I see people getting engaged in multiple forms of communication a day. From answering questions to initiating small talk, from introducing people to each other to providing feedback, we all find ourselves needing to adeptly manage different types of communication. This nimbleness, when paired with social expectations of appropriateness and efficiency in our communication, can be quite daunting to even the most experienced.
Employing a structure can help makes those conversations more efficient. They allow us easy starting points, transitions, and clear endings as mentioned by Matt Abrahams of Stanford university.
Communication structures serve as temporary structures for our messages. They allow us easy starting points, transitions, and clear endings. They help us to be concise and relevant. Also, research evidence suggests that structured information is more easily processed and remembered by our audiences.
Matt Abraham suggests following the – WHAT, SO WHAT & NOW WHAT’ model. I did find that this structure is worth adding to your communication toolkit. This structure is logical and clear. Let me break it down:
First, define or describe your key ideas or arguments. Do so in a clear, concise manner and keep it devoid of jargon and flourishes. Ask yourself, “What are the critical few bits of information that I need to convey to maximize fidelity?”
This second part has you focusing on the relevance of your ideas or arguments to your audience. You must be sure to take your audience’s perspective into account. Remember, if you are to maximize fidelity and remembering, it’s less about what you want to say and more about what your audience needs to hear.
Finally, your last part highlights the thoughts, feelings, and actions you wish your audience to either hold or enact. Be clear and direct in how you phrase these so as to reduce ambiguity. Be aware of the tone you use to convey this information. Your tone (e.g., sense of urgency, confidence, excitement, etc.) directly impacts your audience’s perception of both you and your message.
At the highest level, the “What? So what? Now what?” structure affords you cognitive bandwidth because it provides you with how you intend to convey your messages.
How does this structure look in practice? Here are some ways you can employ this technique.
Questions are a great opportunity to deploy this structure. For example, imagine a job interview where you are asked: “Why are you qualified for this job?”
- What? I have over 12 years of experience in migrating to new systems and implementing new processes.
- So what? These previous experiences will help me to provide your client with high-quality results, while also assisting you to streamline your deployment process.
- Now what? I’m happy to have you discuss my work with some of my former clients.
People who need to provide constructive feedback can also leverage this structure. For example, you have a subordinate who failed to complete his report on time.
- What? I’ve noticed that your assigned task was not completed within our agreed-upon timeframe.
- So what? This puts us at a disadvantage in knowing where we stand and it might jeopardize our next meeting.
- Now what? I need you to complete this task/report by tomorrow morning. Please let me know what I can do to assist you.
Introducing Something or Someone
Introductions can often ramble and confuse. Using this structure can help you be clear and set expectations for what is to come.
Introducing Something ( Say a software upgrade)
- What? I am excited to introduce the latest version of our product. In this release, we’ve added many usability enhancements and improved our speed.
- So what? Now our clients can more easily complete their tasks and save time and money.
- Now what? When you leave this conference session, please install it today.
- What? I am honoured to introduce Dr Jai Singh, who is here to discuss his insights into the operational management of Golf Courses.
- So what? His work has changed the way many people go about making daily decisions in their assigned tasks. I am certain you will think differently when you leave here.
- Now what? Without further ado, join me in welcoming Dr Jai Singh.
Making Small Talk
Many of us struggle to engage in small talk, especially with people we don’t know well. This structure can help you to engage and sustain initial conversations. Simply use the three questions to get anyone to express themselves.
- What? What is your view/opinion on the latest attempt to reduce carbon footprints/energy consumption?
- So what? Why do you think it is so important to reduce carbon footprint/energy?
- Now what? What can you do to help reduce these?
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