There are many reasons Jeff Bezos is the richest man in the world right now. Perhaps one reason is that he doesn’t entertain slideshow-based presentations from his colleagues.
Jeff Bezos loves to write. A lot. In his annual letter to shareholders, Jeff Bezos does more than provide an overview of Amazon’s performance; he helps shareholders understand what makes Amazon different. Jeff Bezos always does one other thing: He attaches a copy of the first annual shareholder letter he wrote in 1997 to reinforce his commitment that Amazon will always operate with a mindset that it is still day one.
In a more recent shareholder letter, Jeff Bezos demonstrated his understanding of how to use language to advance his personal beliefs, educate others and command an audience.
Jeff Bezos is not a fan of PowerPoint presentations. One of his golden rule is that PowerPoint is banned in executive meetings. What he replaced it with provides even more valuable insight for entrepreneurs and leaders.
Anytime an Amazon worker has an idea to discuss, they’re asked to structure their pitch in the form of a four-to-six-page memo, which the company calls a “narrative.”
It’s an unconventional process, to be sure, but one that Amazon believes forces careful consideration of ideas.
Everyday Is Day One
The email was sent to the STeam on June 9, 2004, at 6:02 p.m. and had the subject line “No powerpoint presentations from now on at steam.”
It seemed that PowerPoint encouraged bullet points and therefore short and often disjointed ideas. Perhaps it was fitting that a brand so associated with the selling of books was encouraging a more humanities based approach to business idea formation just at the time when digital processes were in the ascent.
According to Jeff Bezos, new executives are in for a culture shock in their first Amazon meetings. Instead of reading bullet points on a PowerPoint slide, everyone sits silently for about 30 minutes to read a “six-page memo that’s narratively structured with real sentences, topic sentences, verbs, and nouns.”
This is to be sure that everyone actually has an understanding of the topic before discussion begins and in his words to ensure that executives don’t “bluff through it like high school students.”
After everyone’s done reading, they finally discuss the topic.
Jeff Bezos doesn’t use PowerPoint or bullet point lists because writing a narrative forces you to explicitly state all of your assumptions and complete your thoughts. That’s exactly why writing a good six-page memo is harder than creating a 20-slide PowerPoint deck as the narrative structure of a good memo forces better thought and better understanding of scope.
The Secret Sauce
Unlike most companies where people come to meetings to review PowerPoint slides, Amazon doesn’t use PowerPoint. Ever. Instead, Amazon requires everyone, regardless of their title, to begin meetings by reading every word in six-page memos.
What makes the memos interesting is that they have writing on both sides of the paper so, in essence, 12 pages are being read. Most of the six-page memos also contain an internal press release at the beginning of the memo to provide a high-level understanding of the product or service being proposed and discussed.
Case Study : Amazon Prime
Prime was created because it was understood within Amazon that customers wanted to buy quality products for less money, and customers wanted to receive products as fast as possible.
Prime appeared to be a solution that would meet both customer needs.
An internal press release was written centered around the existing problem (high costs, slow deliveries), why current solutions had failed to correct the problem, and how the new product (Prime) would blow away all existing solutions.
rule of thumbIf it’s hard to write a press release or understand why a product or service would add value to customers, the product or service isn’t worth the effort. Move on.
Six-pagers present and answer in excruciating detail the who, what, when, where and why of a product or service.
For example, a six-pager written about Prime would focus more on the requirements of the supply chain and logistics to meet demand, identify which products are Prime eligible, internal systems requirements, budget, value to the customer, etc.
The real value of the six-pager is this: It forces otherwise busy and distracted executives to give their utmost attention and opinion to decide on something.
The press release and the six-page memo work because they identify the products and services most relevant for generating value to customers, and they accelerate execution of the strategy by increasing the speed at which decisions are made.
How To Write Memos Like a Pro?
