A Few Meeting Tips from A Leader: Jeff Bezos

If you’re running one of the largest companies in the world, making sure that your day doesn’t get hijacked by pointless meetings is a process that has to be refined to an artform.

Jeff Bezos, founder and CEO of Amazon, has whittled down his ‘meeting processes’ to three simple rules:

Begin every meeting in silence

Meeting organizers who are good at what they do will send out detailed agendas, with clear notes on what attendees need to read before the meeting, in order to be prepared to hit the ground running, when they arrive.

Jeff Bezos, however, saw that this wasn’t happening, even among his senior team. It wasn’t laziness: most of the people at the meetings had every intention of arriving prepared. But business comes first and it wasn’t always possible.

So, the first thirty minutes of every meeting is spent with everyone in the room, reading an up to six page memo, silently. This kind of focused effort ensures that all attendees have a grasp on the material and are prepared to discuss it.

This communal reading time—likened to a high school study hall—allows the readers to give over ALL their attention to the memo, instead of being interrupted or distracted by other tasks.

Two pizza rule

Bezos also looks to maintain teams, and consequently most meeting invite lists, limited to the number of people who could be fed with two pizzas.

It’s a nice way of clarifying that too many people in the room, with too many opinions and goals, will muddy the discussion and nothing will get decided, dealt with or resolved.

With the ‘two pizza’ rule in place, you get enough voices to create a reasonable and balanced discussion that doesn’t end up taking the entire afternoon because one person is pontificating!

NO PowerPoint presentations

This is tied to the six page memo, mentioned earlier. For every meeting, someone produces the memo, everyone else reads it for the first 30 minutes and the meeting continues.

“Instead of reading bullet points on a PowerPoint slide, everyone sits silently for about 30 minutes to read a “six-page memo that’s narratively structured with real sentences, topic sentences, verbs, and nouns.” (Source)

This strategy must be a culture shock for new arrivals at Amazon, but there is method in this process:

  • We think better when receiving information in a narrative form. Storytelling allows us to process, retain and recall information more effectively than bullet points.
  • Narratives are more effective at getting people ‘on board’ with an idea. Facts are essential but most of us are also persuaded by emotion, or gut instinct, on many issues. It’s this combination of emotional and factual that makes for the best presentations. If ever you need proof, think back to JFK’s speech to inspire Americans to support the space program and be the force behind the first men to walk on the moon.
  • In keeping with the idea that narratives inspire results (along with hard facts), bullet points clearly do not. With the brain predisposed to better take in information in a narrative form, bullet points just don’t cut it and can in fact end up being distracting.

While the memo and silent reading concepts might seem ‘old school’, there’s no denying the science behind Bezos’ thinking. It’s worth a try, as others have discovered its effectiveness in hosting productive meetings. Try it sometime!