Jeff Bezos says banning PowerPoint is “the smartest thing we ever did” at Amazon

In his 2018 letter to shareholders, Jeff Bezos, Amazon founder and CEO, reminded his senior managers that PowerPoint is banned in all executive meetings.

Bezos's reasons for banning presentation software and his suggestions for a replacement provides invaluable insight for all leaders and professional influencers.

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If not PowerPoint, then what?

In his letter and in the interview below (about 22 minutes), Bezos revealed that his staff “don’t do PowerPoint” or any other slide-oriented presentations. Instead, managers create six-page narrative memos that are read at the beginning of each meeting—kind of like a “study hall” session, he says.

“Many, many years ago, we outlawed PowerPoint presentations at Amazon,” Bezos said at the Bush Centre’s Forum on Leadership below in 2018. “And it’s probably the smartest thing we ever did.”

Amazon has prioritised memos over PowerPoint for many years.

In a 2004 email to his team, Bezos broke down his thought process:

“The reason writing a ‘good’ four page memo is harder than ‘writing’ a 20-page PowerPoint is because the narrative structure of a good memo forces better thought and better understanding of what’s more important than what.”

According to 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."

After that, the topic is fully discussed and debated.

″[The memo is] supposed to create the context for what will then be a good discussion,” Bezos said.

​What are the lessons for all presenters?

Powerpoint is still the default software tool for most presentations and meetings although few of us actually enjoy sitting through them!

If you want to illuminate, inspire and persuade your audience, Amazon's stance makes a great deal of sense.

Here's why?

Pages of bullet points just don't work.

Quite simply, the brain is not built to retain information from bullet points.

Accepted wisdom amongst neuroscientists is that your audience will have much better recall when they see pictures and images related to the topic rather than lines of text on a slide.

You can read Harvard's research on why powerpoint doesn't work here.

Visuals are much more powerful than text.

Use images rather than bullet points in your slides.

Your audience is hard wired for narrative and stories.

Stories have been a vital driver of change throughout history.

Good stories surprise us. They make us think and feel. Stories stick in our minds and help us remember ideas and concepts in a way that numbers and text on a slide with a bar graph don’t.

Humans simply aren’t moved to action by “data dumps,” dense Power Point slides, or spreadsheets packed with figures.

Emotion moves your audience. The best way to emotionally connect other people to your agenda is with a story.

Stories make presentations better. They make ideas stick. Stories help persuade. Shrewd leaders tell stories to inspire and motivate us.

Bullet points invite your audience to switch off.

For most presenters bullet points act as prompts for the information they want to present.

Unfortunately, we can all read faster than presenters speak. That means your audience have often read your bullet points well ahead of time and they know what you're going to say next.

Sadly, when they know what's coming, unless it is really compelling, they just tune out. 

If you need notes, have them in a separate document where only you can see them. After that, you can transform your slides into engaging, appealing images that enhance your presentation.

Dare to be different.

We all crave new and innovative. Why not stand out from the crowd and ditch the bullet points?

Your audience will love you for it!

About the Author Paul Lucas

For over 20 years, I’ve been helping leaders, managers and sales teams get better results by improving their communication and influencing skills. My training is founded upon extensive research and analysis. Helping you to understand the specific behaviours, techniques and strategies of the world’s best speakers and influencers provides the platform to transform your presentations and sales skills.

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