NOTE: PLEASE CHOOSE CASE NUMBER 3 ABOUT RSPCA clearly addresses the audience as outlined in the scenario, uses plain language, and is structured in line with ‘answer first’ principles that advance the purpose of the report. This task focuses on the writing quality more than the report finding itself. Please focus on creating a quality writing (grammar, punctuation, etc)
by Jeff Kavanaugh
We’ve all heard the conventional wisdom that says if you
want to advance in your career, then you have to work
THE ART AND
The denitive guide
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Except, that’s only partially true.
If you want to move up the ranks from in any business,
then you need to master a critical skill beyond work ethic:
the ability to communicate more information, more
clearly, in a limited amount of time.
In business, you have a few minutes to get your point
across before a busy executive stops paying attention to
you. If you fail to get right to the point, you risk losing
Yes, a presentation may last a lot longer, but you don’t
have much time to get–and keep–someone’s attention.
You need to tell your stories in a way that models the way
people process information. In the consulting world, we
accomplish this with The Pyramid Principle.
I’m Jeff Kavanaugh,
Vice President and
Executive Editor for
arm of Infosys, a
and consulting rm.
I also work as an
at The University of
Texas at Dallas,
where I help
the skills necessary
to thrive in
One of the best, yet relatively unknown tools to help you
hold the attention of executives (or any audience) is The
The Pyramid Principle was created by Barbara Minto, who
headed training for McKinsey & Company back in the ’70s.
Barbara was the best at getting all the new recruits to go
from hot-shot, straight-from-campus hires to expert
consultants in the shortest amount of time.
Barbara did it by employing a principle that could take
large amounts of information and structure it to simplify
the story yet retain the detail.
How often have you had to decide between unloading a
ton of content or dumbing down the message to
communicate it quickly?
The Pyramid Principle allows you to have your cake and
eat it, too – all the content, and easily digestible. How is
By focusing on the key actionable point, or the “bottom
line,” and supporting it through the underlying arguments
and data, Barbara was able to teach her students to get
straight to the point.
That’s what The Pyramid Principle is at its core: a principle
that allows you to quickly seize your audience’s attention
and communicate with gravitas, by creating a compelling
story that is easy to understand and remember.
The Pyramid Principle has a four-part introductory
You start with knowing your audience. Then you arrange
the information in a way that your audience can rapidly
Think about the introduction to a story:
Good stories don’t just dump information on their
audiences, they begin by crisply describing a situation,
creating a mental picture in the mind of the audience.
Like any good story, you introduce a complication to
highlight the conict, the problem or opportunity that
affects the situation. Then a question is posed to highlight
the decision at hand, the moment of truth for the
individual or company. The answer or recommendation is
then provided as the resolution, the (hopefully) happy
ending to the story.
Let’s pretend a shoe company (which I’ll refer to as Hot
Fire Shoes) hired you as a consultant. Here’s what your
Pyramid Principle-driven presentation intro might look
“For years, Hot Fire Shoes has shown a steady increase in
yearly revenue and protability.”
You’ve established your familiarity with their company,
established a positive atmosphere, and set the stage for
“This quarter, Hot Fire Shoes’ protability unexpectedly
at lined for the rst time in company history.”
You’ve made the dilemma immediately clear to everyone
in the room. This creates a sense of urgency, compelling
the executive to listen and possibly act, based on your
upcoming ideas. In short, you’ve grabbed their attention.
“How can we increase protability for Hot Fire Shoes?”
You’ve started a question and answer dialogue (drawn
from ancient techniques, like the Socratic Method). In The
Pyramid Principle, the question extends logically from the
complication, which keeps the overarching problem
mentally straightforward and easier to follow.
Note that the question above is over simplied – in
practice, a good question is often more subtle and the
result of analysis to ensure the right question is asked.
You’re not looking for a one-size ts all solution here. The
question you raise needs to have answers that are
mutually exclusive and completely exhaustive,
otherwise known in business lingo as MECE.