PowerPoint and bullet points in general allow you to conveniently leave out tough questions that you haven’t worked out yet. By writing out a full narrative, you force yourself to think through how everything actually fits together and where the real challenges will be.
It’s a way to keep yourself honest and to make sure that all of your ideas actually fit together into some kind of coherent story. You will be surprised how much you haven’t actually thought of yet until you try to write a few pages on it.
Here are just a few ways you can get started:
You know that list of ideas you keep in Evernote or scribbled on a paper somewhere… how do you know which ideas are worth actually pursuing?
Take the time to write 2–3 pages to really flesh it out. What’s the value you are creating, for who, how will you reach them, how are you different from the competition.
If you are a blogger or writer and are regularly creating content, take the time to write a paragraph or two that tells the story of your post.
Rather than just keeping a list of potential titles and trying to write a full post from there, take the time to flesh out how it will flow and how the ideas actually fit together.
Rather than a to-do list, try writing out a narrative of all of the things you want to get done in a day and how you will go about doing them.
Try writing a page about each of your goals rather than just having a list.
Ditching the bullet points here will force you to think more about the motivations behind your goals and what it will actually take to achieve them.
Made To Stick
Humans are driven to emotive engagement with people – and with businesses and ideas. Not only is this view passionately supported by Jeff Bezos himself, neuroscientists believe it’s true too.
rule of thumbNeuroscientists have found emotion is the fastest path to the brain. In other words, if you want your ideas to spread, story is the single best vehicle we have to transfer that idea to another person.
We know the effectiveness of content marketing when it comes to audience engagement, so it makes sense that narrative based information is the most engaging no matter in what context it’s presented.
Our brains are hardwired for narrative. By encouraging employees to discuss ideas emotionally and creatively through a narrative format, Jeff Bezos has prioritised passion as a key element in the formation of business ideas at Amazon.
Bullet Points Are Not Silver Bullets
Bullet points are the least effective way of sharing ideas. Bullets don’t inspire. Stories do.
The brain is not built to retain information that’s structured as bullet points on a slide. Visuals are much, much more powerful than text alone.
That’s why, if you choose to use slides, use more pictures than words, and don’t use bullet points. Ever.
If viewers do not understand the gist of your slide in three seconds, it’s too complicated. Your audience should focus intently on what you’re saying, looking only briefly at your slides when you display them. A bullet point might become one sentence on a slide or be replaced entirely with a photo.
Stories inform, illuminate, and inspire, all the things entrepreneurs strive to do.
How To Write A Press Release For Dummies
The memo strategy is a two-pronged solution to eliminating wastefulness.
First, no one is spending oodles of hours designing 100+ page PowerPoint decks. They could be using that time for more important things, like improving the product line, or writing an incredible 6-page memo.
The second immediate benefit of the No-PowerPoint-Policy is that there is no time wasted in sitting through yawner presentations.
in-jokeApparently someone once wrote an obscure rule that all PowerPoints and slide deck presentations must be delivered in such a style that it puts the audience in a coma!
In the same way, the No PowerPoint Policy improves meeting attendance because the team wants to be in on the lively discussion. They have an opportunity to be engaged in decision-making rather than be talked at.
If other companies were to adopt the approach, it’s clear that Jeff Bezos’s narrative vision wouldn’t hold much hope for employees with dyslexia or other reading and comprehension related disabilities.
However, business owners should think more about the exercise Jeff Bezos follows, where employees can get more actively involved, and clarify aspects of the memo’s content verbally.
By removing PowerPoint, Jeff Bezos is letting employees act creatively and engage naturally with material. For too long, company meetings have followed a bullet point blueprint that doesn’t foster employee engagement.
Nevertheless, should companies introduce the internal press release and the six-page memo into its culture and way of doing business? Absolutely.
The No PowerPoint Rule certainly makes a strong cultural statement. That strong culture is what the best companies are about . . . relational capital.
It’s now time for other companies to make the same realisation.