How to Present Your Ideas the Right Way: the Pyramid Principle

Most people present their ideas in the same order they arrived at their idea. That’s not ideal. Few people have the time to listen through the entire development process of your idea from square one.

When you present your idea, you are better served when you do it in the reversed order of how you came to that idea. Start with your conclusion.

Imagine being a busy CEO of a company and you hired a consultant to make a decision for you. As a CEO, you are notoriously short of time and prefer to cut right to the chase. You trust that your consultant is capable and has done his/her research. Which of the following two approaches do you find wastes less of your time?

Bottom Up

This is the way most people present their ideas. They argue like this:

Because such and such, we thought such and such. This lead us to such and such. We then came up with such and such. Also, because such and such we thought such and such. (This goes on for another 5 minutes) Therefore, you should do such and such.

If you present your conclusion like this, you let the CEO wait until the very end before you finally mention the important bit. This way, it doesn’t take long to lose your listeners. Many people will wonder, often already from the beginning on, “Why is this relevant? Is it even relevant? What does this have to do with me? Why is he/she telling us this?” By the time you finally reach your conclusion, nobody is really listening anymore.

The consultant already knows the conclusion, that’s why it’s easy for him to follow his own train of thoughts from the beginning. The CEO, however, doesn’t know the conclusion. He has no clue to where the train is headed, that’s why it’s much harder for him to follow along.

Remind yourself: a presentation isn’t a movie where you build up tension, sprinkle plot twists into the story, and have the grand reveal at the very end where all strings finally come together.

Although the bottom-up order may be necessary to come to that conclusion to begin with, you certainly don’t have to throw your arguments at the CEO in the exact same order they came to you. Unlike the CEO listening to your train of thoughts, you already know the conclusion. You have the advantage of hindsight. So take advantage of hindsight. If you don’t fast-forward to the bottom line, you let that advantage go to waste. It’s unnecessary to let the CEO sit through the entire train of thought when all he wants to hear is your conclusion so that he can make his decision and move on to the next problem. Sure, to the interested listener/reader the reasoning is important, too. He gets presented within minutes what might have taken you days or perhaps even months to research. But if the reasoning is not important to him, there’s no need for him to listen to it when you already know the conclusion and could skip right to it.

Between the time you reach your conclusion and the time you present it, there’s a space. And in that space, you have time to sort your thoughts, to reorder your presentation, to group and summarize your arguments, to choose the three most important ones and to sort them in a sensible way. But this is work and most people aren’t willing to put in extra work when they already have something they can deliver. Except, this work isn’t extra work. It is the work. Similarly, when you drive to the office you don’t stop and park your car anywhere it pleases you, e.g., right in front of the front door. No, you look for a parking space, even if that means that you have to drive a few meters away and walk back to the entrance door. This finding a parking lot isn’t extra work, just because you’ve already been right in front of the entrance door. It is part of the work (of getting to the office) just as much as everything that came before.

Top Down

This is the way you should from now on present all your ideas. Present your idea in reverse order:

You should do such and such.


Now, in case the CEO is interested, and only then, you can go on and explain why. But if the CEO is not interested, the meeting is over and you didn’t waste a lot of people’s time. Isn’t this much better? So these are the two possibilities the meeting can proceed:

You should do such and such. Do you want to know why?

“No, I trust your research, so if you say we should do X, then we’ll do X.”


You should do such and such. Do you want to know why?

“Yes, please tell me.”

Okay, here’s why you should do such and such:

  • because A
  • because B
  • because of B there’s also C

This approach of presenting ideas in a concise way isn’t just useful for dealing with CEOs. You can use it when writing blog posts or even in everyday communication, e.g., when asked a Yes-or-No question or when asked which iPad model you recommend, et cetera. You wouldn’t tell a friend, “Because you want to be future-proof, you’ll want the Apple Pencil 2 support rather than the old Apple Pencil 1 support. Also, 120 Hz refresh rate is really cool. Therefore, you need the iPad Pro." No. You would (or should) say, “Get the iPad Pro." “Why?” “Because I know you like to draw and the iPad Pro is the best model for drawing. It supports the newer, better Apple Pencil and it has a higher refresh rate."

Final Words

I first read about the Pyramid Principle in this blog post written by an actual consultant at McKinsey. And he read about it in the book The Pyramid Principle by Barbara Minto. This book is like the Bible in the consulting world, every consultant has to read it. I highly recommend reading it.

I hope you take this advice to heart because I can’t take yet another badly written article on 😃 On a more serious note, if you find this article helpful, please leave a comment in the comment box down below or follow me on Twitter. Thanks, and take care.

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