SEXI or Pyramid Communication Feature

SEXI or Pyramid Communication?

I know which I prefer.

SEXI is apparently a mnemonic device used by university debating societies. I only know this because someone pointed out to me that this had featured in a recent Guardian article by Simon Usborne entitled:

Don’t steamroll, and go easy on the stats: how to win an argument – without making things worse

I have been unable to find many references to this but SEXI is helpfully explained at the end of The Guardian piece.

SEXI or Pyramid Communication

Nottingham University Debating Society

Make a Statement (S), offer an Explanation (E), then an eXample (X). And then detail the Importance (I) of what you’re arguing.

For example: “We should spend less time looking at our phones (statement), because it’s eroding our mental health and ability to connect with people in real life (explanation). Excessive smartphone use has been proven to increase anxiety (example) and this matters because poor mental health among adults can have an impact on everything from workplace productivity to interpersonal relationships (importance).” 

In my mind, the way one prepares for a debate, a panel or any free flowing exchange of information such as a media interview is all pretty much the same. You need an engaging, easily understood, compelling argument.

As many of my readers know, at The Media Coach we have our own way of teaching these things; and although I think SEXI is a clever mnemonic, this doesn’t satisfy me as much as our admittedly somewhat similar, but in my view superior, message-building formula:

Sizzle – Numbers – Example

To begin with, for us the sizzle is more than a statement: it is a statement made in a fun or engaging way, usually using a metaphor. We strongly argue that this opening gambit should be something more than just a statement. If you are dealing with the media you want it to be quotable, but even if you are debating, you want it to be memorable. To repurpose The Guardian mobile phone example, we might suggest:

Mobile phones are eroding our mental health…

Mobile phones are a curate’s egg: Many benefits but also some very serious costs…

The damage done by mobile-phone addiction, is just beginning to be understood…

Is your phone hacking your brain?

All the words here in italics are metaphors. Metaphors are a common way to get a quote. You may recognise some recent ones:

Rishi Sunak spoke in July about ‘rip-off degrees’

António Guterres, also in July said ‘the era of global boiling has arrived’

Last week Keir Starmer promised to repair the bridges the Tories have burnt’

Of course, these metaphoric phrases all needed explanation but people don’t need reminding to do that bit.  I do have clients that have a special section in the messaging template for the explanation, but I find it unnecessary.

What SEXI dubs eXample, I would replace with hard evidence. I am all in favour of story, anecdote and example but not at the expense of some facts and numbers. Arguments without evidence quickly begin to sound hollow.

The phrase ‘Excessive smartphone use has been proven to increase anxiety’ for me is very weak. I want to know which authoritative source says so and if possible, what the numbers are.

As for leaving the bit on why the argument is important, until the end of the message, my journalistic training would make me want that much higher.

Stories, anecdotes or examples, told with some colour (by which I mean some tangible detail) and some context, are hugely influential and should definitely be included. They fit neatly at the end of a narrative but also at the very beginning. Almost every self-help book starts each chapter with a story. Almost every TED Talk starts with a personal anecdote. It is a successful and influential formula worth borrowing. We often suggest people start presentations with a story. But whether they are used at the beginning, in the middle or at the end, these stories should be prepared, crafted, shortened and rehearsed.

Our message-building formula is adapted from Pyramid Communication which I have written about before here. For a media interview, I tend to recommend three messages which I frame with a Message House. It is easy to remember and seems to work like a charm.

So, I vote pyramid over SEXI.  However, the important thing is that those constructing an argument prepare more than bland statements and include explanation, evidence and substance. However you do it, it takes a bit of thinking about.

If you would like help from The Media Coach team with your Message Building, sexy or not, just get in touch either by ringing 020 7099 2212 or by emailing


Photo credit: Matt Buck, CC BY-SA 3.0

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