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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
Lesson Goal (00:06)
The goal of this lesson is to learn how to use the pyramid principle to get the attention of an audience.
Understanding the Pyramid Principle (00:24)
The pyramid principle is a technique for quickly getting the attention of an audience. To understand the principle, we need to be aware of three human behaviors:
- People don’t listen to things they already know
- People want to find out what they don’t know, but only if it is of interest
- People ask questions when they hear something they don’t know
As a result, we can get people’s attention by starting our presentation by telling the audience something of interest that they don’t know. This means that we start a presentation with the main insight, which will grab people’s attention. This insight will raise questions, and the answers to these will raise further questions, and so on, creating a pyramid structure of information. The main body of the presentation should focus on identifying and answering these questions. The main challenge in applying the pyramid principle is identifying all the issues and questions that will be raised by your insight.
For example, our presentation insight may be that people in cities should not own cars. Below this, we provide several reasons why this might be the case. Below each of these reasons, we consider several questions that might be asked about that reason. Our presentation focuses on answering all these questions to prove our initial point.
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.