August 22, 2013
Jeff Bezos Probably Hates Your Staff Meetings

You can likely recall a meeting within the last month that consisted of a presenter reading his own PowerPoint slides to you, bullet by bullet.

With Microsoft estimating at least 30 million PowerPoint presentations being created daily, we have all experienced the disappointment and boredom associated with unpolished information dumps. Even well prepared presentations may leave you with a shallow understanding of the topic, as more of your time was spent examining the charts than listening to the explanations.

This is why Amazon founder and CEO Jeff Bezos banned PowerPoint from his company’s meetings altogether. As a fan of the written word (evidenced by his recent purchase of The Washington Post), Bezos decreed that all Amazon meetings would begin with the presenter passing out a written narrative on the topic of discussion, with a limit at six pages.

“When you have to write your ideas out in complete sentences and complete paragraphs, it forces a deeper clarity of thinking,” Bezos said in a 2012 interview.

After a 30-minute study period, the meeting commences with both presenter and audience—including Bezos—fully engaged.

“[Otherwise] you get very little information, you get bullet points,” Bezos explained. “This is easy for the presenter, but difficult for the audience.”

Since implementing the new rule, Bezos has managed to avoid one of the most prevalent problems of the workplace. Putting together a slideshow makes it all too easy for employees to only skim the surface of their ideas while creating the illusion of an intelligent argument. On the other hand, knowing they must publicly present an in-depth essay to you and their peers offers incentive to dive in a little deeper.

As a CEO, you’ve seen this tendency more than once. All too often, people in business use technology as a crutch instead of an instrument. Whether you follow in Bezos’s footsteps, initiate something equally unique or educate employees on how to use PowerPoint more efficiently, the key is to ensure meetings offer valuable experiences for all those involved.

By engaging your audience and promoting meaningful discussion, your average staff meeting will spur the company forward—for perhaps the first time in years.

What do you do to make meetings more meaningful?

  • lamarlowe

    Well stated, Mr. Bezos. Many managers I’ve known have neither the time,
    nor, often, the capacity or patience to follow even the most logical
    narrative. If you can’t get your point across in the first two lines of
    an email, or in the first minute and a half of a pitch or presentation
    you’re quite likely to either be interrupted by an incoming
    communication or see their eyes glaze over as they begin thinking of all
    the other things they have to do. “Give me the 30,000 foot view.” or
    “Break that down into bullet points.” I’ve heard more often than not;
    basically saying “I can’t be bothered with the details. Dumb it down so
    my boss will understand it.”

    Powerpoint has its uses, but to my mind is overused and often misused;
    camouflage for a lack of familiarity with the subject, or
    smoke+mirrors+dog+pony laziness. As currently utilized, it is generally a
    great waste of time and resources.

    If you must, however, I recommend lots of bright splashy colors, and pretty pictures. Management types seem to like those better than detail and content.