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McKinsey top-down communication

communication McKinsey
New answer on Nov 07, 2021
10 Answers
15.9 k Views
Anonymous C asked on Nov 04, 2021

What exactly is top-down communication when it comes to structuring? Is it saying 'There are 4 areas I want to look at : A, B, C and D. Within A, there are 3 things. Firstly X, Secondly Y, Thirdly Z.."? Is mentioning the number of areas (4, 3 etc..) and then saying firstly, secondly as you go through each item in the area, what makes it top-down?

Are there other ways to communicate a structure top-down for the purposes of the interview? 

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Content Creator
replied on Nov 04, 2021
1300 5-star reviews across platforms | 500+ offers | Highest-rated case book on Amazon | Uni lecturer in US, Asia, EU

Hey there,

It depends a bit on the context. Generally, I very much like your approach!

Let's provide some context:

For a structure question

Top-down means that you go from the more general and abstract ideas to the more concrete and tailored ideas that are relevant to answer the initial question. By using numbers and signposting the way you do, you make it easy for the interviewer to follow, intervene or ask follow-up questions.


For a recommendation, implication, hypothesis, etc

Top-down means that you would start with your key point first, then provide supporting arguments. 

Generally, consulting communication is mostly top-down, especially on the level with senior executives. When collaborating with clients on less executive levels, consultants sometimes switch to a bottom-up approach, first explaining their logic and rationale, then providing their insights, request, etc. The latter, however, is not relevant for case interviews. 



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replied on Nov 04, 2021
Bain | Roland Berger | EY-Parthenon | Mentoring Approach | 30% off first 10 sessions in May| Market Sizing | DARDEN MBA

Almost. It's not about saying the number. It's about:

  1. Explaining your overall structure first at a high level
  2. Then diving at the first branch (2nd layer of the structure) and mentioning its components, and onyl afterwards explaining them
  3. Then move on to the next branch and repeat the process. 

So it is not about saying the number of components / factors, but about mentioning those factors altogether before explaining them one by one.

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Content Creator
replied on Nov 04, 2021
#1 BCG coach | MBB | Tier 2 | Digital, Tech, Platinion | 100% personal success rate (8/8) | 95% candidate success rate

Yes! That's exactly right!

Just be careful to not be too generic/repetitive with the  “firstly, secondly, thirdly” :)

Also, make sure you're really clear about which bucket you're in and when you transition. I find that gesticulating with your hands in parallel to verbally indicating transitions is the most clear!

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Content Creator
replied on Nov 04, 2021
#1 Bain coach | >95% success rate | interviewer for 8+ years | mentor and coach for 7+ years

Hi there,

This is indeed an interesting question which is probably relevant for quite a lot of users, so I am happy to provide my perspective on it:

  • First of all, you understood perfectly the overall concept of top-down communication.
  • However, please be aware that at some level, communicating top-down is not meaningful anymore, e.g. when you would want to present the profit tree.
  • Moreover, please do not overdo with numbering your aspects. While it definitely makes sense and helps the interviewer follow your structure on the first and maybe second level, you will lose him/ her when you continue numbering. Here, gestures might as well help you communicate your initial structure and ensure the interviewer can still follow.

In case you want a more detailed discussion on how to best communicated any type of initial structure, please feel free to contact me directly.

I hope this helps,


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Content Creator
replied on Nov 07, 2021
McKinsey | NASA | top 10 FT MBA professor for consulting interviews | 6+ years of coaching


Top-down communication is about explaining your logic at a high level and then iteratively deep dive into the subconcepts.

This is also known as the Pyramid Principle, which is a nice book if you want to further explore this topic.

Hope this helps.



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Florian gave the best answer


Content Creator
1300 5-star reviews across platforms | 500+ offers | Highest-rated case book on Amazon | Uni lecturer in US, Asia, EU
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