How to communicate confidently in 3 steps

Posted on January 28th, by Dr Rob Yeung .

Do you want to be able to communicate more compellingly and effectively? If you do, then consider using a simple 3-step structure for organising your message.

You can use it whether you’re giving a quick update in a meeting or delivering a lengthy formal presentation. You can write a set of presentation slides using this structure. You can also use the 3 steps to organise a report or email.

The model, called “What? So what? Now what?” has been around for decades since it was thought up in 1970 by Terry Borton, a school teacher. (The slide is from a recent workshop I ran). To organise your thoughts and communicate any message more clearly, think about what you want to say in answer to the three questions:

What are the key points that you wish to convey? If you only have a minute to get your message across, then what are the one or two things that you absolutely want to share? Even if you have more time for say a formal presentation, bear in mind that too much information risks swamping the most critical points.

So this first question is about asking yourself: “What are the key points/facts/issues that I most urgently want to get across?”

“So what?”
Next, explain why it should matter to your audience. Whether you are communicating to just one colleague or a hundred customers, explain to them the implications of the points that you are making. Why should this matter to them?

Often, people wishing to convey a message assume that the reasons why people should care about the message are obvious. But remember that what is clear to you may not always be apparent to other people.

In answering the first “What?” question, you are stating your case. Now, in answering the “So what?” question, you are saying that this matters “because…”

“Now what?”
Finally, the third question invites you to share with your audience what you want them to do differently as a result of your message. Sometimes, there may be no action that you are requiring of them. But consider: do you want them to start doing something differently – or perhaps to stop doing something that’s harmful or unhelpful?

Putting “What? So What? Now What?” into practice
Say you need to offer constructive criticism to a colleague who has been doing something wrong. Your “What? So What? Now What?” could go as follows: “I’ve noticed several times that you have been turning up to meetings late. It matters because other people have been commenting that you must think you’re more important than they are. So from now on, I would like you to make sure that you turn up on time.”

Or suppose you are about to give a talk to promote your product to a roomful of customers. To introduce your talk, you might start with a short summary as follows: “Today I’ll be showing you how our software reduces the time that finance teams have had to spend on inputting expense data. That has allowed client organisations on average to cut overtime costs by 18 per cent. And so by the end of this presentation, I’ll be asking all of you to set up one-to-one meetings with me to discuss how we can implement this software in your team.”

When I was running a workshop recently on the topic of confidence, the several dozen people in the room all found the “What? So what? Now what?” structure immensely useful. So I’m sure you will find it useful too.

I have seen how this structure has helped many clients to communicate more effectively and confidently. However, do also consider using psychological techniques to give you an extra boost if you need to feel and appear more confident.

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