Adapt your communication to your audience.

Marc Tunguz

Marc Tunguz


As digital project managers at a digital product studio, we are used to a very specific type of communication. It’s the one that works best with our team and the one that most of us are used to because, well… we’ve been taught to do it that way. We usually start with a brief description of the subject, we present every piece of the puzzle in details and we reach a conclusion that is brilliantly supported by all the details before.

Get your facts first, work on your train of thought, finish with a killer conclusion that is going to make everyone agree (and fall in love) with you.

But what if this is not always the best way?

We’ve all been there: the meeting kicks off, we’re full of confidence, and after presenting the first few facts, the person in front of us dares to interrupt and starts asking completely unrelated questions. Conversation starts to drift, attendees start losing both patience and focus, and by the end of the meeting, we’re not the rock star we thought we would be.

We failed at getting everyone’s attention early on.

What have we done wrong? Our design and development team always listen to us and we always reach the conclusion without issue. WTF?

The reason is because this method works perfectly with scientific, engineer minds and with an audience that is here to listen to us and needs to understand every aspect of the problem in order to agree with our solution or to challenge it with a better one.

Your manager, your boss, or that very important client just flying over from some place you’ve never heard of, have a lot of other, more important things in their mind. They don’t have the time or the headspace to listen to what you have to say. Their job is to make quick decisions, delegate and move on to the next issue.

If you fail to capture their attention right at the beginning, every single piece of rationale you are presenting is an opportunity for them to ask questions that will not be relevant to where you want to lead them, or to start browsing their emails.

That’s where Minto’s Pyramid Principle comes into play. I stumbled upon this book at some point in my career and it changed the way I approach meetings and write emails. The main idea is simple: if you need to quickly update someone and want a quick approval on a strategy, start with the conclusion. Even better, start with the solution first. And then fill them in with why they need this in the first place.

This is how the discussion can differ based on the approach you take. First, let’s look at the typical “situation, problem, rationale, conclusion” approach:

"ME: There has been some debate around what features to include for a launch product. We’ve agreed on a fixed budget, but because of a few grey areas in the scope, we now have a disagreement on what should be included.

BOSS: Wait, how come we failed to capture precisely the blog features into the scope?

ME: I’m not sure it was ever discussed…

BOSS: Hmm, maybe we should change the way we scope out projects like this one?"

You’ve lost them, you’re off topic and there is little chance of having the conversation you had planned.

Putting the Minto Principle into practice will mean you focus on the solution you’ve worked on:

"ME: There has been some debate around what features to include for a launch product. I’ve found a solution that will allow us to limit our loss and keep the client happy at the same time, but I want to run it by you first.

BOSS: Tell me more.

ME: Doing everything that’s been requested could take three weeks and cost us around £15k. However, repurposing some existing components and tweaking them a bit would allow us to deliver the same kind of features the client is expecting on the front-end without any major refactor on the backend. We could get it done in a couple of days. There are some pro and cons, I can go into detail if you want to hear about it?

BOSS: OK, explain to me how you came to this solution."

The discussion is immediately more focused and more productive and you’ve got a much better chance of coming to a resolution.

Again, you need to give them just enough information so that they understand. You don’t want to drown them in details they don’t understand/don’t care about. Give them just enough for them to validate your plan and group your rationale into themes. They’ll dive deeper if they feel they need to know more.

The same approach applies to email. Start with your conclusion first. Get the attention of your reader and trust them to make the decision to read on. Group your rationale into no more than three main themes and keep it top line. You’d be surprised at how efficient it is in getting a relevant, and quick response.

Related articles

Stay in the loop

Sign up to get our thoughts, work and other tidbits straight to your inbox. No spam, promise.