
I know this structure will support your communication allowing you to focus on your content and mission to achieve good results.
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About the author:
Theo Kapodistrias is a multi-national award-winning lawyer and keynote speaker, trainer, and public speaking coach. He is passionate about getting involved in the community and holds several voluntary positions including as the Executive Director of TEDxHobart. His keynote speaking, training, and advising business is designed to help professionals and business owners to be seen, be heard, and make an impact through their voice and through their words www.theokap.com.au