09. Amazon Has banned PowerPoint. Here’s What We Think About That Decision.
Let’s talk about PowerPoint! It’s episode nine of The Presentation Boss Podcast! Visual communication is an important consideration for any presentation. So naturally, we’ve been drawn to this (at times heated) conversation about whether or not this headline about Jeff Bezos banning PowerPoint in Amazon Management meetings is admirable or a potential mistake.
Having listened closely to many podcasts, read loads of articles and stayed across the arguments, thoughts and information we have our own belief about how PowerPoint should be used and not used in presentations. We even include a few tips and a bit of psychology that we know to be true too.
What You’ll Learn
• Jeff Bezos has banned PowerPoint and what he expects to happen instead and why
• Why stories and narrative work so strongly and how they can benefit presentations
• Can PowerPoint be used to help tell a story?
• The three pillars of rhetoric; what they are and why you must consider them
• Bullet points don’t work – but who out there disagrees and uses them anyway
• The redundancy effect and how it can work against you, or work for you
• What is the practical definition of ‘death by PowerPoint’
• The reason PowerPoint gets used poorly
• Why banning PowerPoint verges on homogenisation of presentations and begins to remove expression of personality
• The emotional impact of visual communication in presentations
• Appealing to learning styles in meetings
Resources and Links
• Presentation Boss on facebook: https://www.facebook.com/presentationboss/
• Presentation Boss on LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/company/presentation-boss
• Kate on LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/in/kate-norris/
• Thomas on LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/in/thomas-krafft/
• The Presentation Boss Podcast: https://presentationboss.com.au/podcast/
• Email us! [email protected]
Quotes From This Episode
• “This is about understanding that you’re communicating with humans, who have emotions”
• “We are a visual creature and visuals are much more powerful than text or language alone”
• “Storytelling is king.. and bullet points suck”
• “PowerPoint doesn’t suck, bad PowerPoint sucks!”
• “You’ve still got the same driver behind the wheel, so the outcome is going to be the same”
• “Don’t ban the software, educate your people on how to use it better”
• “A presentation without PowerPoint is oftentimes less tolerable than a presentation with PowerPoint”
• “Making you stand out more and having a better-delivered message could come from having a brilliant, well thought out, mindful PowerPoint that’s just simply better than the standard PowerPoint”
• “PowerPoint exists to do some of the work for you”
• “As presenters, we can say words, we need to show the audience what we can’t say”
• “There’s a holistic view here on how do we best serve the team’s learning styles”
Welcome to the Presentation Boss Podcast! This’s episode number nine, we’re your hosts, I’m Kate Norris and I’m Thomas Krafft. Whether you’re pitching your business, speaking at a work meeting or on the stage, we’re here to help you present with clarity and confidence. Today we’re having a discussion about the recent trends of corporations banning PowerPoint in their management meeting. In 2018, Jeff Bezos, the CEO and founder of Amazon, publicly reaffirmed his decision to ban PowerPoint in all meetings and Amazon. And it seems like everyone on the Internet has a strong opinion either agreeing that this is a brilliant decision or saying that this is a terrible decision and why. And we like to stay on top of these discussions and we have some feelings of our own, which we’re going to show today. So Jeff Bezos has banned PowerPoint, which does raise the question. What does he expect in meetings? Instead, he says, instead of reading bullet points from a PowerPoint slide, everybody sits silently for about thirty minutes to read a six page memo that narratively structured with real sentences. And then, after everyone’s done reading, they discuss the topic. Okay, so there’s a lot to unpack in this decision. And we’re really interested in the reasons why somebody like Jeff Bezos, who I assume, thinks a lot about what he is doing and has really good reasons. And I’m interested in what those reasons are. And he has said, it’s so much better to do these meeting styles than the typical PowerPoint presentation for so many reasons. So let’s discuss, after staying on top of this issue online and reading a whole lot of arguments both for and against this decision, there’s basically two big reasons that we see people are discussing. Yes, so the first reason is that Jeff Bezos wants a narrative in his meetings, and that’s fine. It makes perfect sense. Our brains are definitely hardwired for narrative for stories, and we are persuaded by stories. So this is the kind of deeply embedded evolutionary thing about humans. So when humans gained control of fire, it was kind of this major milestone in human development because our ancestors they were able to cook food, which was a big plus for brain development and all of that, and they would sit around the fire and they tell stories and the reason they would tell stories because stories would serve as, ah, warning for the next generation warning of the dangers off the world around. They would serve as instruction for, for example, cooking food and for other ways of life, our traditions, traditions. Yeah, and also for inspiration, which has led to the evolution of human kind and has led us to where we are today. So we’ve always processed our world in stories. We