No PowerPoint in Meetings – change the ‘social script’ to engage employee and enhance your message

Consider this. Jeff Bezos (Head of Amazon) says NO POWERPOINT in meetings. His replacement is brilliant narrative. Memos have replaced PowerPoint presentations at Amazon.

Here’s why. In his 2018 annual letter, Amazon founder and CEO Jeff Bezos repeated his rule that PowerPoint is banned in executive meetings. What Bezos replaced it with, he considers, provides even more valuable insight for entrepreneurs and leaders. In his letter, and in a recent discussion at the Forum on Leadership at the Bush Center, Bezos revealed that “narrative structure” is 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.

Here’s why narrative storytelling in business is so much better.

Our brains are hardwired for narrative

Narrative storytelling might not have been as critical for our survival as a species as food, but it comes close.

Anthropologists say when humans gained control of fire, it marked a major milestone in human development. Our ancestors were able to cook food, which was a big plus. But it also had a second benefit. People sat around campfires swapping stories. Stories served as instruction, warning, and inspiration.

Prominent neuroscientists confirm what we have known for centuries: The human brain is wired for stories. 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. It’s also the strength of that narrative (because any points can be linked with ’narrative’, but they are likely to inspire and enthuse if that narrative is simple, crystal clear, interesting and well thought through – rather than a fragmented series of bullets / list). More on bullet-points later.

Stories are persuasive

When we compose a story or message, we require a key fundamental element to ensure we get ‘buy-in’.  Emotion.

Emotion is a powerful ‘tool’ in any message, but it should be accompanied with a rational perspective too. The greatest movements in history were triggered by speakers who were gifted at making rational and emotional appeals (recall the elephant and rider from Bee Ready For Change workshop). F: Abraham Lincoln and Martin Luther King, Jr.; and John F. Kennedy, who blended science and emotion to inspire America’s moon program.

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 tonne 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 data must be married with narrative to be successful. I agree but wish to add one more element – do not forget the path (crystal clear direction – hence elephant (emotional), rider (rational) and PATH (direction)). NoteElephant Ride Path concept is discussed in Bee Ready For Change workshop

Bullet points are the least effective way of sharing ideas

There is an article on the internet published last year titled “Google’s CEO Doesn’t Use Bullet Points and Neither Should You.” He still doesn’t. Neither do Jeff Bezos, Elon Musk, Richard Branson, or most of the world’s most inspiring speakers.

Bullets don’t inspire. Stories do.

Simply put, the brain is not built to retain information that’s structured as bullet points on a slide. It’s well-known among neuroscientists that we recall things much better when we see pictures of the object or topic than when we read text on a slide. As I always emphasize – see and feel the change. If people can see it and feel it, they are more likely to buy into it and implement it.

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. (Here we go again, my favourite “P” word PASSION.  Passion powers change. It is better to have one person with passion than 40 people who just want to get the job done. This also applies to employee engagement. Do not forget. If you want people to change, explain the change so that they understand it and know the outcome. Then engage them. Engaged employees make change happen.

What do you think?

Here is my point of view. You should be passionate too. Stories inform, illuminate, and inspire–all the things entrepreneurs/leaders strive to do. NO POWERPOINT? Well, being totally honest, I do believe that PowerPoint has its’ place and like anything, if used correctly PowerPoint can help tell a story. This is especially true in my job where I am trying to convey a message to people whose first language may not be English. In many multi-national organisations, leaders have a similar situation. What I try to do is to use PowerPoint to tell a story. I use different methods of communication. If you know your content and communicate in an interesting and informative way with passion and enthusiasm using PowerPoint as a support tool, then I have no issue with this. Pictures in PowerPoint help convey and solidify the message. I do agree with the premise about using bullet points, but I believe it relates to the presenter just reading the slides and delivering a boring narrative because he/she did not prepare properly beforehand. My philosophy is to over prepare when using PowerPoint. I know my content inside out because in some countries I visit the electricity supply is a little disruptive, so I often have to revert to verbal communication in the dark. This is a challenge which I overcome with a positive change in my social script …if one is prepared, one can change the social script as I often demonstrate.

For those who have attended Bee Engaged workshop think about how we started the workshop. I changed the social script to provide a different learning experience. Leaders should try and do likewise in their meetings as Bezos has done.

Do I agree with Bezos about his point on PowerPoint? Not entirely. But his message is clear, and I do like his idea. Essentially, he is changing the social script to be more positive. He has changed the expectation of ‘passive receiver’ audience to an audience that is actively engaged and involved in his narrative. The audience will probably buy into his narrative more readily because of how he conveys his message. The benefit is that the employees are more engaged, and Amazon produces better results. The ROE (return on engagement) increases the ROI (return on investment). It is a fact that engaged employees produce better results. One does not need statistics to prove this, there are numerous available to prove it, it is plain common sense.  So, look to change your social script in a positive way to improve employee engagement and provide a crystal-clear message which will inevitably lead to better results. This is what Bezos is trying to do.

Paul Rigby – co-author The Bee Book