Opening a Presentation | Pyramid Principle

In her book ‘The Pyramid Principle‘, Barbara Minto lays out a powerful model for engaging people from the outset of your presentation or event:
Statement – Complication – Question – Answer
These elements are explained in more detail below. Despite their simplicity, they are an amazingly powerful device. I use them not only in presentations, but also in all reports and proposals.

Statement – At the very beginning of your talk, it is important to build rapport as quickly as possible. People like people who are like them, and so your initial sentence needs to be something that they are likely to go along with – a line of reasoning that they already believe.
In doing this, you build a connection with them – they value the fact that you appear to think like them (and therefore you must be quite clever).
An example of such an opening (for one particular audience) might be … “Management is crucial to business success…”
Of course you can only go so far telling them things they already know before they get bored and frustrated, so you very quickly (perhaps even in the same sentence) need to disrupt the flow of their thinking. You need to introduce a …
Complication – Having built some degree of identification that you are okay and ‘on their side’ the complication creates a common discomfort (a shared enemy) that needs to be addressed.
In doing this you are creating a need for them to seek some resolution of this complication, which they hope may be available through what you are presenting to them.
In respect of the example opening above, “Management is crucial to business success…”, a suitable complication may be “… but few companies know exactly how much …”
This naturally leads onto a …
Question – which may be entirely implicit and obvious in the complication, but it may need to be more explicitly defined.
Exactly what the question will be is up to you – but it needs to be a question for which your presentation and key messages provide the answer.
This is the strategic turning point in moving from the opening to delivering the meat of what you have come to talk about, and it is pivotal to ensuring their attention.
In respect of the examples so far, a natural question may be “… so, how do you set the optimum level of management?”
The question formally ‘empties the cup‘ and makes space in their minds for your …
Answer – The messages that you have wanted to deliver. In this case …
“The Inspirometer helps you to easily identify where management is needed and where it is not …” etcetera.
The Pyramid Principle, which is an excellent resource, then goes on to tell you how you can use pyramid thinking to structure and marshal your arguments into a rational and compelling framework. But you may well have your arguments clear and marshalled already. The model above is simply a means to give them the best chance of getting the hearing they deserve.

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