Presenting like a pro: Capturing your audience with The Pyramid Principle

March 30, 2016 10:34 am
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As consultants we are often tasked with presenting complex and in-depth analyses to our clients. Whilst we can create a pretty presentation using professional language and ensure inclusion of the compelling case, oftentimes we do ourselves the disservice of labouring intricate details or losing our audience while building the case.

A good example of this might be Engineering – considering the scientific approach by taking your audience through your case and building from the bottom up, reciting all the facts and analyses conducted, and then delivering the punchline compelling case. But what if the presentation is cut short, how can we captivate the attention of our audience in just a couple of minutes? How can we create a compelling case with a logical structure which is easy to understand and easy to remember? Think of the “elevator pitch” – convincing clients (often executives) who are time poor can be a challenge. But how can we do this?

The Minto Pyramid Principle ® is the answer. Developed by Barbara Minto whilst working at McKinseys, it is a powerful and compelling process for producing dynamic presentations.

What is the Pyramid Principle?

The pyramid structure is a top down hierarchically-structured thinking and communication technique with the use of both deductive and inductive reasoning at the core.

At the peak of the pyramid lies the Executive Summary. This is the response to the question our client needs answering. Generally, if people hear something they don’t know, it raises a question of How? Why? Or, is this true? The listener will be keen to get the answer to these questions, which is facilitated through the supporting arguments.

Inductive reasoning: a logical process in which multiple premises are combined to obtain a specific conclusion. This is represented horizontally in the pyramid.

Essentially, inductive reasoning will lead to the recommendations which underpin your executive summary. Each argument or recommendation will support the conclusion but not individually ensure it. Mathematically speaking, the Executive Summary is a function of the supporting arguments.

Deductive reasoning: a logical process in which a conclusion is based on the concordance of multiple premise. Represents vertical movement in the pyramid.

Principally, deductive reasoning is to follow the continuation of facts where a conclusion is necessitated by previously-known facts.

Whilst it is tempting to show the scale of work conducted by creating a presentation in a deductive style, it will not crisply capture our audience and deliver recommendations to a client.

Tailor to your audience

The skilled presenter’s role is to answer the client’s questions using the recommendations and supporting arguments until logically no questions remain. The logic must be mutually exclusive and collectively exhaustive (MECE).

The interest of how deep to dive vertically will depend on your audience. A good method is to prepare a pack for an executive, whilst issuing a pre-read supporting pack which deep dives into the detail.

Build an executive summary or introduction

Once we have a logical structured argument, we need to capture the audience through the executive summary, remembering that only if it is of interest to the listener do people want to find out what they don’t know. A good structure for an introduction is to use:

  • Situation
  • Complication
  • Question
  • Answer

The situation, through understanding our client, will establish a certain time and place, obviously a time and place the listener can relate to. The complication is then a specific issue or problem which needs addressing. This creates a “burning platform” or sense of urgency, compelling the listener to want to listen, or better, act. Following the complication, a question is posed. Starting the question-answer dialogue will lead to our answer, and the peak of the pyramid.

Conclusion

Delivering a compelling presentation to our clients is not just about the topic. Tapping into the way our brains naturally group thoughts or ideas will be a major success factor. Unstructured or laborious presentations will lead to loss of attention or disinterest.

Key messages

  • Start with the answer
  • Group and summarise supporting arguments
  • Logically order supporting ideas
  • Only present the relevant information to satisfy a client’s questions
  • Send a pre-read of supporting evidence to show detailed logic in getting to recommendations

References:

Written by ‘pro’senter Oliver North, Coriolis Consulting Pty Ltd