Guide to Presenting Using the Pyramid Principle

The conventional method for presenting a PowerPoint presentation entails reflecting upon the facts and fine details to draw the audience towards a conclusion. This can result in a lengthy Q&A session at the end of the presentation, where the audience might appear confused, unsatisfied, and at times, feel manipulated into being led towards a conclusion of the presenter’s choosing. A better alternative can be to use the Pyramid Principle.

Present using the Pyramid Principle: An Excellent Tool to Communicate Logical Information

The Pyramid Principle can be used for structuring communication to have a meaningful impact. Whether you’re making reports, delivering a presentation, or preparing an analysis, the Pyramid Principle can be an excellent tool to communicate logical information. The structured format in which the communication relays the answer prior to facts and data can help create an environment where critical thinking can be stimulated at the very start, instead of the end.

What is the Pyramid Principle?

Developed by an ex-McKinsey consultant, Barbara Minto, the Pyramid Principle is considered as one of the most important concepts of executive communication often taught in strategic communications and leadership programs. Unlike conventional modes of presenting information, the Pyramid Principle presents the answer at the beginning, followed by supporting arguments, data, and facts. The concept was documented in her book published in 1985 titled; The Pyramid Principle: Logic in Writing and Thinking.

The information is presented in the form of a pyramid, with the core idea at the top, which is then broken down by revealing fine details. The top of the pyramid contains the answer, which is the starting point. The middle of the pyramid represents supporting arguments. Whereas the bottom of the pyramid gives the supporting data and facts.

What are the 3 Rules When Creating Pyramid Structure?

Pyramid Structure – Answer, Arguments and Data Supporting Arguments

The Answer

When sitting through a lengthy PowerPoint presentation bloated with facts and data and a leading conclusion, one can feel unsatisfied with the presenter. However, when given the answer at the very beginning, you might feel a need to think through its merits from the very start. As you are presented with supporting arguments and facts, you can determine whether you agree or disagree with the statement or feel a need to raise important questions.

This approach makes it possible to aid structured thinking and stimulate critical thinking at the very start of a presentation or when reading through a report or research. Rather than feeling that you are being led towards a conclusion with convoluted information.

Supporting Arguments

Once the audience has been given the answer or hypothesis at the start, they can begin critically analyzing the supporting argument that follows. This is the second stage of the Pyramid Principle, where the answer is supported with relevant arguments to help test the validity of the hypothesis or to present it for critical analysis.

Supporting Data and Facts

Unlike conventional approaches to presenting data, the Pyramid Principle makes it possible to see supporting facts and data after a hypothesis. Rather than wondering what the long bits of information might be leading to. The one reading through the information or sitting in the audience does not need to wonder about the suggested conclusion, as it has already been presented at the start. Enabling critical analysis of the data and facts, as they are presented.

Why Does the Pyramid Principle Work?

Before the Pyramid Principle, Barbara Minto developed the MECE principle in the 1960s, which is a grouping principle that separates items into subsets. These subsets are mutually exclusive and collectively exhaustive, hence the name MECE. This concept underlies what was later known as the Pyramid Principle during the 1980s. Providing a mechanism to structure information for maximum impact. Making the principle practical and useful.

The Pyramid Principle suggests that ideas should be presented as a pyramid. Using the pyramid structure, the information is grouped together with similar, low-level facts, drawing insights from the similarity, and forming a group of related insights.  

How is the Pyramid Principle used for Effective Writing?

Minto’s Pyramid Template for PowerPoint by SlideModel

Effective writing produces content that is clear, accurate, and concise. The writing is focused, coherent, correct, supporting the central idea. When incorporating the Pyramid Principle for effective writing, the same rules apply. You need to start with the central idea. The ‘answer’ serves as a single thought, supported by arguments, data, and facts. You should present the ideas using the pyramid structure, summarizing the ideas grouped below each other, while remaining true to the ‘single thought’, i.e. the central idea (the answer).

An example of the structure for content produced using the Pyramid Principle would be as follows:

Answer -> Supporting Argument -> Evidence.

The answer shall remain at the top or at the heart of the content you are writing, whereas the supporting argument will be backed by evidence at each instance. If you have more than one supporting argument, you should take the time to structure each argument. For example, write the first supporting argument, followed by its evidence, before moving on to the second supporting argument and its related evidence.

How to Apply the Pyramid Principle in Preparing Presentations

When applying the Pyramid Principle, you must first start with the hypothesis and break it down with supporting arguments, backed by facts and data. It’s quite likely that during the course of the presentation, your audience would want to ask tough questions. Using this concept, you can enable those questions to be asked sooner and provide your breakdown of the information in a structured manner to ensure all your arguments are covered.

Begin with the Hypothesis

It is common to present the hypothesis at the very end after data, facts, and different ideas related to the potential hypothesis have been presented. The Pyramid Principle flips this conventional approach by presenting the hypothesis (answer) at the beginning.

Example: In our example, a mobile operator called ABC Telecom wants to enter a new market in Country X, located in Central Africa. The conventional approach would be to provide data and facts before mentioning why it’s a good idea to invest in a specific country. The presenter might even take the time to mention the country at the very end. The Pyramid Principle would require this information to be shared at the very beginning instead. In our example, the presenter would start the presentation by mentioning the hypothesis or answer.

