What does Jeff Bezos talk about constantly? Why did he ban PowerPoint presentations at Amazon? What’s parallel structure, and how can it help you communicate more clearly?
In The Bezos Blueprint, Carmine Gallo explains how to improve your communication by internalizing the principles that Amazon founder Jeff Bezos uses in his writing and speaking. We organized the book’s ideas into four principles that you can apply in your communication.
Continue reading for an overview of this practical book and see how you can put these principles to work for you.
Overview of The Bezos Blueprint
In The Bezos Blueprint, Gallo argues that Bezos built Amazon into a juggernaut primarily through his superior communication skills—skills you can learn and improve with practice. Gallo says that, if you follow Bezos’s communication “blueprint,” you’ll set yourself apart from your competition, pitch your ideas more effectively, and inspire others to follow your lead.
Gallo is a writer, speaker, and former broadcaster who specializes in business communication and leadership. He’s the author of Talk Like TED, which discusses how to use TED Talks as a model to improve your public speaking. In this book, he analyzes decades’ worth of Bezos’s shareholder letters, speeches, emails, and other communications to derive a set of principles that anyone can use to become a more effective communicator. The book may be of particular interest to organizational leaders, entrepreneurs, and marketers, but Gallo says its message is crucial for anyone who works in business.
We organized Gallo’s ideas into four main principles:
- Keep it simple.
- Get to the point.
- Tell stories.
- Repeat and refine your message.
We explain each principle and explore how you can implement it in your own writing and speaking.
Principle #1: Keep It Simple
Simplicity is clarity: if you want your audience to understand and act on your message, keep it simple. Being simple doesn’t mean dumbing down your ideas—it means minimizing the work your reader or listener has to do to understand you.
Consider Your Audience
Picture someone who’s smart but not as informed or interested in your topic as you are. What do they need to know, and what’s the easiest way to explain it to them? Remember that your reader or listener doesn’t need to know everything you know.
Gallo suggests that you express your ideas simply enough that the average high school student could understand them. “Readability” in this context has nothing to do with the content of a written piece—it’s a measure of elements like word length and sentence complexity.
How to Write Simply
Gallo offers a number of tips he derived from studying Bezos’s letters.
Use Short Sentences and Simple Vocabulary
Gallo advises that you use short sentences and simple words most of the time. Gallo argues that, the more complex, important, or stressful the subject matter, the more important it is to write plainly.
Begin sentences with clear subjects and vivid verbs—this keeps the “action” moving and keeps your audience engaged. Likewise, favor active voice over passive voice: “Customers love Prime” rather than “Prime is loved by customers.”
Avoid Qualifiers and Hedge Words
Qualifiers and hedge words add fluff and feel indecisive. By contrast, Bezos wasn’t afraid to be concise to the point of bluntness in the slogan, “Get big fast.”
Pay Attention to Sentence Structure
Gallo notes that effective writers vary sentence length and structure. Readers and listeners tune you out if every sentence has the same rhythm. When writing longer, more complex sentences, keep them simple and reader-friendly by using parallel structure—that is, by using the same grammatical form to express multiple ideas. For example, Bezos wrote, “The keys to success are patience, persistence, and obsessive attention to detail.” This is easier to understand than “The keys to success are patience, to be persistent, and obsessively attending to detail.”
Principle #2: Get to the Point
Gallo explains that all Amazon communications state the most important takeaway up front. Your audience’s time is precious.
What’s Your Point?
Figure out what your takeaway is. Make sure it’s obvious why it matters to the listener. To do so, Gallo says, imagine an impatient listener asking, “Why should I care?” Then, answer this question three times, boiling down the answer each time until you’ve found the bottom line.
Start With the Press Release
Gallo advises that you develop and explain the idea as though you were writing a press release for it. Start by stating the main idea and briefly explaining why it matters. Then describe the idea in more detail, explain what problem it addresses, and how it solves that problem. End by sharing hypothetical testimonials from your intended customers or partners.
Gallo identifies two benefits to this approach:
- It forces you to think through and refine your ideas.
- It raises your chances of convincing executives, investors, or partners to get on board.
Principle #3: Tell Stories
According to Gallo, Bezos is a natural storyteller with an intuitive grasp of how to use narrative to get an idea across to his audience.
Make Complex Ideas Concrete
Complex ideas are often abstract, and abstract ideas are hard to understand.
After reading The Mythical Man-Month, Bezos wanted to share one of its basic insights: The larger the team, the more time and effort it takes for team members to communicate with each other and actually get their work done. Instead of explaining the theory or the mathematical formula that describes this phenomenon, Bezos crafted a simple metaphor: “We try to create teams that are no larger than can be fed by two pizzas.”
Use Data Sparingly, and Illustrate It
Start by narrowing down which data you want to highlight. Then, help your audience understand the data by placing it in context and giving them a concrete reference such as a physical comparison that makes it easier to imagine what a number really means. For example, Bezos once described Amazon’s book selection by saying that it “would now occupy six football fields.”
Make Your Message Into a Narrative
According to Gallo, many of Bezos’s communications follow a three-act narrative structure.
The three-act structure is made up of the following parts:
Act 1) Setup: The storyteller sets the scene, introduces the key characters, and establishes the world.
Act 2) Challenges: The main character encounters obstacles and setbacks on the way to her goal. These challenges force the main character to grow and change.
Act 3) Resolution: The main character overcomes the obstacles and achieves her goal. In the process, she improves herself and the world.
Bezos banned PowerPoint presentations at Amazon, insisting that anyone presenting information at a meeting do so instead with short memos structured like narratives. Turning your ideas into a story (instead of a slideshow) forces you to think about what’s important, why, and how best to convey the implications of your ideas. It also helps listeners to pay better attention and more effectively absorb your messages.
Principle #4: Repeat and Refine Your Message
Gallo writes that, to master communication, you must continue to work at it. This involves repeating your purpose—to the point of obsession—and practicing your skills.
The Importance of Purpose
Bezos’s purpose is to serve customers. This purpose infuses his communication. Not only does he constantly talk about his customers, but his communication principles are also designed to make his ideas as clear as possible to a general audience.
Find Your Purpose
Gallo argues that your purpose is whatever drives you. He argues that you don’t have to go looking for your purpose; it will find you in time.
Repeat Your Purpose
Take the time to state your purpose in a way that’s as short, simple, understandable, and relatable as possible. He gives Amazon’s purpose statement as an example: Their mission is to be “Earth’s most customer-centric company.” Bezos mentions customers almost obsessively.
Members of your organization should internalize your purpose and act in accordance with it at all times. Likewise, the wider world should come to associate your organization with your purpose.
Keep Growing Your Skills
Gallo points out that Bezos honed his communication skills through years of experience and practice. He suggests several ways you can learn from Bezos’s behaviors to improve your own communication, for both writing and public speaking.
Reading widely will help you not only to become a better writer but also a better leader, and he lists several reasons behind this:
- Reading allows you to experience different situations and perspectives.
- Reading equips you with facts and stories you can use.
- Reading shows you different ways to organize and express thoughts.
Gallo recommends that, to get the most out of your reading, you should take notes and discuss your reading with others.
Practice Your Presentations
Gallo offers several pieces of advice for improving your presentation skills:
- Learn your natural strengths and emphasize them.
- Craft a gripping message that’s simple, gets to the point, and tells a story.
- Present regularly, and rehearse your presentations.
- Record yourself on video to get a sense of your strengths and weaknesses from the audience’s perspective.