What is the principle of the pyramid and how does it help us in the presentation?

What is the principle of the pyramid and how does it help us in the presentation? Project presentation and building influence between stakeholders and executives are important parts of successful project management. But, while they have many skills, project managers are rarely good salespeople.

This issue is often related to a problem in the transmission of information. If you focus too much on the stakes, the big picture, and the background information, you’ll tire your audience quickly. But if your presentation is rushed and ignores details, you’ll come across as naive or unprepared.

So how should you strike the right balance? It depends on choosing the right framework for the topic and audience.

If you want to take the next step in your career, you need to learn how to present in any situation. In this guide, we’re going to look at The Pyramid Principle to help you out.

Why should project managers learn how to present?

Presentations help you build influence with important people, whether it’s a client or a stakeholder. Learning how to articulate clearly and confidently demonstrates a deeper understanding of broader business goals and the impact your work will have on meeting them.

But, many project managers complain that their managers see them as “the one who always sends me meaningless reports.” You may feel like they don’t see the value you bring and even see you as an obstacle to real progress.

The key is to think differently about your approach to presentation.

You might think that as a project manager, it’s your job to provide all relevant information to your executives and stakeholders. But really, your job is more about choosing the important details and organizing them in such a way that the audience is encouraged to react and take action.

Persuasion is one of the key project management skills. As a project manager, you must ask for resources, convince executives about risks and tradeoffs, and even sell the value of project management.

Your goal should be to get their attention and sell your idea without providing too much information.

However, even if you know the value of presentation, structuring your argument and creating an effective presentation is not always a natural skill. So, how should you learn how to present?

Fortunately, there are several proven methods you can use to take your presentation to the next level.

What is the principle of the pyramid and how does it help your presentation?

One of the simplest and most effective presentation techniques is the pyramid principle.

With this simple technique, instead of providing all the background information first, you start with the most important solutions and then add supporting information as needed.

By following this bottom-up concept, it’s easier to present your critical ideas clearly without confusing or boring managers.

Where does the concept of the pyramid principle come from?

The pyramid principle was developed by Barbara Minto, the first female management consultant at McKinsey.

He saw how many of his colleagues were terrible at making persuasive arguments. Before they get to the good part of the presentation, they get bogged down in the details and lose their power.

The pyramid principle may also be referred to as the “Communication Pyramid” or the Minto Pyramid Principle.

How does the pyramid principle work?

How does the pyramid principle work
How does the pyramid principle work

The Pyramid Principle takes the way we think about presenting big news or advice and reverses the order.

Think about the last movie you saw. It probably followed a storyline that built hours of tension before delivering the final battle. Film directors do this to keep you excited.

It’s tempting to align your presentation with this strategy. But if you want your presentation to be effective, you need to start with spoilers!

From the presentation point of view, the principle of the pyramid is as follows:

1- Start with advice/answer/question.

Start your presentation with the most important details first.

Busy managers want to hear your answer or solution to their question first. When a stakeholder or executive asks you, “What should we do?” Start your answer with “You should do X.”

Only after you have briefly answered his question will you proceed with your supporting arguments.

2- Support your presentation with some supporting arguments.

Next, provide some relevant details to support your recommendation.

At this point, it’s important not to give in to the temptation to provide every available detail. You should not bore your audience with unnecessary information.

Select three key arguments that support your recommendations. Be careful to organize and the group supporting arguments together so that they are easier for your audience to digest and remember.

Using the pyramid principle, each time you share an argument or solution, you should summarize the next level of supporting ideas. The pyramid principle states that “the ideas at each level of the pyramid must always be summaries of the ideas grouped below them.”

3- Build confidence in your arguments by using supporting data.

Finally, provide three pieces of supporting data for each supporting argument.

But just looking at statistics is not a way to make an effective presentation. Instead, make sure all your data and supporting arguments are organized logically. Here are some examples:

  • Chronological order: If there are events that form a cause-and-effect relationship, always share them in chronological order.
  • Structural order: Break a single idea into digestible parts, making sure you cover all the main parts of the supporting argument.
  • Rank Order: Present the supporting ideas in order of importance, starting with the most and ending with the least.

