Case Study:

Four ways Amazon optimises meetings

Thursday 03 May 2018
Billionaire Amazon founder and CEO Jeff Bezos shares the key to managing ultra-productive meetings that drive innovation and efficiency
Amazon box on wooden floor

Amazon’s meetings are run differently, and according to its founder Jeff Bezos, it ensures maximum productivity. Here are Amazon’s rules for brilliant meetings.

1. No PowerPoint

Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos’s 2018 annual letter echoed his long-held dislike of PowerPoint presentations in meetings. Banned at Amazon HQs, employees are instead expected to structure their ideas into a four-to-six-page memo, known internally as a "narrative”, which are distributed at the beginning of the meeting.

Bullet points – a constant presence in bad PowerPoint presentations – are not permitted in any documents. Bullet points can encourage audience members to write down points as quickly as possible, without really taking in the message. Reading text on the screen, listening to the speaker, making notes and trying to understand all of the information is difficult to sustain simultaneously.

In an email sent to his senior team in 2004, Bezos explained narrative memos are a superior alternative because they “force better thought and better understanding of what's more important than what, and how things are related.”

2. Start with silence

Instead of forcing everyone in the meeting to stare up at PowerPoint slides for 45 minutes, Amazon bosses ask employees to sit silently and read the six-page memo “narrative”, while making notes in the margins.

This gives all participants the opportunity to think about the topics and start off on the same page. Employees are often expected to find time to prepare before attending meetings, but time-constraints can make it extremely difficult to fit in. As a result, people go into meetings with different levels of preparation, slowing down the meeting and making it less productive.

3. 'Two Pizza' Teams

Small meetings are essential to Amazon maintaining productivity and purpose, so Amazon executives can only hold meetings where two pizzas are enough to feed everyone present. Unnecessarily large meetings can be difficult to manage and use up a lot of time. Attendees will often leave big meetings feeling less engaged than when they entered. By focusing on smaller teams, managers can ensure greater collaboration and contribution between members, as well as reducing groupthink and social loafing.

4. Focus on storytelling

Storytelling is at the heart of any Amazon meeting. Providing a context and life for a new idea helps the audience understand the presentation’s key messages. Several studies have shown that people retain important information more effectively when it's presented in the form of a story.

Described by Bezos as “so much better than the typical PowerPoint presentation for so many reasons," the method of structuring ideas around an engaging narrative drives the presenters and recipients to carefully consider the topics covered in the meeting. It gets people thinking about how the ideas could improve or work alongside current systems and processes.

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