From Pretty Presentations to Memorable Memos: Applying Jeff Bezos’s Winning Method
Beatriz Boavida •
Jan 16, 2024 •
4 min read
Presenting ideas through eye-catching slides has become almost a norm. Many believe this is an effective way of handling executive meetings to share and debate ideas and proposals. But not Jeff Bezos – oh no! – he became quite famous for challenging and dismantling this belief and created a unique management style based on written memos instead of PowerPoint presentations.
So, what is wrong with PowerPoint?
PowerPoint is a great sales tool, but it should take the back seat when the goal is successful communication.
Here is why:
- Managers and executives tend to include very little information on the slides. Although this makes it easier to quickly walk the audience through a project, it often lacks critical information for practical decision-making.
- Just as small gifts can be wrapped with glaring packaging, you can make a few good-looking slides that carry little meaning. With PowerPoint, it is easy for presenters to only cast a light on the details or information they want to share to avoid prompting a real debate and eventually making very little to no changes to their projects.
Thus, if your goal is to optimise time while promoting a debate of good ideas and identify and eliminate the bad ones, you need a more effective method to guide your meetings. And this is where Amazon's 6-page memo strategy comes in.
What makes memos so effective?
A memo is a well-structured narrative containing comprehensive information about an idea, a proposal, or a project. And that alone makes it a better format to expose both solid reasoning and flaws.
When making a memo, you (as a writer) are forced to put your ideas into paper. If you wish to persuade the reader, you have to articulate your thoughts between the topics, make the narrative clear to follow, and go deep when explaining details – especially those that can make or break a plan!
Another win for memos is how, through writing, they help you think better and accurately analyse your own words and content and make the iterations necessary. Being a good communicator starts with how you think, and writing can help you improve. There is a reason that great leaders often are great writers and readers.
How to become a memo wizard?
A great memo is easy to understand and promotes critical thinking. There is a specific structure you can follow to ensure all the content is there and to facilitate its reading. Here is what it should look like:
- Introduction: Why are we having this meeting in the first place? – Concisely explain the situation, the aim, and the relevance of the meeting.
- Goals: What are we trying to accomplish? – Write down where you want to go in the form of SMART goals so that everyone is on the same page.
- The Team: Why this group of people? – Get everyone you invited on board by explicitly explaining how each one can contribute and which actions are expected of them.
- Background: What needs to be shared to lay the ground for ideas? – Gather all the relevant facts, observations, and events into comprehensive paragraphs. This ensures everyone has the same information to analyse your idea.
- The pitch: What is your message? – You have already set the scene, now comes the time to objectively spread your message. Do not leave any key details out.
- The ask: What do you need? – Explicitly share the calls to action needed to make your idea a reality.
Changing your current meeting format to a memo culture
Creating change starts with changing habits. We have put together simple steps you can follow to ensure a smooth transition into the “memo culture”:
- Schedule the meeting, send the invites, and start preparing the memo right away;
- Set your expectations right – a great memo takes at least a week to develop, analyse, and revisit. Use your time wisely.
- Ask for feedback – another person can look at your words with a different lens and give you insightful feedback. As Jeff Bezos mentions “The great memos are written and rewritten, shared with colleagues who are asked to improve the work, set aside for a couple of days, and then edited again with a fresh mind”.
- Start the meeting with a reading session – To make sure everyone has the time and mental disposition to read through the memo, take the first 30 minutes for a silent reading session. This is when everyone individually will form their opinions and questions.
- Clarify – Was something left unclear after the reading? Use this time to allow each person to ask you clarifying questions.
- Discuss the asks – with everyone tuned in, discuss the asks. Make sure you leave room for wondering, as it may lead to new insights. After all, that is the aim of the discussion – “I like a crisp document and a messy meeting” (Jeff Bezos).
Compared to PowerPoint, the 6-page memo is a compelling way of promoting mutual alignment before decisions are made - a crucial step for implementing good ideas.
The foundations for putting memos at the centre of your meetings can be summarised as follows:
- Prepare the 6-page memo – take the time to analyse it, ask for feedback, and reframe it;
- Always start the meeting with a reading session, followed by questions to set matters clear;
- Finish with a productive discussion around the asks.
Remember consistency is key when building new habits and creating positive change.