What? So What? Now What?

A powerful way to help you remember the content of any presentation you’re making is to provide a meaningful structure for your content. In fact research has shown that people retain structured information up to 40% more reliably and accurately than information that is presented in a more freeform manner. There are many presentation structures on which you can rely for this, including:

  • Past-Present-Future — good for stepping people through a process
  • Comparison-Contrast — good for showing the relative advantages of your idea
  • Cause-Effect — good for helping people understand the logic of your position

In this blog post I outline an interesting, useful speech structure called What? So What? Now What?, a reflective model that was researched and developed by Rolfe et al. in 2001.

Using this structure, you start with your central event (the ‘what?’), and then explain the importance or value to your audience (the ‘so what?’), before concluding with the next steps (the ‘now what?’). The What? So What? Now What? structure can help you not only in prepared presentations but also in spontaneous speaking situations, such as off the cuff public speaking or in job interviews.

What? So What? Now What?

What? (a description of the event)

The ‘what?’ aims to establish context. This section represents the nuts and bolts of what was done. It shouldn’t be a brain dump of all the details you know but rather just enough information to provide your audience with the necessary background.

The ‘what?’ section should answer any questions a news reporter would likely ask:

  • What is the problem/difficulty that we are facing?
  • What is the audience’s role in the situation?
  • What was the response of others when it was announced?
  • What was good/bad about the experience? etc.

You are entitled to your own opinion. You are not entitled to your own facts.

It’s important to realise that the ‘what?’ section is about facts. A fact looks the same from every perspective and through every filter. The information in this section should not be up for debate.

What? So What? Now What?

So What? (an analysis)

The ‘so what?’ section is your opportunity to further develop any ideas from the ‘what?’ that are likely to resonate with the audience and what they believe. It is your opportunity to present outcomes that will challenge audience beliefs in a constructive way.

At all times you should ask the question:

Why does this matter to my audience?

The ‘so what?’ section is about opinions and perspectives. Perhaps the best way to get the wheels turning is to ponder over the following questions:

  • œWhat critical questions does this information cause you to ask?
  • What about the event stuck out to you/made an impact on you?
  • What emotions does it evoke? How does it make you feel?
  • What broader issues arise from the situation at hand?
  • What conclusions can you draw from the experience?

What? So What? Now What?

Now What? (proposed actions)

The ‘now what?’ section invites the speaker to present the next steps/actions required to move forward. You might draw conclusions based on your musings from the ‘so what?’ if you feel like you have firmly rooted some new knowledge or change within the audience’s minds.

‘Now what?’ turns your conclusion into go-forward actions. In line with your conclusions based on the facts, what is your recommendation for what should be done next?

  • œHow will you use what you learned or discovered?
  • What will you do differently the next time?
  • Where might this reflection lead in the future?

Final Words

One way to simplify all of this is to think about the What? So What? Now What? process as the questions your friend would ask you as you tell him/her about a great movie you watched, book you read or concert you attended. Your friend (as the audience) would be quickly bored if you stopped with just the ‘what’ – the cold hard facts. They will also want to know how the experience made you feel or what changed as a result of the experience (the ‘so what’) and what you would do with it in the future (the ‘now what’). That is the simple structure in a nutshell.