Mutually exclusive means that each component is distinct,
there is no overlap, and that you can address each part on
its own without worrying about the other components.
Completely exhaustive means you have included every
For the Hot Fire Shoes example, you can start with a
relatively simple answer. To increase prots, you can do
- Increase revenues
- Decrease costs
Neither option overlaps with the other, so they are
mutually exclusive, and there are no major paths to
protability that fall outside of either category, so they are
also completely exhaustive.
If your answers aren’t mutually exclusive, the lines
become blurred, and clients may become confused and try
clarify your logic on the y. If your answers aren’t
completely exhaustive, clients’ minds may wonder what is
missing and ask you, “What about these other options?”
At that point you’ve already lost their attention,
andwhatever momentum you had. Sound like any
presentations you’ve seen?
To keep executives focused, you need to craft a coherent
story. This means restructuring answers into the right
scopes and right descriptions.
If I handed you a list of 25 options, you’d have no chance of
making a smart decision. The same is true with your
audience. You want to pick three to ve options to
highlight as answers to the question you’ve presented to
Research from George Miller has shown a human being
can hold about 7 items in their short-term memory, and
for some people it is even less. That is why 3-5 items is the
optimal size of components for a given idea.
Personally, I like three to ve because that gives you room
to be wrong on one or two options. This is something
Derek, a true genius who I thought would change the
game for my rm, couldn’t grasp.
Derek was quantitatively brilliant, but his comfort zone
wouldn’t allow him to offer a client an idea with 3-5
supporting options. Instead, he felt he had to demonstrate
his intellect by telling them about all 25 options that might
work, in a semi-organized list.
Twenty-ve options are way too many choices for busy
What’s nice about The Pyramid Method is that you’re
conveying bite size morsels of information that can easily
t on a slide, in a chapter, or in a section of a report that an
executive—or functional leader—can quickly absorb.
This is a key tenet of both effective information analysis
and communication to your audience.
One of the reasons The Pyramid Principle is so effective is
that it uses vertical relationships.
The vertical relationship is important because it presents
an idea, allows the reader to absorb it, and then provides
answers and supporting evidence. The top of the pyramid
is a statement, with the supporting base of the pyramid
ready to provide answers to the questions the statement
Every piece of information on the pyramid base reinforces
the tip above it, making the pyramid’s conclusion
inescapable to the viewer. And the base of one pyramid
can (and often does) become the tip of another, to
maintain the ‘rule of 3’ discussed above.
The Pyramid Principle
Always present the summary idea before you give the
individual ideas being summarized. The sequence in
which you present your ideas is the most important aspect
to improve the clarity of your writing, and you can control
If there is power in the vertical relationships, is there also
power in the horizontal relationships? Absolutely, though
in a different way.
In vertical relationships, the supporting points (the base)
need to answer the question raised by the statement
above (the tip). For horizontal relationships, the
supporting points relate to each other, using either
deductive or inductive reasoning.
Yes, it’s possible your recommendation may be wrong.
However, the purpose of the Pyramid Principle isn’t
always to convince everyone that you’re right. It’s to lay
out your argument in the clearest terms possible, so that
listeners can understand your thinking and engage more
If you’re right, it will allow the audience to grasp the idea
quickly and easily.
If you’re wrong, it will make your thinking clearer, so that a
listener can point out the aw in your logic and
collaboratively provide you constructive feedback.
Another upside to mastering how to craft coherent ideas,
is that executives are keenly aware of how hard it is to do
what you’ve demonstrated. They’ll want you around,
whether as a consultant or in another capacity – don’t be
surprised when clients want to hire you.
You see, it’s not just about working hard. It’s about your
ability to communicate, with impact.
You still need to hustle, and you still need to hit your
targets. But all else being equal, the person who advances
the fastest is usually the one who knows the value of time,
how to deliver value, and tell a succinct story with sound
What Do I Do
There are six skills you need
to learn in order to succeed
in the world of consulting.
My free guide explains what
they are and how to
Let’s Get Started
© 2020 Jeff Kavanaugh. All Rights Reserved.
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