If the goal of a presentation is to influence stakeholder decisions, the pyramid principle provides a simple framework to create decks that have flexible depth, are fast to digest, and have a clear structure. It also gives a simple approach to creating a narrative that is focused on the outcome and not the process of work done.

Not an actual product render, synthwave, detailed and intricate, generated with DiffusionBee
Not an actual product render, synthwave, detailed and intricate, generated with DiffusionBee

☕ Better presentations with the pyramid principle

I wish more designers would create their presentations more strategically. There are many types of presentation, most can be used to experiment with storytelling. But where the medium of presentation needs more than casual storytelling is usually where the goal is to influence stakeholders and decisions.

There are a few situations where influencing matters, like showing research results, pitching a problem to solve, trying to get momentum for a vision and direction, or looking for approval and support for a solution. All of these typically involve stakeholders from outside the immediate team, who have a holistic perspective, but lack specific context details, and have the power to move things forward.

The thing is, most of the time stakeholders don’t have that much time and focus to understand all the context details. They require just the gist of it. But the gist might mean different depths of detail to different people, depending on what they already know, what’s their perspective and interest. So the content needs to have flexible depth.

Designers often like to present their process and think about presenting like telling a joke, with the punchline (the solution or outcome) at the end. This doesn’t fit well with what the audience actually needs. The needs of the audience should be considered, just as the needs of users should be considered when creating an interface.

For example, in most cases, the process is less important than the outcome. If there is interest, the process can be shown, but leading with the result is what’s needed to get to a decision. Presentation sessions might get shortened, with long discussions over details, so optimize for fast-to-digest.

Most presentations are based on slides. Title, images, bullet points, next slide. Obviously, slides are an imperfect way to package ideas, as ideas come in all sizes and shapes. However, the constraints of slides can be used as a simple and familiar structure. This clarity of the structure helps in making the main point understandable, as we want energy spent in a presentation on getting the idea, rather than getting the delivery.

To create flexible and fast-to-digest flexible presentations with a clear structure, I found the pyramid principle quite useful. It’s a framework primarily used by big consultancies (who often create slide decks as the de facto product of their projects) in their presentations.

The pyramid principle gives a simple formula:

  • The overall structure looks like a pyramid. The base is made of data slides, the middle has key point slides, and the top has one conclusion slide.
  • The data slides contain the information collected that was the basis of the analysis or rationale. These can be any data, input, evidence, or details that support the conclusion in some way.
  • The key point slides summarize groups of data slides into themes, while the set of key point slides defines the overall narrative structure of the presentation.
  • The conclusion slide takes the key points and summarizes them into one proposal, the main point of the presentation.
  • The individual slides are also made with the pyramid principle, the slide content contains data, evidence, or key points, while the title summarizes the insight based on the content.
  • The key point slides are built from the titles of the data slides, while the conclusion slide is built from the titles of the key point slides.

This framework also provides a clear approach to storytelling. The challenge with storytelling is usually how exactly to come up with a clear and coherent narrative. The key point slides grouping the details, and order is a simple way to come up with a storyline.

To create a presentation with the pyramid principle, a mind map is a good way to start. The leaves are the data points, groups of data points are key points, and the conclusion comes from the key points. When all the content is collected, the center of the mindmap can be pulled up to form a tree. The branches of the tree can be ordered from the main story. Each node will be a slide, and the order of the slides will be: conclusion, key point, data, data, … key point, data, … etc.

Such a slide deck also gives flexibility on what to present. You have 5 minutes — just show the conclusion slide. 15 minutes? Conclusion and key points. 30 minutes? Also include most of the data slides. (And never do presentations longer than 30 minutes to stakeholders.) However much time there is, the deck still allows to drill down if there is an interest in understanding the background of reasoning.

One way we used this approach was to organize research findings. I worked with a team where we didn’t have a research repository, and each designer and researcher used their own way to present research results. It was really hard to get an understanding of what the research results were and to reuse insights across projects. As a solution, we created research report templates based on the pyramid principle. This allowed for the broader organization to quickly understand conclusions (enough to look at the first slide in each report), while the key point and data slides could be reused in project-related presentations to support individual design decisions. Over time, with each research study, we had a growing number of results presentations, each containing several insight nuggets related to the general topic of the research.

This idea can be further generalized beyond research insights. If the organization is prone to use slide decks, having slides created according to a single principle makes them easier to reuse. Ideas, project insights, data points, design rationale and similar often get referenced at various times in projects or during the lifecycle of a product. Collecting and reusing well-made slides helps in influencing and building consensus over time.

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🍪 Things to snack on

Daniel Good offers a good summary of the original book in 📖 The Pyramid Principle. This summary also points out that the method doesn’t always work, as it was created to support how consultants work. It doesn’t help formulate answers (the analysis and solution finding need to be done earlier) and is less good at more collaborative approaches.


The Pyramid Principle: How To Craft Coherent Explanations is a straightforward explanation of the concept by Jeff Kavanaugh, mostly focused on how it serves to convince people.


A significant context where the pyramid principle is very helpful is research summaries, where results from the studies should be influenced. Christopher K Wong writes about this in Improve UX research presentations with 3 minor writing tweaks. The tips here show how to apply the principle in practice - include key takeaways in titles, use bullet points as summaries of findings, and highlight takeaways from user quotes.


Describing ideas more permanently comes from the concept of evergreens. A summary of this idea by Maggie Appleton is in Growing the Evergreens.


The method is not only for presentations, it works for other forms of communication too. For example, Raquel Piqueras writes about how to write effective emails in Use the Pyramid Principle to improve your influence and get design buy-in, with a few examples, including concrete tips for pitching an idea, requesting feedback, and solving a problem.