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The Pros and Cons of Amazon’s No PowerPoint Policy

by Adam Noar

amazon no powerpoint policy

You’re probably thinking you’ve got better things to do than debate Amazon communication policy.

You might.

But if you’ve EVER had to sit through a boring PowerPoint, you know the pain. You may as well lash yourself to the mast of a sinking ship while trying to pass a kidney stone. It would be far less painful than viewing a poorly planned slide deck.

And more entertaining.

That’s the thing about PowerPoints – or any presentation software, for that matter. They come with tons of bells and whistles: Great backgrounds. Exciting transitions. Unlimited slides with (almost) unlimited text.

But Jeff Bezos has a different approach to PowerPoint. In fact, he doesn’t allow PowerPoint in any meeting at Amazon.

Keep reading to learn why …

Listen up, team!

He’s no charmer, that Jeff. Not when it comes to communication among the executive team at Amazon HQ.

Bezos means business. His approach is more unique than what you or I or any other presenter would do. Here’s his take on PowerPoint:

No PowerPoint at Amazon.

He ditched them.

The “Earth’s Biggest Selection” of Things-You-Can-Buy CEO Jeff Bezos expects his executives to communicate with each other using . . . words.

Total agony, right?

I know. It’s unbelievable that in this day and age, someone (who, coincidentally, relies HEAVILY on technology for his business) said NO to technology in corporate meetings.

If you were one of the Amazon execs, here’s what you’d have to do:

Write the memo

First, to get a decision on anything, you have to write a memo.

No slides, no PowerPoint, no inserted images.

Nada.

Just words.

And those words have to tell a narrative. They have to be precise and compelling. Arranged in sentences and then in paragraphs.

For some people that’s akin to opening a vein and bleeding. Lots of writers described writing that way, like Ernest Hemingway: “There’s nothing to writing. All you do is sit down at a typewriter and open a vein.”

The thing about Hemingway, though, is that he could tell a pretty decent story, and that’s where this is going.

The good news is that your memo is limited in length.

You’ve got six pages, max.

That’s about 1,650 words – less than the length of the article you’re reading now. If you can’t articulate your thoughts in that amount of space, you’re not ready to lead a discussion about the topic.

No one wants to hear it, either.

That means you’ll have to put in some real effort on the memo, folding in your narrative, along with a dash of description, into a well-structured expository piece that would make the ancient Greeks proud of your rhetorical style.

Before you hop around the office yelling, “Eureka!” there are a few more steps in the process.

Hand it out

Next, in the meeting you’ll distribute the memo you slaved over.

Everyone present gets a copy, including Bezos. It’s the first time any of your colleagues – or the big boss– will see it because there’s no pre-reading allowed.

No one is supposed to get a sneak peek or even a hint about what you’re going to say.

They all come to the table with fresh eyes, curious to see what you’ve written.

The people in the room have 30 minutes to read your memo in silence while you listen to the second hand on the clock tick, tick, tick away the seconds, all 1800 of them.

In silence.

I’ll wait . . . .

powerpoint not allowed at amazon

. . . And, they’re OFF!

Once everyone has had a good read, the discussion begins, like the thundering hooves on a quarter-mile racetrack. The content of your memo comes alive as people begin to banter about the content.

From there, the subject goes straight to Q&A.

That’s where you, the memo writer extraordinaire, come in. Brace yourself, the questions are coming.

The execs in the room will query you, and then you’ll be expected to give straightforward answers. They ask, and you answer — with more words.

All the while, there’s NO PRESENTING.

No storyboards.

No grandstanding.

No drama.

Just the facts, Joe Friday, just the facts.

Ya gotta love it

As it turns out, Bezos knows what he’s doing when it comes to running a meeting.

There are obviously some good things about this communication approach, and he’s all over it like packing tape on a box.

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 ending world hunger, improving Amazon, or writing an incredible 6-page memo.

Even if you optimize the photos in your slide decks (and you should), you could be guilty of overkill, and Bezos knows it.

The second benefit of the No-PowerPoint-Policy is that there is no time wasted in sitting through yawner presentations. You know the kind, because you’ve had to sit through them, too. They’re the ones where presenters are reading slides from the screen. And they read . . .

Every.

Single.

Word.

. . . from the slide on the screen. As if you’re some Neanderthal that couldn’t do that yourself.

What’s usually even worse is the formal, monotonous voice that drones on until the last slide and a hasty “thank-you.”

Apparently 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.

And some people still follow that decree, which explains why there are still execs resting their eyes in conference rooms everywhere.

