What do Jeff Bezos and I have in common?

In undergrad I took a class about how to make compelling powerpoint presentations. It was 2007 and people were losing their minds over making the best, most media packed, over the top presentations, to get an A.

I feel like that was the start of my arranged marriage to powerpoint for the rest of my academic and professional life. In Bschool, after you got through the Core and away from excel, you were thrown back into powerpoint presentations, searching the web for .png files to make the perfect mock up of your point. I took immense professional pride in working on the Upfronts deck at NBCU, and at Telemundo I spent 2 weeks storyboarding a post mortem for the marketing done around The World Cup coverage. A few years ago I was making 4 decks a week, and in my role at BET+, I made an 86 page brand deck, that I’m incredibly proud of, but man was it an inefficient way to explain anything.

So what does all of this have to do with what Jeff and I have in common? Well Jeff Bezos hates Powerpoint!

Here’s an email from 2004 where Bezos talks about how much he can’t stand Powerpoint:

Narrative structure

A few years ago, Brad Porter, Amazon’s VP of Robotics, quoted Bezos on this:

“The traditional kind of corporate meeting starts with a presentation. Somebody gets up in front of the room and presents with a PowerPoint presentation, some type of slide show. In our view you get very little information, you get bullet points. This is easy for the presenter, but difficult for the audience. And so instead, all of our meetings are structured around a six-page narrative memo … If you have a traditional PPT presentation, executives interrupt. If you read the whole six-page memo, on page 2 you have a question but on page 4 that question is answered.”

https://www.anecdote.com/2018/05/amazons-six-page-narrative-structure/

On Easter Vacation last year I came across “Working Backwards” by Colin Bryar and Bill Carr, both former Amazon execs.

As someone who worships at the alter of operational excellence I was super into the idea of eliminating Powerpoint for a more efficient method, and wanted an excuse to implement the idea.

Bryar and Carr explain in the book that powerpoint lacks nuance, but narrative documents are portable and scalable. They allow for nonlinear and interconnected arguments. They’re better for decision making, you’re able to write while anticipating objection, you can connect the dots for the reader, and a narrative is more interactive.

Amazon meetings allegedly start with 20 minutes of silence while everyone reads, and then they can get down to brass tacks. Every narrative doesn’t have to be 6 pages, but they cannot be more than 6 pages. And your ability to craft a narrative can be a make or break for your success at the company. You are ultimately writing 1 page for every 10 minutes of a meeting/presentation.

A few months ago when I was speaking with a mentor he was encouraging me to make a walking deck, to prepare all senior and executive leadership for my 2022 vision by presenting a powerpoint of what I was thinking for the year ahead. It hit me after we hung up, that there was no way that I could present to every single person I needed to, and that my little neurodivergent brain would get exhausted with my own road show. So this year I figured was the perfect time to try my hand at the Amazon memo technique.

I’m proud to say that after 6 pages, size 10.5 font I was able to express some ambitious goals and strategic priorities in that document. And as a writer, I found it to be a more fulfilling exercise, it took the mental load off from presenting, and it’s allowed me to have some really in depth convos with internal stakeholders once it was sent around.

Now I won’t be sharing my document, but I did find another blogger, who not only explains the 6-pager but also shares his own 6-pager from his time at Amazon. You can find it HERE. Seriously, hit that link if you want to try your hand at a new technique for presentations and meetings.

I don’t think I’ll be able to eliminate powerpoint forever, but when it comes to presenting more strategic initiatives I can’t wait to dive into more Amazon memos.

Now if you’ve made it this far and you neither want to read a book or a blog post, enjoy some YouTube videos…