The Minto Pyramid Principle (SCQA)

Shawn Callahan’s post about a storytelling technique called PREP has prompted me to write about a technique I learned some time ago.

My preferred story structure for presentation, e-mail or blogging was previously S-C-Q-A: Situation, Complication, Question and Answer – also known as The Minto Pyramid Principle. S-C-Q-A helps you write introductions which engage an audience’s attention before you provide the answers.

Situation – where are we now?
“For a long time we have been…”
Start by telling your audience something they already know. This helps establishes relevance. As soon as they are asking themselves “I know this – why are you telling me?” you have them hooked. You now have an opening for the Complication.

Typical situations are “we have a task to perform”, “we have a problem” and “we took an action”.

Complication
“Recently the situation has changed…”
What happened next? The Complication creates tension in the story you’re telling. This triggers the Question you will ask.

Typical complications: “something is stopping us performing the task”, “we know the solution to the problem”, “a solution to the problem has been suggested” and “the action we took didn’t work”.

Question
“So what should we do?”
The Question arises logically from the Complication and leads into the Answer.

Typical questions: “what should we do?”, “how do we implement the solution?”, “is it the right solution?” and “why didn’t the action work?”

Answer
“We need to…”
The Answer to the Question is the substance of your main point. Summarise it first – completing your introduction – then break it down into details and write the main body of your presentations.

Find it on Amazon.com

More on S-C-Q-A
The method is explained in greater detail in Barbara Minto’s excellent book “The Minto Pyramid Principle“.

At first glance the book may appear academic, but start reading and it draws you in. Barbara explains essential ideas about logic and communication and crimes I wasn’t even aware I was committing. I particularly enjoyed the section on how to avoid making “intellectually blank” statements when summarising grouped ideas.

Admittedly reading the book was more effort than reading Shawn’s blog, but it has had a big impact on the way I work.

[Update:]

I’ve added a mindmap of The Minto Pyramid Principle.

8 thoughts on “The Minto Pyramid Principle (SCQA)”

  1. Jason

    Hey Richard,

    When I first started working for Accenture, I managed to have lunch with one of the most successful partners in the energy practice.

    Over dinner I asked him all sorts of questions, one of which was “what book would you recommend I read to move me ahead of my peers?”

    The partner looked thoughtful for a moment, and then said “The Pyramid Principle” by Barabara Minto.

    I got it, read it, and did indeed move ahead ;o)

    Definitely recommended!

    JB>

  2. Mike Glodo

    When I was at Bellcore in 1995. There were only five of us and Barbara Minto.

    Amazingly effective framework. Highly recommended book, superb seminar.

    Good post!

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  4. Karen Zanetti

    Thanks so much for sharing your mind map. Can you email me your latest iteration?

    I am trying to find the book locally.

    Karen

  5. ConradG

    Hi Richard
    I have just realised how old this blog was. Nonethless, Minto and SCQA are the foundations that drive consulting at PA Consulting Group where I started my career; I have found this to be the single most useful thing I have learned in my 15 years in management advisory.
    With a little practice, even the most daunting and complex challenge is demolished in a neat, clear way.
    Thanks for the blog.

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