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2. The Pyramid Principle
The Pyramid Principle is used by the world's top firms to structure their thinking when presenting information and solving problems. See it in action in this lesson
- Helps you grasp the attention of your audience quickly
- Critical to ensuring that your presentation has the desired effect
- Based on three intuitive human behaviours:
--- People tend not to listen to things they already know
--- Only if it is of interest, people want to find out what they don't know
--- If people hear something they don't know, it raises questions
Differences with a typical story format
- Traditional stories reveal the insight or lesson at the end
- To grab attention, reveal the insight at the beginning!
- This insights will raise questions among the audience
- Your presentation will then proceed to answer these questions
When communicating in business, your first and most important task is to grasp the attention of your audience.
If you don’t do this, all your hard work will be for nothing.
The good news is that in a business context, this skill can be learned, and is founded on a concept called the pyramid principle.
The pyramid principle is based on a number of human behaviors.
First, people tend not to listen to things they already know.
Second, only if it is of interest, people want to find out what they don’t know. And third, if people hear something they don’t know, it raises questions.
Pretty straightforward so far, but let’s delve a little deeper.
Based on the behaviors above, my challenge in a presentation is to initially tell my audience something that they don’t know that is of interest.
If I do this, I have their attention.
This will raise some questions.
Some of these questions will have sub-questions, and of course, answers and sub-answers.
In this way, the pyramid is created.
So unlike a traditional story, we start with the ending to grab attention, and then we answer questions raised by this ending, and finish up with a presentation conclusion.
Let’s see this in action with an example.
On the top of my pyramid will be a statement, and the statement is, “People living in cities should not own cars,” and there are four reasons for this.
It’s cheaper to use cabs or to rent cars, it’s better for the environment, it’s more convenient, and it’s safer.
Each of these points in supporting my answer raises other questions. For example, is it actually more convenient for people, especially in cities with no public transport? Is it actually cheaper to not own a car? Are rental cars available in every city? Again, in this way, the pyramid is created and a logical structure begins to take shape.
When using the pyramid principle to build a case, the hardest part of this process is to find the correct set of issues to focus on post-answer.
In the consulting industry, these issues are often characterized as being MECE, or mutually exclusive and collectively exhaustive.
Creating the set of MECE issues for a particular answer or hypothesis is often the most challenging part of putting together a compelling presentation.
I’ll explore this concept of MECE in much more detail in our next lesson.