Digital Leadership & Soft Skills

Why Memo is better than Slides

Published by Pavel Nakonechnyy on in Leadership and Soft Skills.
Why Memo is better than Slides

Recently, I read an interview with Jeff Bezos by Lex Friedman where the famous entrepreneur explains why Amazon doesn’t use PowerPoint for meetings. He lists 3 reasons for that:

  1. PowerPoint is designed to persuade. Slides are a sales tool. And inside the company, you shouldn’t sell. You all are truth-seeking.
  2. Slides are easy for the author and hard for the audience, and memos are the opposite. It’s hard to write a six-page memo. It might take two weeks. You have to write it, rewrite it, you have to edit it, you have to talk to people about it, they will poke holes in the document, and you write it again. During the presentation, Senior Executives interrupt with questions halfway through. The next slide answers that question, but you never got there. For the memos, a visible outline disallows that. As Bezos points out: “I often write lots of questions that I have in the margins of these memos, and then I cross them all out because, by the time I get to the end of the memo, the document has answered them all”.
  3. Slides are often just bullet points. The author can hide a lot of sloppy thinking behind bullet points. It is hard to hide poor reasoning in complete sentences following narrative structure.

In addition to that, I’d like to list a few more reasons why you might want to replace your next slide deck with a memo:

  1. Business memos allow for more detailed information. Memos can provide in-depth explanations, supporting evidence, and analysis, which may be necessary for complex topics or when conveying a comprehensive message. We, as humans, know how to quickly skim through a well-formatted text and dive in-depth only when necessary.
  2. Business memos accommodate different types of readers simultaneously. Some stakeholders might read only the executive summary, others will skim for key points, and a few read the full document for supporting details. More so, representatives of different functions will pay more attention to different parts of the document. This flexibility allows for effective communication with various audiences.
  3. Memo encourages Critical Thinking both for the author and the audience. The concise nature of business memos encourages the writer to think critically about the content. As the reader, you pay attention to the details you are signing for.
  4. Business memos serve as a documented record of communication within an organization. They can be referenced later for clarification or to track decisions and actions.

After all, the choice between a business memo and slides depends on the specific context, purpose, and audience. Each has its strengths and should be used accordingly. For example, with a distrustful audience, you might want to give a series of presentations that will allow you to manage expectations and react to feedback.

References: Specific Clip and Full interview.