In his annual letter, Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos wrote that he has banned PPT:
"We don’t do PowerPoint (or any other slide-oriented) presentations at Amazon. Instead, we write narratively structured six-page memos. We silently read one at the beginning of each meeting in a kind of 'study hall.'"
Nancy Duarte describes the value of a narrative or storytelling approach: "storytelling in presentations is a powerful way to grab attention, hold attention, and to change beliefs." She gives examples from our favorite books and movies, which build suspense over time. Stories are also a good way to inspire empathy and other emotional reactions. This is difficult to achieve with traditional PowerPoint bullets.
A Harvard Business Review article, "Structure Your Presentation Like a Story," provides more guidance and summarizes the approach with a graphic:
For Bezos, the narrative style means that points are connected and organized in a logical sequence with some resolution, conclusion, or outcome. GeekWire created this six-page memo in Amazon's style as an example.
At Google, CEO Sundar Pichai also emphasizes storytelling with pictures:
"Since stories are best told with pictures, bullet points and text-heavy slides are increasingly avoided at Google."
Both executives are warning against the type of communication that is overly concise and missing context, connections, and cohesiveness. A ZDNet article summarizes some of the issues with PowerPoint and describes the now-infamous role of PPT in a U.S. disaster:
"'[B]ulletized' thinking contributed to the Challenger disaster, where 7 crew members died and a multi-billion dollar craft destroyed due to an O-ring failure. The big problem was that NASA management wasn't really listening to the engineers—and breaking issues up into bullets helped them do that."
Pichai's design approach aligns with PPT trends over the past few years. We're seeing much less text, fewer bullets, and more images, and this style follows the evolution of web design. On websites, we see many more background videos and photos and not much text, particularly on consumer websites.
- What are the advantages and downsides to the narrative memo? For what types of situations do you think this approach would work well? For what situations might PPT be a better choice?
- For practice, try to convert this terrible PPT presentation to one with less text and more meaningful images. Clean up the design, add charts to help your audience visualize data, and of course, correct the grammar.