Communication lesson from Bezos

Photo credit: Steve Jurvetson

News that Jeff Bezos has stepped down as CEO is a reminder that a respect for words and reading is fundamental to his leadership style. He famously banned Powerpoint, instead requiring presenters to articulate their ideas in narrative-structured memos. The meeting itself then starts in quietude as attendees read and think about those written words.

It’s in keeping with a piece of advice we often give execs looking to increase their impact in meetings – put your tablet and laptop away and pick up a pen and notebook instead. It’s a simple way to remind yourself that you are there to offer your counterparty a thoughtful sounding board, not the services of a scribe.

For one thing, it removes a physical barrier and clutter and enables you to be more present and receptive. This is at least as important on VC as in person because you need to work harder to make that connection. You can smile more, nod more and look at your counterparty/ies when they are speaking. With luck, it can stop feeling like an on the record meeting and turn into a meaningful exchange of views.

Freed from transcribing, you can focus instead on listening and understanding. And writing things often down helps you grasp the bigger picture rather than getting lost in the detail. The notes you do take will be more relevant and you can jot down your own thoughts, which is hard to do when you are stabbing away at a keypad. In turn, your questions will better follow the thread of the conversation as opposed to relying on a pre-prepared checklist. 

Finally, a pen and paper are a great prop. Picking up a pen to make a note signals that you recognise they have said something substantive and are paying attention. 

Reading and writing and thinking. It hasn’t been a bad formula for Bezos.