Translating Complexity
Slides and additional notes for Amazon Leadership

Thank you so much for inviting me to speak at your off-site. It was a genuine joy for an unapologetic Amazon fan-boy such as I am.

Here are the slides from my presentation. I've also included additional notes, observations, and a few book recommendations. If you have any questions or would like to follow up individually, please feel free to book a free 15-minute consultation or send me an email at I'm more than happy to help.

I hope to see you all again sometime soon.


    You may have wondered why I chose this image. I've always found it a wonderful example of how complex communication is. It was taken in the late 1970s, but it's just as relevant today, with companies, organisations, systems, processes and generations all clashing with one another. The punks could easily be your GEN Z colleagues, which would make you the granny!  There was a time when Amazon was the punk, too—in fact you still are in many cases.

    How do we get the punks and the grandmother to turn to each other, bridge the gap, and engage in meaningful conversation? Through translation.

    Make your very good look very easy.

    I have the greatest respect for Amazon's approach to internal communications, particularly document writing. You are also very senior business leaders. A lot of what you do is remarkable. Our workshop and the tips I'm sharing here with you today are to help you make what you do look very easy.

    The Artist Formally Known As Marcus John Henry Brown

    I graduated from Dartington College Of Arts in 1993 with an honorary Art & Social Context degree. My focus was and is performance. I moved to Frankfurt to pursue a career as an Artist but ended up in advertising and discovered that I loved pitching and the performative element of presenting business ideas.  In 2014 I decided that the two could be merged into what I called "Presenterventions".

    Further reading: Forbes, ZEIT, Spiegel, WUV.


    The previous slide is from my last performance, The Hustle Royale. The slide, if you remember, was a film. It took two weeks to make. It took six months of writing, producing, prop-building, filming, editing and sound design to finish The Hustle Royale. Four days after it premiered at the re:publica festival in Berlin, I was rushed to hospital. I thought I was going to die. It wasn't serious, but I was frightened and decided to change my life and my process. I defined principles for working that I now use to help people like you give better, healthier and happier presentations.

    And yes, I've stolen some Amazon principles.


    The audience is the most important person in the room. Presentations must embrace the audience's point of view. Empathy and generosity are the secret weapons. Demand that every word, every sentence and every slide provides value for the audience. And if it doesn’t, ruthlessly get rid of it.


    A presentation needs to know where it's headed. It needs a compass, a northstar—a purpose and that purpose needs to be aligned with you, your audience and your business. A presentation without a purpose is meaningless.


    A presentation is a story. You can’t tell a story if you don’t know how a story works. Be obsessed with stories. Find the stories our audiences need to hear. Inspire audiences with contagious and relevant facts, figures, tales and ideas and then pack them into simple stories that they can remember and share.


    Everything gets better when you do the work. Confidence comes from the process, the practice, the research and the honest hard work of making a great presentation. Respect the audience's time and attention by putting in the work. Do the bloody work. No excuses.

    The keen observer will have noticed that this principle was missing from our workshop together. There are three reasons for this. Firstly, I have a full 90-minute work shop on this part alone, which revolves around my Presentation Canvas. Secondly, as senior leadership, you know how important this is. Finally, accidents happen—I blended it out by mistake (see Principle 6).


    Start as close to the end as possible. Don’t waste time. Your audience will thank you for it.

    We'll encounter him later, but this was heavily inspired by Kurt Vonnegut's rules for writing.


    Own the moment and aim to win. Every presentation is a risk, but embrace that risk. Fck-ups happen, but if they do correct, realign, improve, bounce back better and aim to win again because you will.



    Practice is perfect. Practice kills nerves. Hard-bake practice into your calendars. Become stronger and more confident through practice. In a world full of mediocrity, practising gives you a competitive advantage. Win more and fail less with practice.


    Know who you are. Love yourself. Authenticity isn't a defect. It's a superpower. Don't hide; show yourself. Embrace flaws, dialects, and your beautiful quirks and use them to your advantage. Heavy accent? Use it! If Arnold Schwarzenegger can do it, then so can you.


    Leave the triumphs and failures of the past behind. What’s done is done: what counts lies immediately before you, not tomorrow but today. Memento Mori? Presento Mori! Your next presentation could be your last so use today to make it awesome!

    Thank you for sharing

    Many of the things that you would like to improve require a little more time to fix than a 90-minute session with seventeen other people.

