Amazon Staff Meetings: “No Powerpoint”

“We have study hall at the beginning of our meetings.” says Jeff Bezos.

Staff meetings at Amazon begin with 30 minutes of silent reading.

Powerpoint is easy for presenter, hard for audience

Jeff Bezos of Amazon

“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 6 page narrative memo.”

All meetings are structured around a 6 page memo

“When you have to write your ideas out in complete sentences, complete paragraphs it forces a deeper clarity.”

Why don’t you read the memos in advance?

“Time doesnt come from nowhere. This way you know everyone has the time. The author gets the nice warm feeling of seeing their hard work being read.”

“If you have a traditional ppt presentation, executives interrupt.  If you read the whole 6 page memo, on page 2 you have a question but on on page 4 that question is answered.”

And so that is what we do, we just sit and read.

“Think Complex, Speak Simple”

I love this idea.  In our communications courses we talk about “think complex, speak simple”.  It is hard work to prepare well enough to be able to speak simple.  Most presenters are figuring out what they really want to say as they are presenting.  This is a terrible waste of an audience.

This video is “The Single Most Important Ingredient in Becoming Influential”:

These quotes come from the Charlie Rose interview with Jeff Bezos.  It is available here:

NEW August 2015: View the Original email memo sent by Jeff Bezos (thanks to Pete Abilla)

P.S. If you liked this post you might also like 16 Lessons from the European HR Directors Summit and Zero Executive Presence: When I speak, People don’t listen. Why is that?

Discussion of this Post


Lots of Debate on Reddit:

Main Discussion Page

  • [friedice5005] Powerpoint isn’t the problem. It’s a very useful tool to augment information you are trying to get across. The problem is people people who are bad at it using it as a crutch. Powerpoint should basically be an outline of what you’re talking about with MAJOR discussion points and any images or graphs you need to show. It should not be blocks of text that you read verbatim.
  • [via Yajirobi ] if you dont integrate people into it, they just sleep. Forcing them with made up questions is a bad idea too. Getting random questions from the audience is the best way to do it. Its a GIFT. They make the presentation good for you, without any effort from your part.
  • [via EngineerVsMBA]I experienced this system, and I loved it. I will use it in every job from here on out. Let me explain why:1.) It requires meaningful preparation by the presenter. They cannot hide behind pretty slides, and you can’t use the usual confusion tactics. If you can’t fit it in six pages, you didn’t prepare enough.2.) You know everyone is going to read it.3.) These meetings are intense! The participants can’t just sit back and relax. They are digging into it. If you are the presenter, you can use that time to send some emails, or do some other work.4.) People with poor communication skills can’t suck the life out of a meeting. It allows good ideas to come out. There is always that guy that talks too much, and this meeting shuts him up.5.) This isn’t for the every-day meeting. This is for the multi-million-dollar business deal. Anything you would typically reserve for an hour-long power-point presentation.Power-point is for selling a concept or an idea. The written word is for discussion. Anyways, a good exec will print out the power points and make notes on those anyways. Might as well tell him exactly what you think instead of letting him interpret your spoken word.

Related Posts on Meetings:


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  2. Extraordinary practice. I’ve transformed a 8000 statement bit of dissection and understanding into 15 Powerpoint pages, which I’m going to get individuals to quiet perused at the begin of our gathering. I’ll send it out ahead of time yet without the desire that individuals will set aside a few minutes to peruse it. At that point I’m going to ask individuals to converse with their neighbor about the three things that most incited their reasoning. At that point open up for dialog. I think the matching x 3 things is a decent approach to filter through to the key issues that are in individuals’ personalities.

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  6. Great practice. I’ve turned an 8000 word piece of analysis and insight into 15 PowerPoint pages, which I’m going to get people to silent read at the start of our meeting. I’ll send it out in advance but without the expectation that people will make time to read it. Then I’m going to ask people to talk to their neighbour about the three things that most provoked their thinking. Then open up for discussion. I think the pairing x 3 items is a good way to sift through to the key issues that are in people’s minds.

    1. Thanks – I think “think complex, speak simple” is the most important lesson – and powerpoint allows for an idea to remain fuzzy… not 100% clear. A 6 page essay requires that the presenter does the work to get crystal clear with what they are transmitting and what they want. 😉

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  12. This is a technique that teachers of English Composition use all the time, even though our colleagues might think of it as wasting precious class time. It encourages people to read with care, especially if they know they are going to be called upon to respond. It has the potential to create more exchange between people (rather than one way transmission of information). It provides an immediate, shared context for the conversation that will then take place. And, in a classroom situation, it allows me to model behavior for students — if they look up from the document and see that I am still reading and they have finished, hopefully they conclude that they have probably not read it carefully enough — and it demonstrates to the student that I believe their writing — because it is usually an example of their writing we are reading — is worth close attention. As for how this translates to a business meeting, I can’t really say.

  13. This works well actually. It is not for employees to read information FROM Jeff Bezos, but rather a document explaining a process, a pitch for a new process, or the results of a pilot. Usually read by your Manager or colleagues. It usually takes about 10 minutes of reading and then the presenter goes page by page and answers questions. Therefore, everyone’s concerns or ideas get addressed and we do’t run out of time or have lengthy meetings.

    1. Thanks for sharing your experiences. It struck me as a good tool for changing a culture from one of “unprepared superficial presentations” to one of “prepared, structured and deep” presentations.

