Bezos vs. Bullet Points: “battle of this century?”

The wisdom of Jeff Bezos, Amazon founder and CEO, I have blogged about on my website and elsewhere before. In my opinion, he is one of the top two business change makers of the 21st century so far. (You choose the other at your leisure.)

The last time was about how I agreed with him how us ordinary folk asking visionaries “what will be the next big thing?” is the wrong first question. The answer? Be clear on what things won’t change impacting your business sector for a lengthy period because they are fundamental to human culture.

In his 2018 annual letter, Bezos championed “narrative structure” aka “story-telling” as the best way to engage and convince an audience about what action you want them to take. It is more effective than listing “just the facts, ma’am” in point form. To illustrate, he bans PowerPoint use in executive meetings. His insight is valuable to entrepreneurs, sales/marketing people and organization leaders in all sectors, public and private.

According to Bezos, new executives are in for a culture shock in their first Amazon meetings. 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.”

After attendees have read the memo, they discuss the topic. “It’s so much better than the typical PowerPoint presentation for so many reasons,” Bezos added.

The same is true when you present to an audience without the opportunity to chat immediately after. Like in an ad or sales letter (although providing an easy way for the reader to respond is vitally important to your pitches success, especially online.)

Why does story sell better than “selling” with a list of features or even benefits

As a student of narrative storytelling in business for decades, I can tell you three key reasons why Bezos is right:

  1. Our brains are hardwired for narrative.

Narrative storytelling might not have been as critical as food for our survival as a species, but it comes close.

Anthropologists say when humans gained control of fire it marked a major milestone in human development. Our ancestors were able to cook food, which was a big plus (even if you prefer very rare). But it also had a second benefit. People sat around fires swapping stories. Stories served as instruction, warning, and inspiration.

Prominent neuroscientists’ experiments always confirm what we have known for centuries: The human brain is wired for story. We process our world in narrative, we talk in narrative and–most important for leadership–people recall and retain information more effectively when it’s presented in the form of a story, not bullet points.

A note of caution: Do not confuse bullet points with headlines. Every good story starts with a strong title aka headline. Every successful sales message does too.

  1. Stories are persuasive.

That is a fact proven over many a millennial; soon after human communication rose above a grunt, I venture.

More than 2,000 years ago Aristotle revealed three elements that all persuasive arguments must have. He called these elements “appeals”: ethos, logos, and pathos.

Ethos is character and credibility. Logos is logic–an argument must appeal to reason. But ethos and logos mean nothing without pathos–emotion.

Emotion is critical because it is fundamentally human. It gave rise to most of history’s greatest movements. Effective leaders have always made rational and emotional appeals: Abraham Lincoln and Martin Luther King, Jr. were two of western modern history’s best examples. John F. Kennedy was another, blending science and emotion to inspire America’s moon landing program.

Neuroscientists have found emotion is the fastest path to the brain. In other words, if you want your ideas to spark action, your story is the single best vehicle to transfer that idea to and resonate with your target audience.

“I’m actually a big fan of anecdotes in business,” Bezos said said recently as he explained why he reads customer emails and forwards them to the appropriate executive. “Often”, he says, “customer anecdotes are more insightful than data”.

Amazon uses “a ton of metrics” to measure success, explained Bezos. “I’ve noticed when the anecdotes and the metrics disagree, the anecdotes are usually right,” He adds “That’s why it’s so important to check that data with your intuition and instincts, and you need to teach that to executives and junior executives.”

Bezos clearly understands that logic (data) must be married with pathos (narrative) to be successful.

  1. Bullet points are the least effective way of sharing ideas.

Check this blog out for more corroboration: Google’s CEO Doesn’t Use Bullet Points and Neither Should You. He still doesn’t. Nor do Elon Musk, Richard Branson, or most of the world’s most inspiring entrepreneurs. See an important idea trending here?

Bullet points do not inspire. Stories led by engaging headlines do.

Simply put, the brain is not built to retain information that is structured as bullet points on a slide. It is well known among neuroscientists that we recall things much better when we see pictures of the object or topic than when we read text on a slide.

Bezos understands that. Stories inform, illuminate, and inspire–all the things entrepreneurs, sales/marketing people and leaders in all sectors strive to do.

Mike Hanson

NO BS B2B Copywriter

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