Back in graduate school, when I finished (finally!) the painstaking process of writing my dissertation, my adviser looked at me and said, “Okay, Barbi. You finished your dissertation. So what?” I must have looked at him like he was crazy. I sat there wondering what the past five years of data analysis, writing, editing, re-writing, and loss of sleep really meant. What did he mean “So what?! SO WHAT?!” I said something like, “Uh, I hope it means I’m finally finished with grad school? People will call me “Dr.” now? Uh, I can get a job, right?” Then he stopped me in my tracks when he said, “What I mean is, so what you finished your dissertation? Now what are you going to DO with it?”

Oh. Hmm…that is an interesting question. He reminded me that even though this experience marked the end of my learning in graduate school, it was really the beginning of something bigger. How was I going to use this new knowledge beyond the scope of graduate school? What difference is it going to make? How am I going to continue my learning beyond this experience? It was my “Ah ha!” moment.

In the years since that conversation, I now refer to this as my “So What, Now What?” question. I use this question every time I design a training session, create a lesson plan, or develop a meeting agenda. I’d like to share this technique with you because it will shift the way you designing learning environments, presentations, and meetings and help your participants see the value beyond the two hour training session, fifty minute class, or one hour staff meeting.

The benefit of the “So What, Now What?” question is that it helps you think outside of the box when it comes to concluding your session. Too often people just end their training sessions or classes with “Okay, thanks for a great class! See you next week!” Or, “Thanks everyone! Contact me if you have questions. It was great meeting you!” These are really just dead ends. The “So What, Now What?” question forces you and your participants to think bigger. You want your participants to continue their learning. You want them to see why this training session or this class matters. Designing your training session or class around the “So What, Now What?” question will give you focus and clarity, and it will help you give your participants the foundation and opportunity to extend their learning beyond the scope of your presentation, class, or meeting.

To begin, think about your presentation, class, or meeting. You know the saying, “Begin with the end in mind.” Start by thinking about the end of it first. Ask yourself, “Okay, so what if my participants just attended my training session for the past two hours. Now what do I want them to DO with that information?” Or, “Okay, so what if my students just participated in today’s class. Now what do I want them to DO with that information?” Or, “So what if we just finished going through the agenda in the staff meeting? Now what do the employees need to do or need me to do next?” Write down your thoughts. Do they go gather data to prepare for the next staff meeting? Do they complete a homework assignment? Do they return to their office and implement a new policy? Do they read the next module and prepare for next week’s session? Do they go to my web site and sign up for my monthly newsletter? Think about the next action you want them to take beyond the scope of your presentation, class, or meeting.

Once you determine what you want your participants to do at the end of the training session or class, work backwards. Design your icebreaker, discussions, and activities to align with your list of what comes next. What’s the answer to your “Now what?” question? Remember though, you need to actually encourage them to do something once they leave. Maybe you challenge them with a task that pushes them beyond the information presented in the class. Maybe you ask them to complete an activity that reinforces what they learned. Maybe you ask them to meet with another team in a different department to design a plan for collaboration. Maybe you offer an incentive or discount if they register for your newsletter. There are many ways to answer the “So What, Now What?” question.

Okay, so what you read my blog post? Now what? Go try it! Try to develop your own “So What, Now What?” strategy to conclude your next event, and let me know how it goes!