The Pyramid Principle


Communication, Presentation, and Persuasion – Using The Pyramid Principle to drive action

What if we told you that there’s a better way to create and present your decks? One that will drive action and get you to the most important part of the conversation right away? That’s right – today we’re talking about the world-famous Pyramid Principle. Haven’t heard of it? Or worse yet: do you willfully ignore it? Buckle up for a quick overview of The Pyramid Principle, and more importantly, some key takeaways on why you should implement it into your own presentations.

Pyramid Principle History

The Pyramid Principle is used the consulting world over – whether during interim internal discussions or executive-level presentations. Executive attention spans are notoriously short – don’t make your point in the first 10 seconds, and you’ve already lost your audience. That’s where the Pyramid Principle comes in. This is a seminal concept in executive communication, and has spread like a virus from McKinsey to every other consulting firm worth its salt, including of course Bain and BCG.

The Pyramid Principle was created by Barbara Minto – the first female post-MBA hire at McKinsey – in the 1970s. Her concept literally flipped presentations on their head, and her book on the subject is still widely recognized as the standard for communicating concepts and arguments in a logical, well-structured way.

Pyramid Principle Structure

The concept even goes beyond just talking to executives. It’s applicable anytime you are trying to convey a persuasive argument. No matter the medium of your presentation – whether a client-facing slide deck, an internal meeting, or a marketing pitch – structuring your thoughts with the Pyramid Principle will help you get your point across clearly and effectively, while staying MECE (mutually exclusive, collectively exhaustive).

The Pyramid Principle starts with the end in mind. Give your conclusion or answer first, follow it up with your main arguments, and then follow those with data that supports each one.

 

Pyramid Principle Graphic

 

So why lead with the answer first? Can’t that be abrasive? In situations where it is the first time you are interacting with an audience, and you don’t have pre-built trust, yes. However, when interacting with clients where you’ve already built trust up over time, leading with your proposed solution first can be very effective in framing the rest of your conversation. It gets right to the heart of the matter: either your recommendation aligns with what they were already thinking and you can move on to next steps, or they have objections that you get to use your supporting arguments to address. Either way, you’re discussing the most important matters right up front.

Pyramid Principle Key Concepts

  1. Lead with the answer/recommendation
  2. Give main supporting arguments as opposed than details
  3. Back up supporting arguments with data points

The other common objection to the Pyramid Principle is that it is perceived to take away from the authority of the answer or conclusion – the “punchline.” That is a valid concern. Yet, when communicating to executives, put yourself in their shoes. Typically, executives think big-picture and “top-down”. What is the big picture? What other priorities and budgets are  you competing with? They carved out 30 minutes (at most) to hear your perspective on the issue at hand. Use the time you have to get to the part of the conversation you really want to engage in. If the stakeholder want to hear your supporting arguments, they’ll ask for the more granular level of data.

Pyramid Principle Conclusion

Try it! During your next presentation (internal or external), present your findings and overarching recommendation in the Pyramid Principle structure. You’ll be giving your audience what they need in the way that they need it to say yes or no to moving forward.

Pyramid Principle Training for Teams

Use the Pyramid Principle to have your key takeaway land home with your target audience. While the concept is straightforward, it’s surprisingly difficult to master. Ready to take your team’s performance to the next level? Whether your team’s focus is sales, advisory, marketing science, or anything else, Management Consulted offers customized on-site training to some of the world’s biggest brands. Reach out today to learn more, and let our team of MBB consultants take your team’s executive communication to the next level!