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  • Writer's pictureJim M. Morgan

Executive Communications: The Great Pyramids

You are writing a speech, and you have a point to make. How best to make it? Where to begin? If you are struggling to structure your speech, you might take inspiration from journalists, who often think of their work in terms of inverted pyramids of information – the broadest, most important facts at the top, followed by progressively narrower or less critical info in case the reader stops reading. For some stories, this approach may be intentionally flipped – the inverted pyramid might itself be inverted. Here’s how a pyramid approach can help your speech.


Inverted Pyramid


“A recent study found that homelessness is not only increasing, but at a rate far faster than has been previously reported. The study was released last month by the State Department of Housing. It finds that an ongoing lack of affordable options is a key contributor to what has become a crisis. Grace Williams can attest to the study’s validity. Last fall, a fire devastated the apartment complex she had called home for two decades. She has now been without a permanent place to stay for nearly six months…”


In this example, the audience is told immediately what the issue at hand is – homelessness – and given factual information about its significance and a potential cause. All this is done before a specific example is referenced. Those who prefer their facts up front will likely appreciate this approach. The downside, however, is that a speech structured in this way – while full of helpful information – may suffer from lack of visceral connection for the audience.


Pro tip: Applying the inverted pyramid approach to speechwriting won’t work in all instances. If your speech needs to convey lots of factual information, it’s a great approach. But if you are looking to connect emotionally with your audience, inverting the inverted pyramid (see below) may be necessary.


Inverted Inverted (Standard) Pyramid


“The lady in the blue sweater and striped leggings – her friends call her Grace – loves nothing better than to tell you about her grandchildren. She’ll tell you their names, and their ages. She’ll show you their latest school pictures. She’ll proudly tell you how her youngest granddaughter won a medal at the state track meet. Huddled on a broken crate at the corner of Fifth and Highland, Grace will tell you so much about her family, in fact, that you might temporarily forget that she is homeless…”


Just as the peak of a pyramid is a single point that broadens to a wide base, the “inverted inverted pyramid” approach to storytelling begins with a single example – a specific instance that will lead to a broader or more generalized point. The trick here is to select a compelling example, and to convey it in a powerful way. In the example above, the audience is drawn in by the specifics of the scene, and by the relatability of a proud grandmother before the actual subject of homelessness is introduced. As impactful as this approach can be, remember that some in the audience – those who prefer “just the facts” – may be put off by this approach.


Pro tip: There is no right or wrong answer here. Depending on the point you are trying to make – and to whom you are making it – either pyramid approach can be successful. It ultimately depends on your comfort with one approach over another, and on knowing which approach will generate the greatest impact for your particular audience.



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