Jeff Bezos replaced Powerpoints in meetings and replaced them with narrative memos. And magic happened. Here are three reasons.
In his 2018 annual letter, Amazon founder and CEO Jeff Bezos repeated his rule that PowerPoint is banned in executive meetings. In his letter, and in a discussion at the Forum on Leadership at the Bush Center the same year, Bezos explained that "narrative structures" are more effective than PowerPoint. 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 everyone's done reading, they discuss the topic. "It's so much better than the typical PowerPoint presentation for so many reasons," Bezos added.
Reason 1. Our brains are hardwired for narrative. We process our world in narrative, we talk in narrative and -most important for leadership - people recall and retain information more effectively when it's presented in the form of a story, not bullet points.
Reason 2. Stories are persuasive. Aristotle is the father of persuasion. More than 2,000 years ago he revealed the three elements that all persuasive arguments must have to be effective. He called these elements "appeals." They are: ethos, logos, and pathos. Ethos is character and credibility. Logos is logic--an argument must appeal to reason. But ethos and logos are irrelevant in the absence of pathos--emotion. Neuroscientists 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.
"I'm actually a big fan of anecdotes in business," Bezos said at the leadership forum as he explained why he reads customer emails and forwards them to the appropriate executive. Often, he says, the customer anecdotes are more insightful than data.
Amazon uses "a ton of metrics" to measure success, explained Bezos. "I've noticed when the anecdotes and the metrics disagree, the anecdotes are usually right," he noted. "That's why it's so important to check that data with your intuition and instincts, and you need to teach that to executives and junior executives."
Bezos clearly understands that logic (data) must be married with pathos (narrative) to be successful.
3. 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 - we recall things much better when we see pictures of the object or topic than when we read text 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.
During his discussion at the forum, Bezos said he could have spent the entire event talking about narrative. That means he really studies this topic and is passionate about it.
You should be too. Stories inform, illuminate, and inspire--all the things product people strive to do.
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My name's phil mora and I blog about the things I love: fitness, hacking work, tech and anything holistic.
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