The So What Strategy

The So What Strategy

Author
Davina Stanley
Year
2017
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Review

This book is a revelation. The 7 storylines are great, expect your first ‘aha moment’ when you select the right one, fill in your context and an eloquent storyline emerges in no time at all. It makes perfect sense to me that a handful of storylines can be used for 80% of the things you have to communicate at work. If you don’t have a natural talent for storytelling these templates are gold.

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Key Takeaways

The 20% that gave me 80% of the value.

  • Using a storyline template can help clarify your thoughts & save time
    • Increase clarity of thinking & comms
    • Allow faster & better decision making
    • Focuses collaboration around ideas
    • Build credibility and trust
  • Your Output * Persuasive Ability = Your Impact
  • Design the Strategy
    • Purpose
    • Audience
    • Medium
    • Process
  • Develop the storyline
    • introduction
    • So what’
    • Map logical support
    • Test
  • Deliver and communicate it
    • Package it
    • Deliver it
    • Get feedback
  • The Introduction has 3 parts (C+T+Q)
    • A good intro makes getting a ‘so what’ that deals with the issue at hand more likely
      1. Context → The commonly agreed starting point. The topic. The right place in time.
      2. Trigger → The reason for the discussion. A ‘complication’, why are we communicating now?
      3. Question → Ask the single most important question (they should already be thinking it)
    • Include key information known or needed by the audience. Lead to the question you want your audience to ask / then answer it!
  • The So What
    • 5 Rules for the so what section:
      1. Answer the question  in one short powerful sentence
      2. Unify your whole story
      3. Be one idea, framed as a single short sentence. 25 word maximum. Be specific
      4. Synthesise or summarise all the ideas below
      5. Be powerful and supportable
  • Supporting ideas has 2 different options (Grouping or Deductive)
    • Must be arranged to make sense to the audience.
    • Revisit who they are, what they know and what they might want to know.
    • Their needs (and shared context) should inform what option you choose
    • There are 2 main structures (Grouping or Deductive). Use only 1.
How to test a storyline is fit for purpose?

Stick to the rules. On this 10 point test, you need to score 7 or higher. Ideally 10.

Is the introduction right?

  1. Is the context right? Does the storyline start in the right place in time?
  2. Does the trigger describe why you are communicating with this audience now?
  3. Is the question really the single question we want to answer?

Is there one clear, powerful statement of the ‘So what’?

  1. Is there once clear ;So what; that is 25 words or less?
  2. Is it powerful - does it summarise or ideally synthesise?

Is the supporting storyline robust?

  1. Is the tip-line support for the ‘So what’ logically sound? Grouping or Deductive?
  2. The second and third level supports logical sound? Grouping or Deductive?
  3. Is the storyline Mutually Exclusive and Collectively Exhaustive? MECE (categorised and well evidenced?)

Does it meet the audience's needs?

  1. Does it meet the audience's needs and concerns?
  2. Does it suit their style - type and level of support?

The 7 Classic Business Storyline Patterns

  • Grouping
    1. Action Jackson → for action plans
    2. The Pitch → for pitches and proposals
    3. Traffic Light → for updates
  • Deductive
    1. Close the gap → for improvements and recommendations
    2. Houston, we have a problem → for explaining how to solve problems
    3. To B or Not to B → for explaining which option is best
    4. Watch out → to counter emerging risks

→ See detailed notes for the templates

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Deep Summary

Longer form notes, typically condensed, reworded and de-duplicated.

Why Storylines?

