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It’s an intriguing way to think about organizing our thoughts for a talk, a blog, or even a LinkedIn post.

I often hear from clients who find my suggestion of a three-part agenda for their presentations challenging. They have so much to say! It’s all important! And they can’t possibly narrow it down to three things.

A three-part agenda doesn’t mean you only get to say three things though. It does mean all the things you say are organized into three broad categories.

Why? Well, you already know about the power of three, right?

People are more likely to listen, understand, and stay with us if we tap into that triplet rhythm. And listening, understanding, and staying have to happen before we can expect them to act on what we tell them.

The challenge for speakers is to choose and organize their content.

What goes in a talk … and what gets left out? And how do we put it in some kind of order?

Here’s an idea, from an ESPN Executive Producer, of all people.

No, I’m not a regular ESPN viewer, I’ve never seen Pardon the Interruption, and I wouldn’t know Erik Rydholm if he walked up to me on the street and shook my hand.

I read a blog post about his structure for stories. Chris Cillizza, late of CNN, is suggesting “A New Theory of News,” an approach he calls the brainchild of Erik Rydholm. And I’m saying it’s a theory the rest of us might use too, whether we’re speaking, writing, or posting.

That’s a lot of lead-in, isn’t it, to get to this idea for organizing your thoughts.

Tell them “What.”

What do they need to know? What have you done? What do you have to offer? In the context of a news story, this is usually “What happened.” 

In a business presentation, “What” is the current situation. Could be the product we’re offering. Or the service we provide.

The “what” is necessary, but no longer sufficient, in news or in business. We’re not living in a Dragnet episode. “Just the facts, Ma’am” isn’t enough.

They need the “So what?”

And, as Cillizza says in his Substack post, they need it now, right along with the “what.”

Used to be we’d read a news story about some event that happened today. A presidential faux pas, a city council decision, or some ugliness from the crime blotter. Then, two, three, four days later, some deep-thinking columnist would delve into the implications and offer their take on what it really meant.

None of us really want to wait around for the “So what” anymore. Cillizza points out that young people especially get impatient for the implications. They want to know now, not only what the story means, but what it means to them.

Think about the way business owners sometimes introduce themselves at a networking event. Name, title, maybe a brief description of their work. The “so what” is missing, isn’t it? If you’re not telling an audience what your work can do for them, answering their silent “so what,” you’re not likely to make a meaningful connection.

Likewise, in a sales presentation, your listeners want to hear more about benefits than features. You could go on all day about the service you offer. If you don’t paint a clear picture of what they’ll get when they choose you and why it’s the answer to their prayers, they’re likely to make a different choice.

And don’t forget “Now what?”

Right along with wanting to know what an event means, we want to know what it portends.

How will his opponents take advantage of that misstep by the president? And what will happen after that?

What will it do to my neighborhood when this new city ordinance goes into effect? And what will that mean for those of us who live here?

The robbery/shooting/car chase … don’t bother showing us the dramatic video if you can’t also tell me what are police going to do about it? What should we do to protect ourselves from the next one?

You get the idea. When it comes to the news, we want the implications of an event and a guess at what it leads to. And we want the “now what” and the “so what” right along with the “what.”

Strikes me that in a business presentation, “Now what” is your call to action. I’ll be the first to admit that I’ve often neglected that part.

I’ll invite you to admit it too: I’ve heard hundreds of professionals yammer about their work without ever telling me why I need it, much less what I should do to get it. They’ve skipped the “now what.”

“What” … “So what” … “Now what”

Try that out as a format for organizing your thoughts to speak, write an article, even introduce yourself at a networking meeting and let me know how it goes for you.

And listen, if it’s a presentation you’re working on, and you run into a roadblock … I can help you shape your content and go on to deliver it with confidence and charisma. (How’s that for a “Now what?”)