What Jeff Bezos and Steve Jobs Can Teach You About Presenting

By Brad Groznik

Steve Jobs, left, and Jeff Bezos

Steve Jobs, left, and Jeff Bezos


On Sunday morning, I caught an interview with Fareed Zakaria talking about his new book “In Defense of a Liberal Education,” where he mentioned an intriguing quirk about Amazon headquarters.

Zakaria said Jeff Bezos, founder and CEO of Amazon.com, forces his executives to write out initiatives and plans in narrative form rather than in the standard PowerPoint because narratives show the obvious gaps in logic. Steve Jobs of Apple also hated PowerPoints and banned them from meeting rooms because he believed presenters should know their content well enough not to need projected cue cards.

What both of these stories tell me as a communicator is that our current standard way of presenting is not very engaging. Both of these CEOs feeling the need to constrain presenters shows we need to focus more on delivering strong presentations. If you’re not ready to write narratives or eliminate your PowerPoint, here are three other tips to help you give better presentations.

State your purpose
One of the reasons you may be losing your audience is because your presentation feels aimless. Sum up your presentation in one clear sentence by focusing on the main point you want your audience to walk away with.  Then cut everything out of your presentation that doesn’t ladder up to that sentence, add clarity, or is repeated more than once. 

I worked for a politician who used to paraphrase an old saying by jokingly telling his audience that "he didn’t have time to prepare a short speech, so he’d give a long one instead." His audience forgave him because he was regularly asked to give impromptu speeches. You are unlikely in the same scenario. Practicing presentations is an easy way to see where you can cut down on time, trim redundancies and keep your audience’s attention.

End with your audience wanting more
You shouldn’t cut anything from your presentation that’s important but you also shouldn’t dive too deep into a point if you’re going to lose your audience. Take the interest level of your entire audience into consideration and if you skim over a couple points as a result, end your time with questions. Those who are interested in knowing more can follow up on points without alienating the others in the room who are satisfied with what you presented. 

As someone who regularly speaks in front of groups, I'm sympathetic to the challenges of communicating effectively. However, I'm confident through my own experience that with a little extra research and practice anyone–including you–can do it.