When you choose three related supporting points and communicate them using a logical pyramid structure, your presentation becomes a powerful and effective communication tool.

Think of this principle as giving the spoiler first, then the supporting storyline.

Why does the pyramid principle work?

When you start structuring your presentations to follow the pyramid principle, you’ll find that managers and stakeholders become more responsive to your ideas and solutions. There are several reasons why the pyramid principle works so well for building trust and influence:

1- Managers want to see that you understand the business.

Even when executives receive the latest statistics, reports, and expert opinions, they often still rely on gut feeling or satisfaction to make a business decision.

If you can show managers that you are aware of their needs and that you care about what they want to hear, you are more likely to gain their attention and build trust. Tara Rector, vice president of change management, explains:

“Managers need to be able to see that you understand how the project [or project management] drives a strategic business goal. This is something that will ease their mind.”

Managers are busy people, they don’t have time to think about all the possibilities. Finally, they need clear and quick information to inform their next decision.

2- Executive managers don’t need (or don’t want) to explain much.

Remember, your managers already understand the business. They don’t need to explain low-level stuff – using them just slows down your presentation and frustrates your listeners.

Managers are also used to thinking in a top-down manner and prioritizing solutions. By using the pyramid principle, you will end up being much more clear and convincing in your communications, which will help managers to accept and understand what you are saying.

3- Managers prefer direct communication.

Finally, the Pyramid Principle is effective because it connects with the executive mindset and their usual process for making business decisions. When you speak directly, there is less room for misunderstandings and miscommunications.

Clear communication also shows that you are confident in your research and solutions, and managers respect that confidence. You will also be much more persuasive when you speak directly.

The pyramid principle provides a clear framework that is easy for managers to relate to. Executives will be more receptive to your ideas when you tie your presentation to the overall business goals and keep it simple without filling it with details.

How to structure a great presentation using the pyramid principle?

The pyramid principle may work for simple emails and recommendations. But what about larger projects that require subtleties and flair to excite your client or stakeholders?

Unfortunately, you can’t just show up at a presentation session, quickly deliver a bunch of information, and leave. You need to do some preparation, especially if you are speaking to a new audience who is not familiar with your product or business.

To do this, let’s look at another framework called the SCR framework (abbreviation for Situation, Complication, and Resolution).

Status: What is happening now?

Inform listeners about the current business landscape. What is going well and what is not going so well? What challenges and successes are there? Asking and answering these questions will help you inform your audience exactly what is going on.

Complexity: What has changed that requires action?

Next, inform listeners directly of the problem or issue that needs attention and action. Do this by adding information, creating context, and explaining what has changed and how. But always keep it solution-based so the listener doesn’t get bogged down in details.

Solution: Pyramid-style answer

Now you can enter the pyramid-style presentation phase.

Start with your solution or recommendation and provide supporting arguments. Presenting this way keeps listeners interested and hears all they need to before they get bored.

Think of any movie, TV show, or book; They all follow a dramatic storytelling structure where you gradually learn information and relate to the problems the protagonists face to keep you interested in the book.

To be persuasive, you need an argument that follows this flow. It doesn’t just work for you in your presentation, you can follow the SCR framework in your strategy documents, emails, presentations, and more!

Pro tip: If you’re presenting to a small internal team that doesn’t require a lot of background, move the solution up (i.e. Resolution–Situation–Complication). That way, you’ll grab their attention from the start and not bore them with too many details they don’t need to know.


Presentation is an essential skill for project managers who want to advance in their careers. It becomes much easier to communicate effectively with your audience when you take the time to properly prepare that follows a clear framework.

The key is to organize and structure your ideas into a framework before presenting them. That way, you won’t have to worry about forgetting key details when you’re in the middle of your presentation. With practice, your presentation skills will improve, and before you know it, you’ll be planning a presentation that follows the Pyramid Principle, the SCR Framework, or the classic elevator pitch format.

Learn how to structure your presentation persuasively and excitingly to capture the attention of any manager looking for their next team leader.

Check Also:

What is the precedence diagram method (PDM) and how is it used in project management?

Investigating bottom-up estimation and its application in project management

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