3 min read

Writing a narrative is better than PowerPoint

“Many years ago, we outlawed PowerPoint presentations at Amazon,” Jeff Bezos said at the 2018 Bush Center Leadership Forum, “and it’s probably the smartest thing we ever did.” The smartest thing Amazon ever did? Let me explain why writing is better for your business than PowerPoint.
old slides laid on a desk by a projector
Photo by Alexander Andrews / Unsplash

“Many, many years ago, we outlawed PowerPoint presentations at Amazon,” Jeff Bezos said at the Bush Center Leadership Forum in 2018, “and it’s probably the smartest thing we ever did.”

The smartest thing Amazon ever did?

Let’s take a deeper dive to explain why writing a narrative is better for your business than a PowerPoint presentation.

A few weeks ago, we gave you a view into how Amazon doc review meetings go in real time. These types of reading and discussion intensive meetings weren’t always the norm at Amazon. And neither was Amazon’s writing heavy, business document culture. Before the focus of writing data-driven narratives, Amazon used PowerPoint to communicate ideas, what’s happening now, and what to do next.

The thing is, after you’re done presenting a PowerPoint, you know what everyone asks for? The slide deck. And those slides have your speaker notes. That’s where everyone can find all the anecdotes and extra context or data you shared. Getting those details only you knew were most important are important for your audience too.

Slides alone don’t give you all the information to your audience they need to be informed. And if you want to be informed, you have to rely on the person presenting their PowerPoint to do it. PowerPoint, presenting to an audience is more about style, than substance. In this type of meeting, the person speaking has all the power. Everyone else is listening and trying to keep up. If you’re the presenter, you know what’s coming next, but your audience? No idea. If you’re lucky, your audience knows the problem or opportunity for discussion. Not knowing what comes next leads to someone in the room to say: “you’ll probably get to this later, but are you going to talk about (insert important topic)”. If, like me, you’ve presented a PowerPoint before, your answer is usually yes, but guess what? Meeting derailed. Everyone in the room is also now thinking about the topic that was important. If you wanted to have a discussion about your idea, you’ve lost the room. If you’re lucky, you’ll get them back to your presentation and hope you don’t get interrupted again. Keep in mind this is a business meeting, not your TED talk. There’s a good chance someone else will ask a question or spoil the solution you’re building up to on slide 42.

Think of meeting with your decision-makers and leaders as a transaction. You’re asking for their time to meet with you. You want to ask for the green light on a big idea, more headcount for your product launch, review last quarter’s numbers, or an issue impacting customers. Whatever the reason, your time with your decision-makers is limited. You need to get to the point - quickly. An effectively written document at Amazon is one that can be read and understood by everyone, quickly. This way, once everyone has all the information they need, you can have a focused discussion and make high-velocity decisions.

Writing is hard. And good writing takes time. Even if you’re writing a one-page document to set the table for a discussion, it may take a couple hours or more to write. But a one-page document with a concise summary, clear purpose and problem statements, with your recommendation and next steps will save you and your leaders time in the long run. No more meetings to review previous discussions or the analysis paralysis that comes from more meetings to come to a consensus.

By adopting a culture of writing narrative docs, meetings end with you knowing exactly what to do next. And most importantly, with a well informed decision from your leadership on the best way forward. Narrative writing in business helps you work smarter, not harder, and innovate faster.

Amazon’s smartest decision?

We agree (and bias)!