Meeting attendance and engagement improves

No wonder colleagues try to skip these meetings. They’d rather have their mother-in-law perform a root canal on them.

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.

In addition, there’s less risk that people will jump in the conversation without having done their homework.

That’s because there WAS no homework.

Bezos gets it.

Life happens after work, even with the best of intentions. You get home only to find that the dog threw up, the a/c collapsed, or the kids have THE MOST IMPORTANT PROJECT OF THE YEAR due tomorrow, and they need the supplies for it NOW.

The No PowerPoint Policy means no pre-reading late at night after that school project gets done, and the kids are (finally) asleep. The odds are too great that you’d fall asleep, too, and then have to pretend that you know what-what-what at your meeting the next day.

Happily, the one thing you won’t find at the Earth’s Biggest Selection retailer (Amazon) is death by PowerPoint.

 But not everyone’s happy to ditch PowerPoint

The memo-only approach has its drawbacks.

Writing a good memo can be more time-consuming than creating a quick presentation.

Compelling narratives require a fair degree of writing skills. Not everyone liked that part of school. They weren’t great writers. That’s why emoticons are so popular today.

Writing isn’t for the faint-hearted, but if you know your topic well enough, you can express your thoughts using words.

Selecting the best anecdotes or digging up the qualitative data to illustrate a problem and its solution can be difficult.

Some people don’t want to present their information in writing.

And most human brains don’t think that way.

Analytical people are like that. They are sequential. They process information in linear steps. They prefer to churn vast amounts of big data through funnels and interpret those results instead of paragraphs.

They know there’s safety in numbers!

We also have to take the reader into consideration. It’s one thing to tell everyone to read actively. That means thinking up questions while hungrily devouring each page, but let’s face it.

Not everyone is a great reader.

Not everyone WANTS to read.

Not THAT much.

Then there’s still a danger of nodding off in a meeting if you didn’t get enough Zs the night before. Silent reading in a quiet room puts some people to sleep faster than you can click on the next slide in a plebian PowerPoint.

Honestly, some of the information on which you want to base a decision is better presented visually than in paragraphs.

Sure, you can adroitly lay out an argument that carefully analyzes the pros and cons of an issue, but DANG.

It’s a lot quicker – and easier — to flash a t-chart on the screen.

And BOOM.

The audience loves you.

They’ve got it.

And everyone moves on.

What about the visuals?

The same thing is true of graphs with trends.

What’s so exciting about reading a bunch of numbers when you can see them instead? C’mon, do you really want to invest that much time reading?

The human brain is wired to solve puzzles, like interpreting graphs or analyzing tables with financial data. It’s a survival skill, and we ought to practice it.

We also interpret visual data faster than text – some 60,000 times faster.

One quick, well-designed chart on ONE slide can say everything.

Without pages and pages of text.

I don’t know about you, but I don’t want to read endless lines of numbers. Give me a visual any day.

Because then we can get to the best part faster: the discussion.

That’s what everybody came for, anyway, right?

no powerpoint at amazon

Time, MORE time

And finally, there are occasions when you actually need some time to ponder things over before making a big decision.

That’s especially true of the many super-smart people you find on leadership teams. They want time to think – AWAY from everyone else.

They don’t hate their colleagues (usually); they just process information differently.

You may also want to do a little research on your own.

Sure, you can google it during the meeting, but Bezos already told everyone the meeting is for focusing on the topic of discussion, not searching for ancillary information. Besides, what if everyone thinks you’re goofing around with golf apps instead of paying attention?

Exactly.

You have to be a quick reader to have the time you need to read and digest the information before discussing it intelligently with your coworkers.

So what’s the right answer?

The No PowerPoint Rule certainly makes a strong cultural statement.

That strong culture is what the best companies are about . . .  relational capital. The kind where collaboration trumps solo stars winging it on their own.

When Robert Glazer got rid of slide deck presentations at his company, everyone got on the same page.

Literally.

One memo page at a time.

But he also noticed that the meeting focus improved. Productivity increased. The participants were more actively involved in making critical decisions.

And as a bonus, the saved memos served as documentation of the meeting.

Not too bad for a day’s work in the leadership trenches.

The No PowerPoint Policy is a great way in any assembly to apply Occam’s Razor, which basically says, don’t make stuff harder than it has to be.

The narrative memo does that.

It makes presenting an idea easier.

But so does a well-designed PowerPoint.

Here is my question for you …

Do you think Amazon is on to something when it comes to having a no PowerPoint policy?

Sound off in your comments below… And please remember to be specific as possible.

Finally, if you enjoyed reading this post, please remember to like and share using the sharing icons to the left.

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