talk in stories, and probably the most significant here is that we recall and retain information more effectively when it’s presented in the form of a storey, not just straight informational dot points. So Jeff Bezos has actually said that he’s a big fan of anecdotes in business, a big fan of stories, and I find it very interesting that he’s banned PowerPoint in favour of the stories and I find it very interesting that he believes that these two are somehow mutually exclusive; that PowerPoint cannot be conducive to storytelling, and I think I disagree with that because I think used well, PowerPoint can absolutely help to tell a story as long as it’s used in the right way to support a story. So let’s talk about that retaining information and being persuaded by storytelling. So Aristotle is the father of the persuasive method as we know it, and he breaks the elements of persuasion down into three areas. And in Latin. They are ethos, logos and pathos. So these are the three pillars off rhetoric. Ethos is the ethics of your presentation around character and credibility. Why are you the right person to be delivering this information so you need to? So that’s your experience, your credentials, that sort of thing. Yeah, absolutely. So you need to have a little bit of why should we listen to you effectively? And it only forms a really small part of your presentation. That’s ethos. And then there’s logos, so logos is around the logic. It’s the facts that figures that data the logic around the fact that this argument persuasion is based in because if we’re making, we’re going to be persuaded on just credibility and sort of stories, then we don’t have data to base these decisions on, but both ethos and logos are useless and irrelevant and do not work with the absence of the pathos which is all about the appeal to emotion. This is about understanding that you’re communicating with humans who have feelings and want to be persuaded. And pathos should make up such a large part of the persuasion. We appeal to emotion through a few ways. Humour is one, but certainly storytelling is the biggest one, and stories should should form the largest part of your presentation. Absolutely. So it makes a lot of sense for narrative in meetings for storytelling in meetings when it should form the biggest part of presentations anyway. So in that regard, I think we absolutely agree with base us that storytelling and narrative should be a big part of meetings at work s. So then, the second big reason that people are agreeing and justifying Jeff Bezos is decision is that bullet points are the least effective method of communication. And this is fair enough. We do often see so many PowerPoint presentations that are full of bullet points. I remember reading an article about Google CEO doesn’t use bullet points, and nor does Elon Musk, Richard Branson.. plenty of other inspiring speakers. All of the big names that we know, Simon Sinek too, them none of them use bullet points because they don’t inspire, they don’t persuade. And you know what? I absolutely agree. Bullets do not inspire or persuade or anything. They are such a poor method of communication. I don’t think anyone is actually arguing that they’re good. I really don’t. The way the human mind works where we’ve evolved is we have dedicated so much of our of our brain power and energy inter visuals. We are a visual creature. Visuals are much, much more powerful than any sort of text or even language alone on. That’s why if you choose to use slides, bullet points are not going to work, they’re not visual. They’re still language. The written language is actually still really quite a new thing in terms of humans. It’s only in the last couple of hundred years that even being able to read at all is a common skill between people. Absolutely. And we know there’s a phenomenon called the redundancy effect, which stems from the fact that in the human brain, all language is processed in the same part of the brain. That doesn’t matter if you’re like reading text but on a handout or a book or in a slide, or if it’s being spoken to you the same part of the brain processes that language. The redundancy effect says that when we try to get that part of the brain to take information in in two different ways, we remember effectively none of it. So they cancel each other out if you’re reading and hearing the same thing. Absolutely so that makes a lot of sense to ban the PowerPoint, where you’ve got bullet points and that type of thing on it. When you’ve got a presenter who’s basically just reading from the slide or saying the same thing that’s on the slide, maybe in different in different terms. So bullet points being the least effective method of communication. Good reason. So those two big reasons that we’re seeing that banning PowerPoint in a corporate setting is a really good idea, and honestly, there is none of that that we disagree with. So let’s go into the argument saying that it’s wrong to ban PowerPoint. The only thing is we’ve already covered it. Both sides of the argument are saying that storytelling is king, that storytelling is effective and needed in presentations and that bullet points suck. It doesn’t matter if you’re in the storytelling side of the camp, where there are people out there who are PowerPoint designers and that’s their living. All agree anyway. All agree that presentations need to leverage storytelling in a big way and that bullet points just suck. Literally. Nobody disagrees with that. This misuse of PowerPoint, whereby speaker dumps their script in the form of bullets or worse still, complete sentences onto a PowerPoint and then proceeds to read from that is that is