      1. Late getting to the No Powerpoint article–good to know. People have different listening habits, so those upfront essays should speak to all four habits to increase the likelihood that the listeners will tune in.

  14. This feels a bit like a band aid. Instead of teaching people how to run a meeting and present ideas, you force people to read and absorb a document that may in fact be as poorly written as it would have been presented. The purpose of meetings is to engage the audience one way or the other and not to force an individual exercise like reading that doesn’t require a gathering. Not all mediums are appropriate in all settings so teach people how to engage correctly in the appropriate medium for the setting (i.e. verbal/visual for a meeting and writing skills for other times).

    1. True, this is perhaps not an ideal “end goal” in itself -> but might be a useful technique to increase the depth of preparation and thoroughness of analysis for certain meetings.

  15. Sorry if you haven’t read the papers prior to the start of the meeting with out a good excuse I would consider giving you a verbal warning and if repeated a written one and putting you on poor performance procedure.

    1. I guess the fully enlightened company could move towards an expectation that all will come prepared to the meeting… but in the interim, perhaps 30 minutes of silent reading at the beginning of meetings allows a company culture to make the change…

  16. So, as an employee, why isn’t this implemented at our “all hands” meetings? They’re all power points and were rushed through any questions we might have. I would Glady read a 6 page synopsis on how my new building has been doing rather than harsh Criticism on the back breaking work we do everyday. Maybe a well thought out article on our progress in a decent format would work well for put moral

    1. Good question!

      I remember a book from years ago “Never confuse a memo with reality”. It spoke about the massive gap between what a CEO says is “the way it works around here” and the reality of “how it really works around here”

      Maybe even Amazon needs the book “Never confuse a memo with Reality”.

      1. Well that certainly does seem to be the case, in retrospect. “Harsh criticism on back breaking work.” meshes well with the recent NYTimes piece on life in the trenches, which seemed anecdotal but now is apparently more accurate than the feel-good, pat on the back, all questions answered on page 4 6-pager meeting ala the Bezos perspective? Well Conor, fun article, this was recently referenced via a link in a post (Brad Porter on LinkedIn) about meetings so thanks for putting this together. I definitely agree with the idea of the benefits of distilling your ideas into 6 pages (we actually do a one-pager, not sure if influenced by AMZN)

    2. Why not take the opportunity to provide the feedback directly? If you are an employee then you know there are several ways to provide your feedback and people actually listen. Just sayin…get some guts!

  17. Yes, Jeff Bozos is again terribly wasting the time of his audience. Most likely he loves it when everybody must read what he writes. In front of him. What about sending out the notes before the meeting, so they can actually discuss it there?
    It’s his money so we don’t have to care.

    1. All rules are wrong some of the time… but a 6 page memo would force many “wing-it” presenters to have to more deeply engage with their material, message and why it matters before stepping up and delivering to the audience.

      In my case, if I write a blog post – I then am better able to speak about an idea – because the blog post has forced me to clarify what I mean on cruel, hard, thankless paper 😉

  18. Focussing on the gathering and the communication of ideas, is a wonderful change of pace from “cover your ass, and let out a sigh of relief that you are done”. I find this article extremely exciting. It comes off as “hello everyone, have I got something to show you”!

    1. Thanks. Very true. It takes time to deliver a great presentation. Maybe a 6 page memo is the first step to then creating a compelling 20 minute presentation. It is not until you have written clearly for 6 pages that you really understand the important aspects of what you want to share with the audience.

  19. Edward Tufte has been arguing for this approach for years now. I’ve used them in classes with students as young as 4th grade for foreign language, tech, and math. Much deeper engagement with material, rather than responses from powerpoint that range from boredom to “cherry picking”.

    1. I like “much deeper engagement”. A full 6 page essay ensures that the speaker does the work of fully exploring the material and coming to conclusions, rather than forcing the audience to do the work of trying to figure out what is being said by several disconnected powerpoint slides 😉

  20. All meeting should be held outside regardless of the weather. Smokers are NOT allowed to do so. Everyone gets one sheet of paper for notes and can only use one side. NO cellphones, computers or electronics, except pacemakers, are to be brought to meetings. Rephrasing what was just said gets you negative points and you DON’T want negative points. These rules will cut down on the BS seen at every meeting I have ever attended in my entire life!

  21. Interruptions only happen if you allow them to happen. If you are in control of the meeting you will tell them wait with their questions for the Q&A break. I like to use slides with drawings. Images do speak a thousand words. You can put them in a memo but when you tell a story around the pictures it sticks a lot better

    1. Agreed. The presenter needs to maintain control of a meeting.

      I’m skeptical about a “30 minute reading room” prep time to go over a 6 page memo. Writing may bring clarity, yet speaking brings depth. That powerpoint, pictures or not, provide the guidelines for the discussion and the POINTS that need to be made. It is not the discussion itself.

      A presentation, speech, etc, is two ways: the presenter and the audience. In a meeting, the presenter is trying to get ideas & points across, and the audience is trying to absorb them. it’s always good to encourage people to take notes and ask questions.

      If you have people who are not absorbing them through taking notes or actively asking questions, having them read a 6 page memo before hand won’t change that.

      The problem here is that people come to the meetings completely blind and unprepared. They have no idea what the meeting is about prior to walking in to the room. This 30 minute reading time forces them to get up to speed.. at the expense of the people who DO come prepared.

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