Your message needs a pyramid: a simple structure for efficient and persuasive communication

When presenting or writing to persuade we obviously want our content thoroughly consumed and recommendations enthusiastically acted upon.

Unfortunately that’s probably rarely the case and your audience isn't entirely engaged.  People are bombarded with messages, Twitter is training us to consume in sound bites and distractions are always a click away.

Yes, you can probably be doing more to make your communications more efficient and more persuasively structured.

There are many schools of thought on communication structure, but I’ve found this one to be very easy to apply when developing and delivering presentations and written communications that intend to convey a proposal and recommendation.  It’s based on a core framework developed by Barbara Minto in the 80’s and most find it easy enough to consistently apply.  I think the most powerful benefit from this approach is better introductions, which engage an audience’s attention before providing a recommendation. 

First – the “Situation”: Begin by making an agreeable statement about a conclusion your audience wants and will value.  This needs to be aligned with their needs and your intent.  This is the “so where are we now” statement to get things started and should make a statement about something the audience already knows.  The goal is to establish understanding and relevance and get the audience to nod their head.  If you do not align here you will not draw them in.

Second – the “Complication”: Next, introduce a complicating factor that makes achieving that goal a difficult – and one your proposal will ameliorate – and why your audience should continue listening.  This is where you create tension for the audience and trigger a question you want the audience to ask.  When delivering an actual presentation I will often use a slight pause at this point to ensure the “complication” sticks.

Third – the “Question”: Now propose the question that readers should be asking themselves. You can make this implied, but I like to make the actual statement.  It should follow logically from the Complication and set up what the proposal will address.

Forth – the “Answer”: The answer to your question is always “yes, here’s how” or “yes, here’s why.”  Summarize the approach then break down and reference the several steps to your proposal that will answer their question.  Each of the steps gets a paragraph, a slide or a section.  The key thing is that it ties back to answering the question.  If it doesn’t contribute to that goal, no mater how interesting to you, then save the point for another day.

Fifth – the “Close”: In the close simply summarize how your recommended steps answer their question, address the complicating factor and bring the audience to a better place.

When explaining this technique to my teams I always draw a little pyramid as a reminder of the structure and a guide so it’s clear where we are in a particular communication: 

It may sound simple, but increasingly it seems that presentations lack tight structure and it’s not until halfway through that the intent becomes clear. Persuasive communications require more than good copy, captivating creative and smooth delivery. With distractions milliseconds away, adding a persuasive structure is essential to help presenters quickly align, engage and retain their audience.

If you re-read my post you should find that I used the pyramid to structure this blog post. recommendation.  And hopefully I’ve convinced you to follow this approach to structure your presentations this way too ;)