literally the definition of death by PowerPoint. Nobody wants that. And I think this is what Jeff Bezos is trying to do where he says he’s banning the traditional PowerPoint. So this is basically the only argument that the pro PowerPoint camp have, which is that PowerPoint does not need to be bad. PowerPoint doesn’t suck; bad PowerPoint sucks. The software itself is fine. It just needs to be used better. So the parallel that I think we can draw from here is imagine if Amazon didn’t have a problem with PowerPoint, but they suddenly had a problem with cars and in their car park. They had a big issue with, like, road rage. And then they decided, No, that’s it. Cars are now bad. We’ve got a problem with road rage. Therefore, we’re banning all cars, which means all employees have to either walk to work or they have to catch the bus. That’ll work because cars are clearly not working because people have road rage. Therefore, people have to walk or catch the bus because they’re just as effective. In fact, they’re more effective because there’s no road rage. It’s exactly the same thing. You can’t just ban the tools. It’s actually the people behind it. That is the issue. It’s not the car’s problem. It’s the people who were using the cars. It would be akin to literally blaming Toyota that in their car, somebody had road rage and misused the tools. Yeah. We actually kind of see this sometimes where people are saying, don’t use PowerPoint, use Prezi or something. Okay it’s like saying, well, Corollas suck, you’ll be a better driver if you drive a Lexus. It’s the same thing just a little bit fancier, but you’ve still got the same driver behind the wheel, so your outcome is going to be exactly the same. Absolutely, you can have road rage in any car, and you can make terrible PowerPoints in PowerPoint. But effectively, it’s not PowerPoints fault that it’s being used poorly. It’s entirely user error, right? So I want to say don’t ban the software, you need to be educating your people on how to use it. Better to ensure that their PowerPoints are enhancing presentations and not death by PowerPoint. That they’re not detracting, they’re not distracting and destroying a presentation because I kind of see PowerPoint as a tool. And if you’re trying to communicate, why would you not use every possible tool available to its best capacity in order to communicate as best you can? The focus really should be on using all of the best tools that you have access to, of which PowerPoint is one to best achieve your communication goal. In so many situations where you go to a conference or a meeting or what have you, that a presentation, often without a PowerPoint, is just less tolerable than the alternatives. It’s less tolerable than a presentation without visuals because we are visual creatures. There’s actually very nearly this expectation that PowerPoint is used from most audiences, and I always ask, what’s going to make you stand out more? What’s going to make you more memorable and better deliver your message to an audience? Because I think they’re insisting that you won’t use PowerPoint kind of starts to blend you into this in vogue idea of just hating PowerPoint on principle of hating the software and the idea of it. Well, it becomes instead of everybody using terrible PowerPoint everybody instead, will use no PowerPoint. And again, we’re going to have everybody looks the same. We’re going to have no visual elements and it’s going to be the exact same situation. And then just pre-PowerPoint the same problem. Yeah, just give it a couple of years, and it will be we’re banning all presentations that don’t have a prop or something with a joke, because again, when you ban something or when you insist on something, then it forces this homogenisation of all presentations. It misses two of the key elements that we talk about one of which is personality and being able to bring a part of yourself. And the second is the visual element. We believe that a visual element, of all presentations is really important. Whether that’s PowerPoint or something else. PowerPoint is simply one of one of the options. Perhaps making you stand out more and have a better delivered message could come from having a brilliant, well thought out, mindful PowerPoint. That’s just simply better than the standard PowerPoint that you’re going to see in the rest of that day, week, meeting ,conference, what have you. Surely that’s going to get you noticed more when your PowerPoint is different and better and visually appealing? Yeah, so there seems to be this weird idea that somehow storytelling and PowerPoint are somehow mutually exclusive. You can’t have them both. Yes, which is crazy because absolutely it can. And I think we need to recognise that PowerPoint should be there to do some of the work for you. If you’re telling a story and you’re trying to describe something, explain something that could take you five to ten minutes to describe it, explain it or whatever, or you could have one photo that just does all the heavy lifting. And it’s the age old saying of a picture tells a thousand words. There’s an example that comes to mind of something that I did in a talk was I was talking about the evolution of the Port of Brisbane, literally where the ships get loaded with cargo here in Brisbane and this story talked about how it had changed over the years, and I could have talked at length because it would take a long time to describe that there was a bridge that was built and then there was docks put in here and cranes put in there and the river was changed slightly. It just takes so many words, and you’re expecting your audience in their mind’s eye to build such a complex