Bezos, Musk give tips for holding successful meetings

Borgata Meeting Room
To make meetings effective, keep them small and focused. (Jena Tesse Fox)

For many employees, meetings are a necessary evil. CEOs Jeff Bezos and Elon Musk have some tips for keeping attendees interested and engaged.

Amazon CEO Bezos told Inc. that holding a successful meeting comes down to three rules: “two pizza” teams, no PowerPoint and starting with silence. The pizza rule means that the company creates teams that are small enough to be fed with two pizzas. That helps keep the meeting size down, which makes it easier to hear and be heard as attendees make their contributions.

As for Microsoft, executives there might want to stop reading now.

“No PowerPoints are used inside of Amazon,” Bezos said in the article. “Somebody for the meeting has prepared a six-page … narratively structured memo. It has real sentences, and topic sentences, and verbs, and nouns—it's not just bullet points.”

These memos could take as long as a week to write, he added, because they go through several revisions and critiques. That helps to tell a story, which human brains are better at processing than a bunch of numbers on a slide, according to another Inc. article.

Each meeting starts with attendees reading the memo—silently, Bezos said. “It’s like a study hall. Everybody sits around the table, and we read silently, for usually about half an hour, however long it takes us to read the document. And then we discuss it.”

He recognizes that people are busy and might not have prepared for the meeting as carefully as they should have. This 30-minute silent reading time ensures that everyone is ready to discuss the topics on the table.

Tesla CEO Musk addressed tweaks to make meetings more effective under a section about productivity in an email last month to employees that Jalopnik published. He recommended doing away with large meetings and holding meetings less frequently in general.

“Excessive meetings are the blight of big companies and almost always get worse over time,” Musk wrote. “Please get [rid] of all large meetings, unless you’re certain they are providing value to the whole audience, in which case keep them very short.”

Only urgent matters require frequent get-togethers, he added, and once the matter is resolved, meeting frequency should fall.

Additionally, Musk encouraged workers to leave meetings as soon as they realize they aren’t adding value. “It is not rude to leave, it is rude to make someone stay and waste their time,” he wrote.