Memos over Powerpoint
Another way to phrase this is substance over form.
I work in consulting, which basically means I work in powerpoint. Powerpoint is a great tool for presenting concise, summarised principles to an audience that only has time to digest the outcome and want it presented to them. In this context it’s worth focusing on good diagrams, charts, visualisation and story telling. Minimal text on slides, the text should come out of your mouth, the slides should support your story.
However this isn’t how Powerpoint is used in most consultancies. It’s used as the primary artifact for any representation of knowledge. The issue with this is that you spend most of your time on formatting, and little time on actual content and structure. With a memo (any word doc/pdf) you spend little time on formatting and most of your time on content and structure.
Writing a long form memo helps your own brain figure out and make sense of a topic. Get it all down, open up a word doc and do a brain dump, you’ll start making sense of it as you get it all down. Then once you sit back and look at it, you can start adding structure to it, expanding on areas, putting headings on sections, reordering sentences, shortening them, summarising. What you’re actually doing here is adding structure to thought. That’s the inherent power of long form writing is that you’re fleshing out, structuring and maturing thought. The tool in which you’re doing this should be trivial in making these changes. A word doc makes this process easy, a Powerpoint does not.
Powerpoints are for presenting, prioritisting visuals to support a narrative. Even in this case, allowing people to digest it beforehand through a recording helps immensly.
Jeff Bezos explained in his 2018 letter to shareholders how they use memos at Amazon -
We don’t do PowerPoint (or any other slide-oriented) presentations at Amazon. Instead, we write narratively structured six-page memos. We silently read one at the beginning of each meeting in a kind of “study hall.”
If you’ve got an important meeting coming up, send out a word doc explaining your understanding and let them edit it and send back, revise and send out again. This process is easy to do and doesn’t require any complex formatting, or even any formatting at all.
Finally, writing doesn’t need to be for others. If you’re struggling to make sense of a new area, open up a word doc, do a brain dump, write long form and then edit and structure.