We communicate unconsciously and automatically every day. It’s something that comes naturally like breathing. So much so that we rarely stop to reflect on the effectiveness of our communication. Well, while you might have gotten away with winging it so far, it’s time you reviewed your mode of communication and how many wins it’s affording you.
To sign a new client to your company or solve a problem, you need to convince the CEO that they need the solution you are offering. While it may be true that your solution will improve their business, the company may turn you down.
Why? Well, because they did not fully understand the offer/solution. You see, CEOs of successful companies have little time to waste – it comes with the territory. As such, they prefer short and concise communications. Anything short of that gets carried away with the wind.
Changing how you communicate, how you write your emails and make presentations will improve how much other people retain what you say, and what action is taken following your communication.
In this piece, we’ll show you how much structured communication, specifically the Pyramid Principle, can help you communicate efficiently – whether you’re presenting a new market entry strategy to the CEO of a multinational corporation or simply emailing your boss to explain why you need to make a change to a planned project.
When things go wrong within a company, it’s often due to communication breakdown. Usually, the breakdown isn’t instantly visible, but when you dissect the situation, you’ll discover this is true. Inefficient communication always hurts the company’s bottom line. And though it may be difficult to measure the progress made, improved communication definitely affects the business positively.
Some direct benefits of structured communication include:
- Tasks are completed faster
- Right decisions are made quicker
- Employee satisfaction increases
Let’s look at how you currently present your arguments. If you are like most people, you communicate linearly or in storytelling. You will start by giving context and then give the punch line. While this might work for comedians, authors and non-fiction writers, and scriptwriters, it doesn’t work for CEOs.
This is because this method forces your audience (other professionals) to listen to the entire presentation before they understand your point. That is not efficient since you will lose their attention mid-way.
Assume you are presenting a recommendation to a CEO: ‘we have considered three options A, B, and C. Our option A did not work because of our time constraints. Option B was perfect, but we discovered it couldn’t work because of the costs involved. So eventually we went with option C.’
Unfortunately, such presentations are common. Often we want to show off our prowess and explain the process we went through before getting to the solution. However, CEOs do not care about all that. After all, they are paying you for the trouble and time spent finding a solution. As such, their focus is on the big picture and not the details. If they want specifics, they will ask.
Below is a great way of communicating your recommendation or ideas to a CEO like a fellow CEO..
This is one of the best tools to help you capture the attention of CEOs or any other audience. It is the brainchild of Barbara Minto, who was the head of training at McKinsey in the 1970s. She was talented in taking in new graduate recruits and converting them into expert consultants in a short period.
She managed to achieve this by teaching them a system that allowed them to convert large pieces of information into short, concise, and structured messages without losing meaning. With the new method, they did not have to leave out important information of dumb down the message.
With the Pyramid Principle, you focus on the bottom line (actionable point) and support it with underlying data and arguments. This way, you tell a compelling story that’s easy to remember and understand.
Using the Pyramid Principle to the example we gave your response would read as follows;
‘We prefer option C. The reason for this is….’
This response is straightforward and clear.
If you’ve noticed the Pyramid Principle, inverts the structure you’ve known all along. It starts with the recommendation. This allows you to mirror how a CEO thinks. Normally they do not care for the details. So offering the big picture captures their attention immediately.
After presenting the main idea, proceed with the supporting arguments. Doing so makes it easier for your audience to follow your logical thinking. Supporting ideas form the base of the Pyramid principle. Essentially, each level offers a summary of 3-5 ideas grouped below it.
Grouping a maximum of five ideas ensures the audience isn’t overwhelmed by the information you offer. You might think that the information is basic, but that’s because you understand the context and have the complete idea in mind. Your audience needs to take in information in bits to follow along.
The fact that every level of the pyramid elaborates more on the idea above it not only means that your audience can follow along but also that any question they might have on the main argument is answered.
Moreover, you can apply the Pyramid Principle to any situation. Be it writing an email to a peer, presenting a solution to a CEO, or responding to a question in a meeting. It’s ideal for both written and verbal communication.
Lastly, this method of communication makes you look confident and assertive when giving a presentation. Your audience can tell that you’ve thought through your recommendation without exposing the trouble you went through arriving at the solution.
Now that you know how to communicate like a CEO, it’s time to transform your communication and that of your peers. Sure it may take you a while to internalize it, but once you do, your peers and leaders will notice it and commend you on it. You can also practice with professionals, like the licensed mental health professionals available at BetterHelp.
Imagine if all information was communicated using this structure. How fast and efficient would communication be? How much would you achieve?