Consultants must structure their thinking. This is the only way to present your ideas clearly to clients. One excellent tool is the pyramid principle by an ex-McKinsey consultant by the name of Barbara Minto. She authored a book called The Minto Pyramid Principle here (affiliate link) which essentially defined the way consultants structure most of their presentations. Most consultants will know what the pyramid principle is, even if they don’t know the author.
Pyramid Principle: Just like the name implies, the idea is that the presentation logic looks like a pyramid. The main recommendation is on top. It is built on mid-level recommendations, each of which are supported by smaller facts, data, analysis, benchmarks etc . . .
In the graphic below you can see that the top of the pyramid (executive summary) has 3 recommendations. Each of those recommendations have supporting pages.
- Page 1 = executive summary
- Page 2-4 = recommendation #1 and supporting facts
- Page 5-7 = recommendation #2 and supporting facts
This type of presentation starts with the conclusion first. It is a tops-down type of thinking that is very structured and how executives think. Big idea followed by smaller ideas. This format helps you “cut to the chase” quickly, which is good for many reasons:
- Executives have a short attention span, so it is good to say what you want to say before they start asking questions
- This logic is very easy to follow. “I recommend A,B,C. Recommendation A is supported by facts 1,2,3”
- By giving them the recommendation and logic up front, it allows the audience to focus on the areas they have the most interest
- It forces the consultant to really hone the storyline to the most essential parts (no long-winded prose and rambling slides)
Yes, I know that most high-school term papers used a more bottom-up type of reasoning where the punchline was at the end of the 50 page paper. Trust me, that is not how you want to present in the boardroom. You do not want to start with lots of boring data points and save the good stuff to the end.
Caveat: Two types of presentations where you won’t use the pyramid principle:
- An interim presentation of facts: In this case, the consultant is working with the client counterpart and walking them through information and some of the insights. Nothing too heavy. Not a recommendation. Just information sharing.
- A leave-behind deck: Here the consultant has a presentation that is meant to truly stand-on-its-own, so the font is smaller, and it is written in more long-form prose. It is more of a guide or playbook, than a hard-hitting million dollar recommendation
Should I buy the book? It’s up to you. It is $135 and bit of a boring read. If inclined, you can buy it directly from the author here. As a consulting trick, just go to amazon.com and read the 45 reviews posted. That will get you 80% of the way there.
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