    • Intonation: Write down what you'd like to say and highlight the important words. Practice emphasising those words. Listening to others can help, too. Listening to podcasts of comedians is very helpful here.
    • Do not rely on notes: Record yourself speaking freestyle. Transcribe the recording and learn that script. Do not write a script. Practise the beginning and the end. Know how to start and how to finish. The middle will take care of itself.
    • Storytelling and structure: My Presentation Canvas can help with this. Also, watch how stories are told in films and how comedians craft jokes. It's all about the beginning, middle, and end.
    • Engaging with the audience, writing jokes and interacting: An audience wants to be entertained—they want to clap, laugh, give feedback and interact. As a speaker, you have to build those moments into the presentation. Using a flipchart, building sound cues and asking valuable questions is a great way to activate the audience. Don't waste time trying to write jokes. Humour comes from the moment and from the group dynamic.
    • Being interesting: Being genuinely interested in something is genuinely infectious. If you can show how interested you are, you will become interesting for your audience.
    • Up-to-date and relevant: There is always a relevant part of your business, especially if you're Prime Video. There is always something to talk about. You can use something that is "hot" as a metaphor or template for your presentation. Example: Season 3 of Reacher has just launched. Use the Reacher storyline as a template for your presentation. Better still, how would Jack Reacher give the presentation?
    • Confidence (in the face of critics): It's tempting to try to win over all of the critics and then fall into a hole when it doesn't quite work. Aim to tell a good, clear story. Not to prove how good you are but to translate the complexity into a simple story that even your hardest critic will appreciate.

    I'd be more than happy to help if you'd like to follow up on something you'd like to improve individually.

    The secret sauce

    Translating complex ideas into simple human stories is what every great presenter, keynote/public speaker, comedian, writer, producer or leader does. It's our secret sauce. It took me years to de-weasel the language of the contemporary art business from my own practice. The advertising business helped me with that. I'm not asking you to re-weasel-word your approach to communications. I'm asking you to find a more human, empathetic, real-world language that we can understand—adding your rigour and precision into the mix will make you all unbeateable storytelling giants.

    I want the rest of the world to be as excited about Amazon as I am, and I think simple stories to make that happen.

    The Art Of Seeing

    Everything we see tells a story. Everything we saw in the facility centre told a story too—from the robots, the scanning of bar codes, the Ricoh projectors lighting where products should be placed and even the boards where staff stored the mops, pans and brushes for cleaning the floors. Those coloured buttons you were pressing at the packing station told a story, too. In fact pretty much everything we saw in the facility centre was a story of "mistakes made and corrected".

    Here are a few books that you might enjoy.


    The Fighting Temeraire, tugged to her last berth to be broken up, 1838 is an oil-on-canvas painting by the English artist Joseph Mallord William Turner, painted in 1838 and exhibited at the Royal Academy in 1839.


    Remember, everything we see tells a story, particularly in film. Bond was instructed to meet the new Quartermaster in the National Gallery and found himself waiting in front of an image of himself.

    Ripples of backstory

    A single image, painting, moment, idea or solution can be the result of many layers or what I call story ripples. It's not just that everything tells a story—everything has a story, too. Everything has a backstory and this is what helps us to translate complexity. 

    Sometimes, simple sounds complex

    A few of you were able to see the simplicity of Turner's image, with Sabine even coming close to Q's description of Turner's masterpiece. Q painted a picture with words, one of the key skills for a public speaker. His words alone create an image in our heads. They trigger a connection.

    A bloody big ship

    Bond's not wrong—it is a bloody big ship. But he's tired, beaten up, frustrated, and slightly annoyed. He doesn't want to talk about paintings; even if he did, he couldn't be bothered to communicate anything else other than "A bloody big ship". His line of work keeps communication short, sweet, and efficient.  It's all internal communications. Bond never talks to the outside world, which is something that Q is asking him to do.

    Q is your partner, your mum, your dad or your friends. What do you do? they ask. Bloody big ship, say you.

    the backstory of you and what you do

    Figuring out your ripples is something that takes time. It's worth it though because it's the foundation for an engaging story. Your story. 

    the smallest presentation

    This is a fun and difficult exercise. It takes years to fine-tune and craft an elevator pitch that works—to find a different way of introducing yourself in a meaningful way. We made good progress together.  As a general rule, it's helpful to avoid starting with "My name is..., and I am Senior Head Of Incoming Outgoings (or whatever your title might be). Remember, paint a picture, build a connection, trigger an emotion—be more Q than Bond.

