Boss Lady

3 ways to answer one of the hardest questions in business: so what?


So what? This is one of the most uncomfortable questions in business. Whether you’re pitching your business idea or going for a promotion, being prepared to answer this question, or a more polite version of it, is going to stand you in good stead.

‘So what?’ is the last thing you want someone to ask at the end of a presentation. It shows they did not understand you and that you have not only wasted the time and energy spent preparing and presenting, but also damaged your reputation.

When asking this question, your audience wants you to explain in one short succinct sentence how your entire presentation adds value. It doesn’t matter if they are a board, customer, team member or VC prospect. They all want an answer to that question.

The big challenge, however, is how to articulate the essence of substantial pieces of communication about often complex topics in just one, short meaningful sentence.

Believe it or not, it can be done: it just requires structure and discipline. Here are three ideas to help you work out what that single ‘so what’ sentence is when you next communicate:

Start thinking before preparing your communication

During this phase we encourage you to dig deeply 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 …

Your audience needs to be broken down so that you are clear who the decision makers, influencers and others are and what specifically interests them about your topic.

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:

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.

Storylines enable your audience to scan your documents quickly to identify key themes. This enables your audience to ‘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 (our three-step process 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.

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. Click here to download a preview chapter (

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.

About Davina Stanley and Gerard Castles'

Davina Stanley and Gerard Castles are from Clarity Thought Partners, who help organisations make the complex clear and the clear compelling in problem solving and communication. The team works with some of Australia’s most respected organisations including 14 of the ASX Top 20, top tier consulting firms and several universities. To find out more about their new book and order a copy go to Twitter: @claritycollege

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