The strength of storytelling versus the pain of presentations
Love or loathe him, you can’t help but admire Jeff Bezos for the way he has built Amazon into the world’s number one online retailer, and one of its most valuable companies. You don’t achieve that level of success without knowing a thing or two about change management and employee motivation.
Of all the qualities that Bezos possesses, it may be his communication capability that is his most powerful leadership tool. He certainly understands the strength of storytelling versus the pain of presentations.
Preparing and presenting presentations – the manager’s nightmare
You’ve been asked to make a presentation as part of your remit of change management, and employee motivation is the overarching goal. You’re expected to make change fun in your organisation. You go the traditional route, and spend hours creating a slide presentation that will take around 30 minutes to present.
The day of the meeting arrives. You set up, and, when everyone is sitting quietly, you begin. You run through your carefully prepared slides, pointing out your bullet points. The silence is deafening. Eyes start glazing over. The shift from one slide to another has a hypnotic effect. The end of the presentation is finally reached. You ask for questions. There are none. You just hit the nadir of change management and employee motivation.
Slide presentations – the enemy of change management and employee motivation?
In the right hands, slide presentations can be a useful support device as long as they are there to support the presenter rather than the other way around. However, they are often seen as the end rather than the means to communication. In this context, they are not engaging tool that leaders require to engage stakeholders of change. Bezos calls them ineffective, and there is plenty of evidence to conclude that they are. For example:
- A 2013 research paper published by Forrester discussing sales presentations found that “sales reps often deliver slide decks instead of conversations, lead with products and not industry insights, and waste time in meetings because material hasn’t been customized for the buyer.”
- In 2015, Bent Meier Sørensen, Professor in Philosophy and Business at Copenhagen Business School, gave personal insight into the pointlessness of PowerPoint presentations, saying “Let’s ban PowerPoint in lectures – it makes students more stupid and professors more boring.”
Perhaps this is the crux of the issue: presenting by slides usually lures the presenter into a form of lecturing and a one-way “download” of information. If you aren’t encouraging people to provide feedback, engage in conversation, express concerns, or share ideas, your messages are likely to go in one ear and out of the other.
Using storytelling to motivate
Jeff Bezos has banned slide presentations for all Amazon meetings. Instead, he insists on storytelling within small groups of people – no more than two pizzas can feed.
The lead of the meeting is tasked with putting together “narratively structured six-page memos”. These aren’t circulated before the meeting. Indeed, the meeting starts with a 30-minute silent readings session before the participants then discuss the memo’s contents.
This format ensures that executives who are “like high school students” and try to bluff their way through a meeting (because they haven’t previously had time to read the material) all start on the same page and equally informed.
While the quality of the memos varies widely, they all share something in common: they are written as a narrative, using proper sentences, verbs, and nouns. And not simply a string of bullet points.
The small size of meetings, coupled with the immediacy of material, encourages conversation. The kind of conversation that is essential for effective change management and employee motivation.
Creative thinking is the energy behind successful organisational change. At your next meeting, will you use slides to lecture, or narrative to engage conversation?
You can watch ‘Forum on Leadership: A conversation with Jeff Bezos’ here. He provides some great insights about taking a company from startup to one that employs more than 600,000 employees.
At The Big Picture People, we help our clients move away from a one-way, download style of communication that slide presentations often draw us into. You can find out more about our approach to more engaging communications here.
What strategies do you have to lead change management and employee motivation in your organisation? Contact The Big Picture People today, and let’s start the conversation about how best to engage your employees in change.