    My story — elevator pitch #1

    As I mentioned in our session together, "I help business people get standing ovations" works well with men over forty. It paints a picture, and people see themselves in it. They don't see me; they see themselves in the spotlight.

    My story — elevator pitch #2

    Here, I'm painting a picture of my work. Again, I'm asking people to see themselves, and when they do, most say, "No, I've never felt like that.*"  My customers do, though, and that's my pitch.

    *According to Statista, the number 1 fear for Germans is public speaking (41%). 

    5 examples

    Not every story is great for the right reasons. Rishi Sunak's story machine is great for satire, political commentary, and stand-up comedians. It's not great for Rishi Sunak's general election hopes. Here are five examples of stories that have inspired me.

    Holy Shit Moments

    Dana White is a polarising individual. White is the CEO of the UFC, a mixed martial arts organisation. He always seems to be able to tell the right story, catch the moment that matters and read the room's temperature. During the post-fight press conference of the UFC300, which included a now legendary brutal battle between Max Holloway and Justin Gaethje, White stated, "People always ask me what I do; I sell holy shit moments for a living". That's one hell of an elevator pitch.

    The iron lady

    Magaret Thatcher's reputation as "the Iron Lady" was well-founded and well-documented. I'm a working-class Thatcher's child, but even I must admit that she was an incredible storyteller, using the verbal imagery of her father's corner shop as a way of communicating, working hard, keeping the books balanced and taking individual responsibility for your life. She had speech writers, of course, and her most famous speech, "The lady is not for turning" was written by the playwright Sir Ronald Millar, But she was the one who delivered it.

    If our people feel that they are part of a great nation and they are prepared to will the means to keep it great, then a great nation we shall be, and shall remain. So, what can stop us from achieving this? What then stands in our way? The prospect of another Winter of Discontent? I suppose it might.

    But I prefer to believe that certain lessons have been learned from experience, that we are coming, slowly, painfully, to an autumn of understanding. And I hope that it will be followed by a winter of common sense. If it is not, we shall not be diverted from our course.

    To those waiting with bated breath for that favourite media catchphrase, the 'U-turn', I have only one thing to say: 'You turn if you want to. The lady's not for turning!' I say that not only to you but to our friends overseas and also to those who are not our friends.

    The Presidential Elevator Pitch

    We Choose to Go to the Moon was written for JFK by presidential advisor and speechwriter Ted Sorensen. It's a speech that oozes with history yet to be written, of hope and national pride. It's a presidential elevator pitch—visionary, bold and full of action.

    We set sail on this new sea because there is new knowledge to be gained and new rights to be won, and they must be won and used for the progress of all people. For space science, like nuclear science and all technology, has no conscience of its own. Whether it will become a force for good or ill depends on man, and only if the United States occupies a position of pre-eminence can we help decide whether this new ocean will be a sea of peace or a new terrifying theater of war. I do not say that we should or will go unprotected against the hostile misuse of space any more than we go unprotected against the hostile use of land or sea, but I do say that space can be explored and mastered without feeding the fires of war, without repeating the mistakes that man has made in extending his writ around this globe of ours. There is no strife, no prejudice, no national conflict in outer space as yet. Its hazards are hostile to us all. Its conquest deserves the best of all mankind, and its opportunity for peaceful cooperation may never come again. But why, some say, the Moon? Why choose this as our goal? And they may well ask, why climb the highest mountain? Why, 35 years ago, fly the Atlantic? Why does Rice play Texas? We choose to go to the Moon. We choose to go to the Moon... We choose to go to the Moon in this decade and do the other things, not because they are easy, but because they are hard; because that goal will serve to organize and measure the best of our energies and skills, because that challenge is one that we are willing to accept, one we are unwilling to postpone, and one we intend to win, and the others, too.

    Everybody dreams

    You have a pre-prepared speech. You have rehearsed it. You step out in front of a sea of people and begin to speak. Suddenly, a voice cries out, "Tell them about the dream, Martin!" Dr. King's now famous speech wasn't fully scripted. It came from the heart. The entire speech is a masterclass, but the final "I have a dream" section is, in my opinion, the best example of public speaking the world has ever heard. And the world was listening— not only his world but the entire world, and that's the point.

    I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character.


    Why and how a story, joke, speech or presentation works depends upon understanding its shape. The examples I gave you were either taken from or inspired/stolen from this video of Kurt Vonnegut. Stories have shapes; they need them. Stories are dull and flat if they don't have texture, cadence, curves, pivots and movement. 

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