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‘Why-Who-What-How’ and ‘So what?’ have always been the cornerstones of any science communication workshop I’ve given, as well as our media training sessions, and also of many of my blogs. If people remember these two concepts from my presentation or text, all will be well: just give some rational thought on Who you want to reach with your communication efforts, What you want to tell them and what you would like them to do with that information (Why), and How to go about presenting and packaging that message and sending it out.
Combined with the most important question used to make explicit this/those key message(s): why would the reader, listener or viewer be interested in your story, what’s in it for them, or ‘So what?’.

But then then I started reading Randy Olson’s ‘Houston, we have a narrative’.

In one of the chapters Olson explains The Dobzhansky Template, which is the central theme that gives focus and direction to your story. What is the essence of your story, what’s it all about, and can you capture that in the sentence ‘Nothing in <fill in your topic> makes sense except in the light of <fill in your central theme>’?
Biologist Theodosius Dobzhansky apparently was the first to coin a phrase like this in American Zoologist in 1964, giving a nice example to explain what is meant: ‘Nothing in biology makes sense except in the light of evolution‘. In a similar way a geologist might say that plate tectonics is the central theme to geology: Nothing in geology makes sense except in the light of plate tectonics.
Apparently you can’t always find a little summary like that, but when you do, it gives you the basis and focus for a narrative.

While reading I of course started thinking whether I could come up with a sentence like this for my own field of communication. A bit half-heartedly I must admit: I wasn’t really expecting to come up with anything. But suddenly it came to me, and with it a lot of pieces fell either into place, or into a new unexpected place. Just like that, and not quite how I had expected it.

Nothing in communication makes sense except in the light of ‘So what?’.

That was it.

All this time they were there, on my slide about ‘key messages’ as an afterthought to the Why-Who-What-How featured there. And then suddenly it turns out that these two simple words are actually the overarching and central theme.

Neatly tucked away in the question ‘So what?’ are the Why, the for Who, the What, and derived from those three, the How to go about it. If you want to know the answer to ‘So what?’ you have to know who you are addressing, why they should care about what you are trying too communicate to them, what’s in it for them, and what they might do with your information.
World upside down.

Nothing in communication makes sense except in the light of ‘So what?’.

That’s it, easy-peasy, and probably the key concept of anything to do with communication. Time to rewrite some blogs perhaps?

PS Actually ‘So What’ already featured in one of my blogs some time ago: ‘Essentials in (science) communication: ‘So what?’’, so I guess maybe I knew all along?

Image: Daikrieg el Jevi  

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One thought on “Nothing in communication makes sense…

  1. Pingback: Nothing in communication makes sense… | RoyMeijer

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