How to “Flip” Your Meeting!

StudyMtgDuring an interview for Fortune Magazine, Amazon founder and CEO Jeff Bezos revealed how he keeps his meetings productive. Here is what he had to say:

“We have study hall at the beginning of our meetings. The traditional kind of corporate meeting starts with a presentation. Somebody gets up in front of the room and presents with a PowerPoint presentation, some type of slide show. In our view, you get very little information, you get bullet points. This is easy for the presenter, but difficult for the audience. And so instead, all of our meetings are structured around a six-page narrative memo.” He goes on to explain how the narrative memo is structured.

“The six-page narratives are structured like a dissertation defense:

  1. The context or question.
  2. Approaches to answer the question – by whom, by which method, and their conclusions.
  3. How is your attempt at answering the question different or the same from previous approaches?
  4. Now what? – That is, what’s in it for the customer, the company, and how does the answer to the question enable innovation on behalf of the customer?”

“For new employees, it’s a strange initial experience,” he tells Fortune. “They’re just not accustomed to sitting silently in a room and doing study hall with a bunch of executives.”

Bezos says the act of communal reading guarantees the group’s undivided attention during the meeting.

Writing a memo presents its own challenge. Typically, presenters have become accustomed to creating a list of bullet points on a slide, without much thought to the message they are trying to communicate. “Full sentences are harder to write,” Bezos says. “They have verbs. The paragraphs have topic sentences. There is no way to write a six-page, narratively structured memo and not have clear thinking.”

Whether you use a six page narrative memo, or our preferred format of a one-page memo, is not important. The important point is this: distributing information ahead of a meeting in a clear and structured manner prevents a lot of time being wasted on presentations to simply provide a status update or to make an argument. The time in the meeting can then be spent on problem-solving, debate and planning.

Have you ever conducted a “study hall” in one of your meetings? If so, what was the result?