It’s a noisy world, and the people whose attention you’re trying to grab are busy. They get a hundreds of emails, calls, and messages every day. Your job is to cut through all the noise, and make sure your message gets across as quickly and effectively as possible. Whether you’re writing an email or pitch deck for your startup, or having a face-to-face conversation, controlling the sequence of your ideas is the most powerful tool you have to get what you are asking for.
CUTTING THROUGH THE NOISE
The Pyramid Principle was created by Barbara Minto at McKinsey as a method of structuring communications for maximum impact. The idea is to start with your main idea, and then use logically grouped arguments to support your position. Put in simpler terms, it starts with asking for what you want, and explaining why you want it. It sounds simple, but using the Pyramid Principle allows you to maximize your time and effectiveness by utilizing a top-down communication style. Executives are often top-down thinkers who appreciate a direct approach, which is why the Pyramid Principle works so well.
USING HORIZONTAL AND VERTICAL LOGIC
At the top of the pyramid is the point you’re trying to make—the key takeaway. Underneath that are three arguments to support your idea. Each of those arguments should be built on reasons that support it. The top of your pyramid has to be actionable, and it is supported by the arguments that follow below. Essentially, you’re starting with what you want, and then supporting that with three reasons why you want it.
When presenting your arguments, put them in logical groupings. Rank your arguments in order of importance, and keep them in discrete groups—if you’re talking about key metrics and sales automation, make all your points about key metrics before moving on to sales automation.
Presenting your ideas in this order lets you use both vertical and horizontal logic. Vertical logic is the storyline, the question-and-answer dialogue. As you travel down the Pyramid, you’re starting with your main idea, posing questions, and answering them with your supporting arguments.
The horizontal logic of the pyramid uses either inductive or deductive reasoning. Deductive reasoning is the method you’re probably most familiar with: making a general statement, and using specific examples to validate that statement: Birds can fly. I can fly, therefore I am a bird.
Inductive reasoning is the opposite, inferring a specific statement from a set of general supporting arguments.
SETTING THE STAGE WITH INTRODUCTORY FLOW
Since your takeaway is at the very top of the pyramid, your introduction is particularly important. It sets the stage, and gets your audience excited for your main idea and its supporting arguments. The following flow is an effective way to set up the main idea of your pyramid.
Situation: The context, the time & place. Something everyone can agree on.
Complication: The problem, relevancy, sense of urgency to listen or act. Question: The question that naturally arises following the complication. This is the start of the question/answer flow. Answer: Your main idea.
BUILDING THE PYRAMID: AN EXAMPLE
When we look at the company sales data, we see that there has been a decline over the years. We also face increased competition, even though we introduced new features two years ago and relaunched the product. These new features required a new factory to be built, which also increased costs. We have to increase market share to attain an economy of scale.
Pyramid Principle applied
To regain profitability we have to improve market share by cutting prices:
- Lower prices will increase sales.
- Lower prices vis-a-vis competitors will increase our market share.
- Increased volume helps us create economies of scale.
Using the Pyramid Principle, you can directly and effectively target your message. It’s not the only method for telling a story, but it’s an effective, direct approach that leaves no room for fluff, allowing you to focus your message on what you want, and why you want it.