Why Amazon Meetings Ban Presentations; Why Memos Instead

At 24:54 of this video, Amazon CEO explains why he bans use of slideware (PowerPoint and others) at meetings, and instead has meeting organizers prepare written briefing documents of no more than six pages.  


The first half hour of so of every meeting consists of attendees reading the memos, before actual discussion begins.

Some would say that is because “reading” is part of Amazon’s legacy as a bookseller.

Some of us might say the reason for such practices is that writing is related to thinking. clear thinking and clear writing tend to be directly related. In fact, some would argue writing is thinking. better writing requires better thinking.

In fact, some would argue that critical thinking also is correlated with writing. You might agree that teachers believe reading, writing and thinking are related.

There are business implications, if in fact thinking and writing are related. Business leaders these days often complain that their employees, or potential employees, have weak writing skills. According to one study, perhaps 26 percent of college graduates have deficient writing skills.

You will forgive my own biases, as someone who worked at a university, has taught college students and graded papers, then worked for decades as a journalist and writer. I am susceptible to thinking that writing and thinking are related.

But Bezos unusual meeting content format might point to a weakness of media formats. Presentations, one might argue, are difficult, as is writing. But they might be difficult in different ways. Slideware often tends to bullet points, which must be snappy, short, and therefore without nuance.  

Clarity, in fact, is often a casualty of slide presentations. Ideally, a presentation tells a simple story. How many presentations have you created, or witnessed, that pass that test?  

Clarity is no less a problem with any written communication, to be sure. But you might reasonably ask whether it is harder to tell a clear story in a memo or using a presentation. It is difficult in both media.

But Bezos seems--unusually for a business leader--to believe both that the act of producing a memo produces better thinking than a presentation, and that the mandatory “read the memo now” format also forces people to consume the message before the meeting starts.

Those of you who attend lots of meetings know that unless thinking about the meeting subject occurs before the physical meeting, little deeper thinking is likely to happen at the meeting, especially as attendee count grows.

There is another problem the “we all read the memo together, right now” approach tends to fix: the tendency for busy people to skip reading the meeting documents altogether.
     
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