The one question you should ask (before they do).

Abi, head of the company's Market Insights team, was standing at the front of the room, presenting her latest market analysis in forensic detail. Her audience was the entire sales team. Abi showed them which customers were buying more; which segments were shrinking; which products were flying; which competitors were stealing market share. You couldn’t ask for more detail (or for snazzier graphs).
At the end of the presentation, Abi paused and looked at her audience. She was disturbed to find a sea of dead faces in front of her. What’s wrong with these people, she asked herself. Don’t they see how important this information is to them?
In a move to recover the situation, she asked the audience, “Any questions?” An awkward silence followed, and just as Abi was about to make a sarcastic comment about the avalanche of enthusiasm, a single hand went up. The voice asked, “What would you like us to do with this?"

Abi had to pause. She was taken aback. Wasn’t it obvious? Hadn’t she just handed them their sales strategy on a plate?

In Abi’s head, the answer was obvious. But not to her audience. And - in my own experience - Abi had made a mistake so often made by people trying to engage and influence others. That mistake is to present information as if the conclusion is inevitable, and without asking the single most important question for achieving buy-in.

That question is: SO WHAT?

I love a good SO WHAT moment. Because it forces you to think of the practical (not intellectual), meaningful (what actually matters to your audience?) and compelling reasons for action.

The honesty of the language (try saying “SO WHAT” with the jaded tones of a cynical teenager sitting in a Year 10 Classical History class) forces honesty in the answer - yours and theirs. It requires you to be your own hardest critic before you present your ideas. And it also jolts people to sit up straight.

Abi should have come into her presentation ready to answer the SO WHAT? for her audience. Or, even better, to simply ask them the question point blank: “So there’s a few insights for you, but now I’ve got a question for you: SO WHAT? Take a few minutes in small groups to come up with your best answers to that question. And if we can’t come up with anything, then I guess we’re done here!" 

SO WHAT is the one question you have to be able to answer or ask with conviction and enthusiasm. Because if you can’t - then don’t waste people’s time. It’s a powerful question to use whenever you're trying to get someone to listen to your ideas, suggestions or insights. 

So, will you try it? And if you do… SO WHAT? :)

Would love to hear your thoughts.

PS. My last post finished with a link to that annoying song from The Lego Movie. This time, I feel compelled to send you off to watch Pink’s rendition of SO WHAT. Enjoy :)

Thank you to Ariel Dovas for the image used in this month's post.