Storylines help clarify your thoughts & save everyone time

Increase clarity of thinking & comms

  • Help breakdown complex ideas
  • Make ideas clear & compelling
  • Help you think before you communicate
  • Structure and set way of thinking will help you
  • The rules will help you marshal ideas
  • Helps you check the clarity of your argument

Allow faster & better decision making

  • Provide audience with that they want and need
  • Less requests for more information
  • Communication comes from a clear point of view
  • Why your data matters
  • Increase focus by removing clutter
  • Read it through and understand it quicker
  • Choose their own path

Focuses collaboration around ideas

  • Shows you when your strategy isn’t clear
  • Brings teams together, quickly agree storyline, saves time

Build credibility and trust

  • Output * Persuasive Ability = Impact
  • You need a clear point of view AND the ability to engage well
  • A tight storyline helps persuade by
    • Engaging the audience quickly with the core question
    • Helping you deliver with confidence
    • Enabling you to answer tough questions

Three things to know before you can unlock the power of storylines

  • Think about which one to use beforehand
  • Think about how to structure the storyline based on what components there are
  • You can test a storyline is fit for purpose if you understand the rules that underpin the relationships between the ideas in that storyline

Design, Develop and Deliver Framework

  • Design the Strategy
    • Purpose
    • Audience
    • Medium
    • Process
  • Develop the storyline
    • introduction
    • So what’
    • Map logical support
    • Test
  • Deliver and communicate it
    • Package it
    • Deliver it
    • Get feedback

Design

  • Clarifying the purpose
    • What do you want your audience to know, think or do?
    • As a result of receiving my communication, I want my audience to…
  • Understand the audience
  • Who they are
    • Decision makers • Influencers • Who else needs to be considered.
    What they care about
    • What keeps them up at night about this? • Are their interests different or aligned? • If different… consider split
    What style will engage them
    • What are their working styles? • Detail or a quick overview • What type of information they need
  • Decide best medium
    • Presentation. Report. Memo. Face 2 Face (discussion guide).
    • The medium can influence the storyline and form
  • Process
    • Who can sign it off?
    • What's the usual process?
    • Are they available?
    • What are the key deadlines?

Each Storyline follows a similar structure

  • A: Introduction → Context + Trigger + Question
  • B: So What → Answer ‘so what?’ in a sentence
  • C: Supporting Ideas → Grouped or Deductive

A. The Introduction has 3 parts (C+T+Q)

  • A good intro makes getting a ‘so what’ that deals with the issue at hand more likely
    1. Context → The commonly agreed starting point. The topic. The right place in time.
    2. Trigger → The reason for the discussion. A ‘complication’, why are we communicating now?
    3. Question → Ask the single most important question (they should already be thinking it)
  • Include key information known or needed by the audience. Lead to the question you want your audience to ask / then answer it!

B. The So What

  • 5 Rules for the so what section:
    1. Answer the question  in one short powerful sentence
    2. Unify your whole story
    3. Be one idea, framed as a single short sentence. 25 word maximum. Be specific
    4. Synthesise or summarise all the ideas below
    5. Be powerful and supportable

C. Supporting ideas has 2 different options (Grouping or Deductive)

  • Must be arranged to make sense to the audience.
  • Revisit who they are, what they know and what they might want to know.
  • Their needs (and shared context) should inform what option you choose
  • There are 2 main structures. Use only 1.

C.a) Grouping

  • Use to explain why, how or what:
    • Why something is so
    • How it should be implemented
    • What it is
  • Structure:
    • Small number of separate ideas.
    • Grouped together
    • Strong enough to support the ‘so what’
  • Collectively they should be Mutually Exclusive and Collectively Exhaustive
  • Individually they should:
    • Respond to just one question
    • Synthesise or Summarise children
    • Parents 2 - 5 mini ideas
    • Adds genuine value to the story

C.b) or Deductive

  • Enables you to explain why, what and how in a single storyline.
  • Build a case for a specific course of action (why, what, how)
  • It takes the audience on a journey.
    • 3 parts. Statement. Comment. Therefore.
    • Each can have 2-5 mini points underneath
Statement
Something new. Lays foundation for what’s coming. A problem 
We have explored four options for improving our market share 
Comment
Tightly connected to statement. Often starts with however or but
Investing in x is the most reliable way to improve market share 
Therefore
The only logical action, if statement and comment are true and the link between them is strong.
We recommend starting negotiations now 
  • Collectively → the ideas leads to only 1 possible recommendation
  • Individually they should
    • must do its job as a statement, comment or recommendation
    • must parent a structure that’ mutually exclusive  & collectively exhaustive
    • must add genuine value to the story
  • Caution: Deductive story lines are fragile. The statement & comment, and the links need to hold. They require patience from the audience, but are powerful

How to test a storyline is fit for purpose?

