How to Nail Top-Down Communication
One may think that a consultant's job revolves around data, insights, and analyses. Although it’s true, there’s one more key skill that will shape your management consulting career path—it’s your communication skills.
You should realize that communication skills in consulting mean something completely different than what it means in other industries. In hospitality, for instance, an example of good communication skills involves resolving a conflict with a customer. In consulting, however, what defines your communication skills is your ability to break down complex jargon into simple information and deliver it to the layperson as quickly and gracefully as possible.
One way to achieve this is the top-down communication method, which some professionals also call the Pyramid Principle. It’s pretty much the standard in McKinsey and some other firms, too. Well, if the top players are doing it, then maybe you should learn it as well.
What is Top-Down Communication?
The top-down communication method, also known as the Pyramid Principle, is a way of communication in which the main idea is stated first, followed by the elaboration of the key insights from that main idea, and then by getting down to the nitty-gritty of each insight.
This method could be confusing to understand without a diagram, so, let’s examine it once again with the infographic found below.
As you can see, the main idea is at the top of the pyramid. Then, on the level below are three key insights from the main idea. And then, all the insights are explained in detail further down below. If you were wondering why it’s called the Pyramid Principle, now you know.
There are many definitions of top-down communication, and some of them even includes elements that are irrelevant to communication. For instance, some websites display an organizational hierarchy chart and claim that this is what top-down communication is. However, in a consulting context, top-down communication simply means starting your discussion with the conclusion and explaining the details in the further steps.
- The top-down communication method involves stating the conclusion first and moving on to the details later.
- It starts with the “what”, then it’s followed by the “how”, and ultimately, it ends with “how exactly”.
- C-suite executives are very busy, so any communication that is targeted at them should be precise and organized.
- The top to bottom communication style, also known as the Pyramid Principle, helps consultants deliver the key idea and related insights in a well-structured manner.
- Information in any sub-group at the same level of the pyramid should be distinct but equal in importance.
- The information should include more and more details when the speaker moves from top to bottom of the pyramid-style communication structure.
How to Nail Top-Down Communication
Now that you know the gist of the Pyramid Principle, let’s get down to the details. You see, the top-down communication method is useful for both consultants and clients. Thus, it’s important to understand this concept from both perspectives. In the following explanation, you will learn how exactly both parties benefit from this style of communication.
The fact is, you cannot communicate with Fortune 500 CEOs or blue-chip company executives in the same way you talk to your friends or colleagues. Communication in consulting is an art. At big consulting firms, employees are repeatedly asked to begin their communication with the answer.
While you’re delivering a presentation in a top-down format, you should remember that the pyramid structure is only for your personal reference. The client doesn’t need to know that you’re following a top-secret communication methodology. All they need to know is what they should do and how exactly they can do it.
Finally, it’s important to mention one last point: Even though we discussed an example above that shows you how to go from top to bottom in a logical sequence. You should expect and be prepared for questions in the middle of the presentation. Remember that the people who need to be heard should be given the opportunity to speak and a two-way conversation should be encouraged.
Hope you’re ready to nail your next presentation! Use the top-down communication method and deliver it like a pro.