The Pyramid Principle to Structure Brilliant Presentations

Logic and structure are interconnected. These are the two basic requirements for any presentation that is pressed for time. Many people struggle to find a proper balance between the structure and content in a presentation. There are few really proven and powerful tools that help you to master the right structure in all your presentations. One such tool is the Pyramid Principle.

People tend to remember a presentation that had a logical structure and flow which they can understand and relate well to their workflow.  It will be worthwhile to research and spend some time on understanding the structure rather than diving directly into preparing a presentation.

What is The Pyramid Principle?

Barbara Minto developed ‘The Pyramid Principle’ to help the consultants at McKinsey design reports which could make a lasting impression on their clients.

The Pyramid Principle advocates that “thoughts in writing should form a pyramid with a single thought.”

The Pyramid principle is a structure where the story is told using logic and is supported by data. It should start with an answer to an issue, and then supported by data to explain the answer. The idea of the Pyramid Principle is to start with your main idea, and then substantiate with arguments that are grouped logically in support of the main answer.

Benefits of the Pyramid Principle

The Pyramid Principle gives you an opportunity to utilize your time to the maximum while increasing the effectiveness of your message since it uses the top-down communication style.

The Pyramid Principle offers the advantage of powerful written communication by structuring it logically.  It is an effective tool to communicate with anyone who faces time crunch. It can be used for executive meetings, investor meetings, board meetings, or simply to persuade an argument logically.

How to Structure a Presentation Using Pyramid Principle

Step 1: Focus on the Question and Follow it up With an Answer

The top most portion of the pyramid should be occupied by the issue that the client is facing. The client is here due to a problem for which he is seeking a solution. Hence focus on the question or the issue.

First give a quick background of the situation and describe the issue or the question that will be addressed in the presentation. Highlight what has gone wrong. Now formulate a simple question around the issue.

Eg. How can my Company reduce cost by 25%?

Immediately move to the answer that you have worked out for the question. Give the audience the answer or the solution for their issue. Though this looks very simple, this is the main portion of the entire presentation. A well thought out and researched solution will be the key here. This forms the top most portion of the pyramid.

For example: Company can save costs by introducing operational improvements.

This is called as the SCQA model where (Situation Complication Question Answer).

 

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The situation is the state of affairs of your topic of interest. Complication refers to the issue or the challenge that is making the situation difficult. Question focuses on what you are about to solve and answer is the solution that you are proposing to your client.

Step 2: Single Thought with Supporting Thoughts

You have already announced the answer. So you might see a lot of commotion in the room, since it is not necessary that everyone will agree with your answer. Now starts the process of convincing the audience with logical arguments.

Your answer is the single thought for the issue that is being discussed. Start grouping and layering. This forms the next layer of the pyramid.

The Pyramid Principle says that, “Ideas at all levels in a pyramid should be a summary of the ideas grouped under them.”

Under the Pyramid Principle, you start with the main issue and an answer. The answer is then supported by a main thought. Underneath the main thought you should group the next 3 levels of supporting reasons.

For example:  To save costs, review the supplier cost to bring in another supplier with less cost leading to a saving of $1 million.

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Step 3: 3 Levels of Supporting Thoughts

In the earlier step you had given 3 big thoughts without giving too much of details. Now its time to elaborate your thoughts with further explanation.

Merge the similar thoughts under one group and make sure that they belong together. In terms of importance they should be on the same level.  If possible rank your arguments according to the order of importance.

 

For example: Three thoughts under the main thought can be:

1.1 Review the current supplier costs

1.2 Evaluate alternative suppliers and their cost

1.3 Renegotiate with current supplier and choose alternative supplier

The thoughts should be mutually exclusive which means that the sub thoughts in each category should belong to only that particular category. It should be collectively exhaustive, meaning that all alternatives should have been evaluated.

 

This order of vertical and horizontal presentation allows you to present your idea with structured logic. The vertical structure logic tells the main story of the presentation and focuses on the question and the answer. And as you move further down into the pyramid you can see the horizontal presentation of the supporting arguments.

Conclusion

For many people who struggle to prepare a presentation, the pyramid principle provides an excellent structure to convey your thoughts while still keeping the audience and the message as the central focus.

If you have not yet tried out the pyramid principle, then I would urge you to try out when you start your next presentation. It could be your very important elevator pitch to an investor or answer to a question posed to you.

The Pyramid principle will help you to  tell the story clearly and concisely to your audience.

Most of the times a presentation is delivered to busy people who are short of time and need to get crisp and concise communication. Here the pyramid principle will be of extreme importance to structure the communication.

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