Stick to the rules. On this 10 point test, you need to score 7 or higher. Ideally 10.

Is the introduction right?

  1. Is the context right? Does the storyline start in the right place in time?
  2. Does the trigger describe why you are communicating with this audience now?
  3. Is the question really the single question we want to answer?

Is there one clear, powerful statement of the ‘So what’?

  1. Is there once clear ;So what; that is 25 words or less?
  2. Is it powerful - does it summarise or ideally synthesise?

Is the supporting storyline robust?

  1. Is the tip-line support for the ‘So what’ logically sound? Grouping or Deductive?
  2. The second and third level supports logical sound? Grouping or Deductive?
  3. Is the storyline Mutually Exclusive and Collectively Exhaustive? MECE (categorised and well evidenced?)

Does it meet the audience's needs?

  1. Does it meet the audience's needs and concerns?
  2. Does it suit their style - type and level of support?

The 7 Classic Business Storyline Patterns

  • Grouping
    1. Action Jackson → for action plans
    2. The Pitch → for pitches and proposals
    3. Traffic Light → for updates
  • Deductive
    1. Close the gap → for improvements and recommendations
    2. Houston, we have a problem → for explaining how to solve problems
    3. To B or Not to B → for explaining which option is best
    4. Watch out → to counter emerging risks

Pointers:

  • Picking and populating is faster than working out an original storyline structure
  • Decide early
  • If audience only needs ‘why’ or ‘how’ or what’  - grouping will work best
  • If the audience needs to know both why and how, then yo0u will need a deductive storyline
  • See what feels right or start with audience needs

Grouping ones:

1. Action Jackson - for action plans

We have a sound plan

Address X with A

Supporting detail 1 Supporting detail 2

Address Y with B

Supporting detail 1 Supporting detail 2

Address Z with C

Supporting detail 1 Supporting detail 2

Best for when..
  • You’re spelling out an action plan.
  • to outline steps needed to implement a recommendation
  • help others understand the strategy
  • the audience must already be convinced that action is necessary
  • & be curious about what specific actions you’re recommending
Caution…
  • if they need convincing too, use the close the gap method instead!
Tips..
  • the intro (CTQ) must lead to actions & must recap what’s been agreed
  • the ‘so what’ must be a statement or recommendation
  • the storyline must be all actions, each supporting idea starts with a verb

2. The Pitch - for proposals and recommendations

You should implement our great idea

We understand the problem or opportunity

Evidence 1 Evidence 2

We have a great solution

Evidence 1 Evidence 2

We can deliver

Evidence 1 Evidence 2

We can manage the risks

Evidence 1 Evidence 2

Best for when..
  • use when you need to persuade someone
  • to articulate and support a recommendation
  • brings the value proposition forward
Caution..
  • Simple but needs to be tailored to your audience and their needs
Tips..
  • supporting reasons needs to convince your audience
  • pay extra attention to who presents and how they do it
  • make sure the introduction is right
  • support with 3-5 reasons to back your plan (order most beneficial first)

3. The Traffic Light - for updates and compliance stories

Overall we’re on track

We have completed x

Evidence 1 Evidence 2

We have started y

Evidence 1 Evidence 2

We have clear pathway to deliver remaining tasks on time

Evidence 1 Evidence 2

Best for when..
  • only use when all you need to do is provide a RAG status update
Caution…
  • avoid making assumptions about what your audience know
  • careful when copy and pasting from last time
  • make sure supporting ideas hang together
Tips..
  • can provide as much or as little detail as you need to

