Getting to the 'so what' just got easier

5 September 2017 | 2:00 min read

From our colleagues at Clarity Thought Partners comes a simple manual that introduces classic storylines, helping answer one of the most uncomfortable questions in business. SenateSHJ's Angela Scaffidi and Sally McMicking are members of Clarity Thought Partners and they deliver structured thinking and writing programs in Australia.


How often have you invested significant energy to prepare a piece of communication only to be confronted with this most uncomfortable question from your audience: “So what?”

It’s one of the most uncomfortable questions in business.

Your audience asks because they want to know why the ideas in your presentation should matter to them and to the business, and they want to know in one simple statement. You might have spent hours, days or even weeks preparing, but they want a succinct answer that summarises everything for them in an instant. And you want the earth to open up and swallow you because you don’t know how to answer this question succinctly.

If you don’t answer this question well, all of your work can be for nothing. Early in our careers, we were both on the receiving end of this question and not ready to answer it. Those memories are some of our most crushing, yet also our most instructive.

What’s the solution? To avoid the embarrassment and frustration of not being able to answer that one simple question, you must state the ‘So what’ clearly and unambiguously at the beginning of your communication and then make the case to support it.

But, how do you do that?

Clarity Thought Partner's new book, The So What Strategy, outlines a three-step process to do just that while also offering our favourite seven storylining patterns so you don’t need to start from scratch.

  1. Start thinking before you prepare your communication: During this phase, we encourage you to dig deep so you can articulate your purpose clearly and also be confident that you understand your audience well.Your purpose should state: As a result of this communication, I want my audience to …. know, think or do something specific …
    1. Your audience should be broken down so that you are clear who the decision-makers, influencers and others are and what specifically interests them about your topic.
  2. Structure your thinking: Here is when we recommend mapping your ideas into a logically organised hierarchy – what we call a storyline – so that you can articulate your main point in just one sentence and back it up logically. There are three things you should know about storylines:
    1. Storylines require you to map out your higher-level ideas so they synthesise or summarise the ideas within each section of your story. Doing this forces you to clarify your own thinking so you can articulate a more powerful case. It also helps you ‘throw out’ ideas that are interesting but not directly relevant to your main point.
    2. Storylines enable your audience to scan your documents quickly to identify key themes. This enables your audience should ‘get the gist’ within 30 seconds of engaging with your communication. It also enables them to find your key points quickly, rather than hunting for them, or assuming they can be found buried somewhere near the end of your communication.
      If you scan this article, for example, you can see that I have organised it around one idea (introducing our three-step process that enables you to answer the ‘So what?’ question) that is supported by a grouping structure, consisting of three actions: start thinking, structure your storyline and share your communication. This is a relatively simple example of what we are talking about.
    3. Storylines don’t need to be built from the ground up every time. Having worked with storylines for more than 20 years each, we have identified the most commonly used patterns. 
  3. Share your communication: Once the structure of your thinking is clear, this can be translated directly into any form of communication: phone conversation, email, paper or PowerPoint pack. The key is to make sure that the structure of the thinking drives the communication, not the problem-solving journey you went on or the medium itself.

Davina Stanley and Gerard Castles are founders of Clarity Thought Partners and Clarity College. Both trained at McKinsey & Company and serve some of Australia’s most respected organisations. You can purchase The So What Strategy here.