In this case, the hypothesis might be something as follows: ‘investing in Country X would be profitable and lead to 30% increase in revenue for ABC Telecom over the next 5 years’.

Presenting the hypothesis at the start will stimulate critical thinking and aid structured communication, where there might be people for and against the argument scrambling to ask tough questions. That’s one of the benefits of the Pyramid Principle, as it helps bring out critical questions from the very start instead of at the end of a bloated presentation or report.

Present Arguments to Support Your Answer

It is essential to back the answer with supporting arguments to enable a meaningful discussion or to raise key questions regarding the accuracy of the hypothesis. For a business, this can have dire implications and major investment decisions might hinge on such information.

Example: The presenter proceeds to mention why investing in Country X by ABC Telecom is important for the long-term sustainability of the company. We assume that the argument for this investment is that ABC Telecom is already operating in a saturated market, where profit margins are projected to decline, and it is essential to move into a new market to increase revenue and profitability.

Present the Data to Support Your Argument

A supporting argument is only as good as the data and facts that are presented to back it up. The bottom of the pyramid, therefore, is the foundation of the Pyramid Principle. The foundation needs to contain accurate and reliable information that can back the hypothesis.

Example: In our example, ABC Telecom conducted research across 3 potential markets (Country X, Country Y, and Country Z) to look for countries to expand their operations in. During the research, it was revealed that only Country X appeared to be a lucrative market for investment.

The research revealed that Country Y and Country Z already have a saturated telecom industry with heavy taxes, rigid government policies, and very low ease of doing business ratings. Moreover, the population and telecom density of both these countries does not appear to indicate the potential for growth. On the contrary, Country X with a large population and low competition serves as a lucrative market. The market competition is slim, the government is looking to expand its telecom infrastructure, giving tax concessions to companies looking to set up their operations. The country also has a better ease of doing business ranking.

Another factor that goes in favor of ABC Telecom investing in Country X is that they are already operating in the neighboring country (Country W), making it easier to expand operations due to familiarity with the region. Furthermore, other global telecom operators are looking towards expanding into Asia Pacific, instead of Central Africa, leaving the market open for a new operator to rapidly expand. The recent rise in purchasing power, increased use of smartphones, and the demand for 4G and 5G services (currently not available in Country X) make another compelling argument for an efficient mobile operator to start operations in the country.

What are the Benefits of Applying the Pyramid Principle?

1. Be Better at Structured Thinking

The idea behind structured thinking is to be efficient at problem-solving and critically analyzing things in an organized manner. The Pyramid Principle provides this formula in its pyramid-like structure, where important questions can be asked right from the start.

2. Focus on Core issues

Lengthy reports and presentations can lead to a lot of confusion and might even deviate the people in charge of making decisions from the core issue. By placing the core issue at the very heart and elaborating upon it at the start, the Pyramid Principle can help keep everyone involved in the discussion on point.

3. Placing the Solutions at the Start Initiates Critical Analysis

When exploring solutions, such as in our example above, (the expansion of a telecom operator into a new market), it is essential to initiate critical analysis. Key decisions related to investment, expansion into new markets, or changes to products or services can make or break a business. Placing the solution at the start of the discussion leaves ample room for critical analysis to see if the presented solution can be applied or if better alternatives can be explored.

4. Hypothesis Backed by Data can Aid Better Decision Making

How would you feel if you are presented with 1 hour of slides filled with data, with a solution at the end? It is likely that such a presentation would leave you weary and tired, unable to connect the data with the solution at the end. Now imagine, you are given the solution at the start of the presentation, and each bit of information related to the answer that you would see after that can be connected with the solution when analyzing its practical implications. The latter is an approach that will help you connect with the arguments, facts, and data, as they are presented. Since you are already aware of the answer or hypothesis that you need to focus on.

Is Barbara Minto’s Pyramid Principle Still Valid?

The short answer to the question would be, yes! Barbara Minto’s Pyramid Principle is considered as one of the most important methodologies for structured communication. Since its initial revelation during 1985 to the revised edition of Minto’s book in 1996; ‘The Minto Pyramid Principle: Logic in Writing, Thinking and Problem Solving’, the principle still remains effective. It is widely used for making business executives absorb information quickly, in a structured manner, and aiding executive communication.

Final Words

The Pyramid Principle can be used effectively for structured thinking, problem-solving, and presenting information in a palatable format for busy business executives. Moreover, presenting the information true to the core idea presented at the very start can help make it easier to keep the audience abreast with the arguments, data, and facts that follow.

At the very core of decision making, be it decisions made by businesses or individuals, everyone wants to find the solution that works best for them. But complex data analysis and information overload can hinder good decisions and obscure solutions. By starting with the potential solution, its merits and demerits can be critically analyzed with ease.

1. Minto Pyramid Principle PowerPoint Template

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2. 3 Levels 3D Pyramid Template for PowerPoint

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Communication, Communication Skills, Presentation Approaches, Presentations