The Deductive Ones:

4. Close the gap - for improvement recommendations

We need to close the gap to ensure we succeed

Success requires us to meet XYZ

We must meet criteria 1 We must meet criteria 2 We must meet criteria 3

However, we do not meet all of the necessary criteria

We do / don’t meet 1 We do / don’t meet 2 We do / don’t meet 3

Therefore, we must do X to close the gap

Do this .. Do that .. Do that too

Best for when..
  • providing reasoning for your plan to close the gap
  • works well when you know what success looks like
  • or what you need to do to comply with some regs you’re not
  • use over action jackson when you need to describe what’s needed for success AND the plan for doing it
Caution…
  • incomplete or poorly organised criteria
  • the comment must be tightly linked to the first statement
Tips..
  • make sure you test the therefore point follows from the first 2

5. Houston, we have a problem - for explaining how to solve problems

Need to fix X to solve Y

We face a problem

Evidence 1 Evidence 2

X is the cause

Reason 1 Reason 2

Therefore fix X

Action 1 Action 2

Best for when..
  • you must convince the audience of a problem & take them through actions
  • combines diagnostics and actions
Caution…
  • avoid overkill.
  • don’t use if the audience knows about the problem
  • “don’t waste my time telling me what I already do/know ”
  • avoid if your audience is the cause of the problem!
Tips..
  • the problem and the cause must be linked
  • the storyline must centre around ‘the cause’ not 1 of many causes

6. To B or not to B for explaining which option is best

We should do B to solve the problem X

We have explored three potential options for solving problem X

We explored doing A We explored doing B We explored doing C

Doing B is the best way to solve problem X

B will work well A solves only part of the problem C won’t help

Therefore, we must do B

Action Action Action

Best for when..
  • Explain a problem to the audience, walk through options and explain what one you think is best.
  • Explain first, recommend last
Caution…
  • avoid overkill.
  • don’t use if the audience knows about the problem
  • “don’t waste my time telling me what I already do/know ”
  • avoid if your audience is the cause of the problem!
Tips..
  • Cover the why, the options and the action plan

7. Watch Out to counter emerging risks

Need to address emerging risk to ensure ongoing success

We have been going well doing X,Y,Z

Evidence of X Evidence of Y Evidence of Z

But we must address A, B and C emerging risks

Evidence of risk A Evidence of risk B Evidence of risk C

Therefore address, A, B and C emerging risks

Action Action Action

Best for when..
  • there are risks ahead that must be managed
  • What’s working, the risks, the action plan for addressing them
  • When you need to change direction
Caution…
  • avoid a narrative that flows without compelling logic
Tips..
  • the CTQ must lead to a question about action (as with the questions in all deductive story lines)
  • The so what must be a recommendation

Other Points

  • Medium types: email, speech, a paper, a presentation pack, a verbal briefing, a workshop
  • Choose a medium that makes it easy for the audience to follow your storyline.
  • Use visuals as a means to cut verbiage.
  • Workout your message first
    • Confirm your stakeholder management strategy
      • Speak to them beforehand to understand their perspective
    • Practice your delivery and your Q&A rehearsing in front of colleagues
      • Lock yourself away and practice
      • If you expect a challenge, try
  • Communicate your storyline sequentially
  • Be open to the idea that a one-page storyline may be enough on its own
  • Get Feedback after your presentation:
    • Demonstrates you’re keen to improve
    • As a few in the days after a communication is delivered
    • Ask what they can remember about your key messages
  • Book recommendation: Gene Zelazny’s book - Say it with charts
  • Criteria to a good story line
    • An introduction that flows, is relevant, is interesting, and zero’s in on the question you want to ask 
    • A single clear and powerful idea. The ‘so what?’
    • Supporting ideas should be ordered in a logical hierarchy 
    • Must meet the need of the audience