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If you’ve spent any time around consultants, you’ve probably heard of “answer first communication”. It’s a way of getting directly to the ‘so what’ of the message you’re getting across, and allowing the details or supporting information to follow. Even though it comes from the consulting world, this is a great communication tactic for any exec or startup founder — especially when speaking with someone who doesn’t have a lot of time.
This framework, called the Minto Pyramid and coined by former McKinsey consultant Barbara Minto, is often touted as a cornerstone of executive communication. Fun fact: Barbara was admitted to Harvard Business School without an undergraduate degree (where she was one of 8 women), and after graduating became McKinsey’s first female MBA hire. That’s quite an impressive path 💪
Let’s dive into the framework:
For: Executive communication
What is it: A top-down structure to communicate the most important ideas first
When it’s used: Slides, memos, and even conversations — particularly when your audience is time-stretched individuals
When it’s NOT used: Consumer marketing, or any other time when the story and journey is essential for buy-in. It’s also not great for delivering performance feedback or other delicate conversations
The Minto Pyramid relies on the main idea or conclusion being the most apparent part of your delivery, hence the phrase “answer first” which implies that you’re giving the ‘answer’ (i.e. the main point of the message) at the onset.
Let’s take a look at what this looks like in practice. Let’s say you wanted to talk about the importance of personal branding in your job search. Here’s a way to represent that on a slide using the Minto Pyramid:
- Title explains the conclusion — the ‘so what’ or main takeaway of the slide
- Subheaders in the teal boxes explain the key components of the conclusion
- Bulleted lists within each box are supporting details of the key components
Do you use the Minto Pyramid in your presentations or speaking? What other communication tips have you found helpful for getting your message across?
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