As a long time foe of the bullet point I was thrilled to read this Inc. article by
Carmine Gallo entitled Jeff Bezos Banned PowerPoint in Meetings. His Replacement Is Brilliant. I’ve been a longtime fan of Carmine Gallo. His book The Presentation Secrets of Steve Jobs: How to Be Insanely Great in Front of Any Audience is brilliant. In it Gallo analyzes the keynote presentations of Jobs and extracts lessons to be learned by anyone who gives presentations. I highly recommend this book to all my mentees.
But this post is about Jeff Bezos, one of the greatest entrepreneurs of recent history, up there with Jobs and why he uses story telling and anecdotes, not bullet points, to communicate with his staff at Amazon.
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.”
This technique is so powerful that Bezos reiterated his rule that PowerPoint is banned from executive meetings in his 2018 annual letter!
Gallo presents four arguments of why narrative storytelling in business is so much better than PowerPoint and its ilk.
Our brains are hardwired for narrative
Stories have been key to human development since the invention of language. Every story follows the same formula, with a very clearly defined beginning, middle and end. But beyond that every powerful story contains a moral – a lesson on what is prudent, right or wise. The moral is the key element in business stories and packaging the lesson you are trying to convey in a story makes it the most successful delivery platform. PowerPoint with its endless slides of bulleted lists chops up stories into tiny bits where the moral, if there even is one, is obscured. If you look up moral in a thesaurus its power and usage become very clear: the moral of the story: lesson, message, meaning, significance, signification, import, point, teaching. According to Gallo, the neuroscientists he has talked with experiments confirm that the human brain is wired for story telling. Keep that in mind the next time you need to convey a message to an audience!
Stories are persuasive.
To quote Gallo at length: Aristotle is the father of persuasion. More than 2,000 years ago he revealed the three elements that all persuasive arguments must have to be effective. He called these elements “appeals.” They are: ethos, logos, and pathos. Ethos is character and credibility. Logos is logic–an argument must appeal to reason. But ethos and logos are irrelevant in the absence of pathos–emotion. But jumping ahead a couple of thousand years to Jeff Bezos and his style of leadership, he stated “I’m actually a big fan of anecdotes in business,” and explained that the reason he reads customer emails and forwards them to the appropriate executive is because he believes customer anecdotes are more insightful than data. Like most large Internet companies, Amazon collects and analyzes huge volumes of data. But to Bezos while using metrics to measure success is elemental to Amazon, anecdotes and intuition are equally important. He says that “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.“
Bullet points are the least effective way of sharing ideas.
Jeff Bezos is not alone in disdaining the use of bullet points. Sundar Pichai, CEO of Google, Elon Musk and Richard Branson are just a few of the world’s most inspiring speakers who don’t use bullet points either. Why is that? What I teach my mentees is that their role as leaders of their ventures is to inspire their teams, investors, and partners – all stakeholders in their ventures. And bullet points simply do not inspire. As Gallo writes, “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 when we see pictures of the object or topic than when we read text on a slide.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.
Stories inform, illuminate, and inspire–all the things entrepreneurs strive to do. Carmine Gallo is a prolific author. He has four books on Amazon in addition to The Presentation Secrets of Steve Jobs. But like all founders, you are pressed for time. But I urge you to read The Presentation Secrets of Steve Jobs – it is guaranteed to improve your effectiveness as a communicator.