What's your point? Logic tree post #1

I get confused a lot.

I listen to a lot of presentations and I look at a lot of documents that lose me. Well, mostly I look at a lot of "Sliduments" that confuse me.('Sliduments' are a bastardisation of a document and a set of presentation slides, but that's another post...)
It might be because they bog me down in loads and loads of data, facts and clever discoveries that they haven't prepared me to be able to assimilate. It might be because the author isn't on hand to explain what I'm reading. It might be that there are no supportive exhibits or pictures. It might be that there are too many. Granted, it might just be that I don't have the biggest brain in the world, but even if you discount that, a document or presentation loses me the most when I'm distracted by trying to figure out what they are trying to SAY.
It's so easy to fall in to the trap of writing a document that will lose people. I've been (very) guilty of it myself. In consulting, it usually comes from building a slide deck that acts as kind of diary of activity you undertook for the client to do your analysis. About a month ago, a colleague of mine took me through a set of slides he was getting ready to present. To protect the innocent, I'll blur the details, but essentially the presentation story line was as follows:

"Over the last 6 weeks, we did this, and we did that, and we investigated this (where we found THIS out) and as a result we also investigated that. It led us to believe that you should do this. Of course then we found that that department won't support doing this, so we think either this or that would be the best options. This and this person support the idea, but not surprisingly this one doesn't, so we looked at this and that. In the end we thing this. Please extend
our contract."
Somewhere in there there might have actually been a real, well-founded recommendation with excellent backing arguments. (There was, actually). But it wasn't obvious. I was working so hard to try to piece every new fact into its place as we went, that the power of their argument was lost.

The mistake there was writing chronologically and trying to take me on the same journey they went through when they went through the analysis and discovered their answer. Put yourself in a client's shoes though: As a client, I don't want to have to go through the same convoluted journey the consultants went through. I don't want to have to apply the same thinking to sift through it all to come up with an answer just to follow their presentation. That's what I paid them for.

Most dangerous is the presentation that's not really trying to make a point, but just has to be given to a client to provide the appropriate 'thud factor'. (If you slap a document down on a client's desk, the weightier the 'thud' the more compelling the document... so the thinking goes.) Documents or presentations like that arre often the amalgamation of a brain dump of facts, some supplementary sprinkling of "good slides" from previous, vaguely-related packs and a bit of "corporate bumph" cut and pasted in for good measure to pad it out to a good, respectable length. (You KNOW you've seen these ones before. They're often written by a "team" (you do this chapter, I'll do that chapter), and pulled together by some poor, hapless junior who has to wrestle with formatting - or by a partner who corrects the punctuation.) Do documents like that usually win the day? Maybe we could run a poll.... Five'll get you ten I can guess the result...

Best way to avoid these pitfalls? The logic tree.

Don't leave home without it. Or more to the point, don't write a document or build a presentation without it. Logic trees are great. They force you to organise your thoughts, and to justify all the slides and data your'e thinking of including by making you show what argument, exactly, they're supporting.

"What were we talking about again?"
Ever get stuck going down a tangent, only to lost track of what the original branch-off was supposed to be proving?
Having your thoughts organised in a logic tree prevents all that. Plus, drawing up a logic tree, even freehend in your notebook forces you to strip out all the distracting content, and makes you lay the thrust of your argument bare, so you can see it all at once, and decide whether you believe yourself.

I first learned about logic trees by reading Barbara Minto's book: The Pyramid Principle. Barbara is one of my Clarity Heroes. Her book is basically the McKinsey bible for structured thinking. Her premise is essentially this:
  • Our logical brains look for order and patterns to things.
  • If you're making an argument, make it easy for the reader to understand how your logic fits together.
  • That way, your reader can spend time deciding whether or not they agree with your conclusion, rather than distracting themselves trying to figure out how to pull what you're trying too say out of a batch of disorganised facts.
Clarity Rule: Start with a Logic Tree

In subsequent posts, I'll look at how to use a logic tree from scratch, and how to apply logic tree thinking to a presentation that's already mostly written.

See Logic Tree post #2: Untangle your thinking


  1. Great argument and suggestions for helping people think through their presentations...except, what's a logic tree? I've been convinced I should use one, but I don't have any idea what it is! I'm hoping post #2 comes soon :)

  2. Hi Becky.
    I'm hoping post #2 comes soon too! I will get that written, and you've given me an idea too. I think I'll post the logic tree that sits behind the post as an illustration of using a logic tree.

    In the meantime though, if you look up "the pyramid principle" and/or "barbara minto" in Google, you'll find some good explanations.

    Thanks for the comment. I'll get writing!

  3. This makes perfect sense to me. You have to read it to understand it. arborist Austin