of image. Where is what I did instead was just grabbed a simple photo from about the 1920’s that was what it used to look like. One to three things happened very quickly. Here’s a photo from recent times, and so that PowerPoint saved me so many words, probably two thousand words that a couple of minutes on also saved a huge amount of mental effort of my audience having to imagine things. And that’s where PowerPoint is helpful, not in displaying text, but because we’re visual creatures. We want to see things. As presenters we can, say words, we need to show the audience what we can’t say, or at very least, show them something that would take us ages to say so. I want you to think about maybe an example that you’ll be able to relate to. It is a little bit macabre, but it does work. Think about the feeling that you get when you see a picture of the New York skyline in 2000, then in 2002. The difference between when the Twin Towers were there and when they’re not, you see those photos against each other, and it’s so powerful because you know what happened and the emotion have seen that change those pictures can draw up so much emotion that just telling that in words could never do. And what do we say at the top about you needing pathos in your presentation? Storytelling achieves it. Humour achieves it. As you just said. Having some simple visuals can also achieve that appeal to emotion. That’s powerful. If you have that driving your message and your point of your presentation forward, why would you not? It can be difficult to know how to best use PowerPoint. And as we can see from this conversation, even big corporations struggle with it. If you’d like some help or would like to know more, we do one on one consultations in PowerPoint design. Or, if you want your whole workplace to learn the skills we offer workshops dedicated to effective PowerPoint use too. For more information, email us at [email protected] Yeach or you can check out the training section of our website, presentationboss.com.au. It’s basically agreed by everybody that PowerPoint isn’t bad, bad PowerPoint is bad. And yes, we know we all know that we need storytelling in presentations. We all know that bullet points suck. What we’re all fighting for is better communication and as soon as PowerPoint comes up, what we’re talking about is better visual communication, So having some sort of visual element with your presentation, it’s something that needs to be considered. It shouldn’t just be written off every presentation with this wide, sweeping brush. Yes, sometimes there will be maybe different software that works better. Yes, maybe there will be times when you need a prop or a movement or something slightly different. But we all agree that bullet points suck. I think of anybody on any side of this argument. Whether you’re pro-PowerPoint, you dislike PowerPoint or you’ve never seen a presentation. Please do not display to us a slide covered in text, bullet points and, god forbid, full text sentences. So one last thing that I want to talk about is what they’ve replaced PowerPoint with. Which is, I think I mentioned it up the top that they instead have to sit in silence for thirty minutes and read a six page document. And, yes, sit there and think about what you’ve done. They have to sit there and read for half an hour, and I personally like I am a major extrovert. I can not sit in a group of people in silence and just read that just wouldn’t work for me. So I find it interesting that that’s what they’re kind of forced to do, and I could not think of anything worse personally than sitting there and reading for thirty minutes. Sounds a little bit like primary school where it was you just had that thirty minute reading session in the middle of the day, but I wonder if I was always in trouble for talking through. I wonder, and I don’t assume this of Jeff Bezos, but I wonder if you’ve got a manager who says, I’m going to ban PowerPoint and instead we’re going to do this process. Are you expecting your team members or to pander to your learning style? Which is, I learn best by reading and seeing, so therefore, everybody is going to learn best by reading a seeing. I think there’s a bigger holistic view here, which is how can we best communicate with everybody in the team? To summarise a little bit, PowerPoint is a tool, but if you know what you’re doing with it, it’s a powerful tool for communication. It could be so easy to use PowerPoint incorrectly, especially if that’s all you’ve ever seen. Yes, I think that our position on it is that the answer is not to ban PowerPoint. The answer is just education and learn how to use it properly. Yes, so now that we know what not to do, it raises the question. What should you do? And there is a lot of easy design tips that will take you just a few seconds to ensure that you have beautiful, effective PowerPoint slides. And I think we’re going to do an episode on that high episode on that at least. Yes, so Jeff Bezos, Google Elon Musk, if you’re listening, let’s not ban PowerPoint. Let’s ban Bad PowerPoint. Thanks for listening to today’s show. We’d love for you to leave us a review on iTunes. If you’d like to know more, check out presentationboss.com.au/podcast where you’ll find the show notes for today with links to everything we’ve discussed. Want to get in touch? Send us an email at [email protected] Were always happy to hear your thoughts or take suggestions for future episodes. Most importantly, we rely on you to share the information in this podcast. If you can’t value in today’s episode, please recommend us to a friend. Have a great week. PowerPoint is a tool. You’re a tool. Sorry. Keep going. Thanks.