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The Pyramid Principle: Tips for Presentation Structure

December 22, 2014 / Blog, Experts, Lessons, Presentation Science, Rick Enrico Blog presentation structure, presentation tips, pyramid principle

There’s no easier way to lose the attention of your audience than by dumping too much information on them.

When you’re delivering a presentation, it’s important to a structure that everyone can follow. This structure needs to keep everything concise and straight to the point. It should allow one point to flow to the next in a logical manner. After all, the audience will find it confusing to hear wayward and tangential points. Luckily, learning Barbara Minto’s Pyramid Principle will keep you on the right track.

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Basically, the Pyramid Principle is a communication technique that allows you to to structure your points and arguments properly. It works by introducing a thesis statement before going into points and arguments that support it. Like a pyramid, the information you present should branch out as you move on towards specific details of the discussion. As written on Minto’s website,

“Extended thinking eventually ends in a single pyramid of ideas, at many levels, obeying logical rules, and held together by a single thought. Communicating the thinking requires only that you guide the reader down the pyramid.”

In other words, we can break down the Pyramid Principle into three main points:

1. Start with your thesis statement or key takeaway
2. Group arguments into main points
3. Branch out to discuss supporting details

If you map out your presentation, the structure would follow a hierarchy that look like this:

pyramid principle

As you can see, your presentation will be held together by single, key idea. To prove your statement, you will several different arguments that are grouped according to similarities. After that, you will discuss each detail as you move from one main point to the next.

To give you a better sense of the Pyramid Principle, let’s get into each of its three main points:

Start with your thesis statement or key takeaway

Following the Pyramid Principle, the best way to start your presentation is by laying out your conclusion immediately.

For business communication, it’s important to give the audience a clear idea about which direction you’re heading. While everyday conversations with friends will usually have a slow build up to a conclusion, talking with potential clients and investors are a different scenario. Considering the limited time we usually get with prospects, getting straight to the point obviously makes a lot of sense. In turn, this also allows them to see where you’ll be taking your discussion.

Group arguments into main points

With your takeaway presented, it’s time to delve into your main discussion. According to the Pyramid Principle, the next level involves grouping together all your arguments into main points. Each point will be a summary of specific supporting details that you’ll get into one by one.

Branch out to discuss supporting details

Finally, you can start getting into each of your main points by branching out to your supporting details. The idea is to keep everything under one theme so that the audience can easily picture how each item is related to one another.

Before arranging your presentation using the Pyramid Principle, you need to be sure of all the details of your content. You’ll need to brainstorm and draft out all of your ideas first. From there, you can edit your outline using either deductive or inductive reasoning.

You can start from the bottom up—deciding on all the points you want to make, grouping them together by theme,  and finally deducting your main takeaway. You can also start the opposite way—figure out the premise of your presentation, thinking of arguments what would make it valid, and then draft supporting details for each.

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Featured Image: martin_vmorris via Flickr