How to win over an audience

Source: Forbes

Almost all presentations in business are boring. Meandering, data-laden rambles supported by slides which nobody reads.

How many hours worth of bad presentations have you sat through? Or could it be measured in days? A frightening thought.

How about the presentations you’ve delivered? Are you happy that you’ve been able to get your point across? Reach a reasonable decision? Maybe even entertain your audience in the process?

In essence, if you give presentations to colleagues; you’re salesperson. Your title might say marketing, or engineering, or finance, but ultimately, any time you find yourself trying to influence others; you’re selling.

So, if we want to get better at presenting; how do we become better at selling?

Last month, Airbnb’s CEO Brian Chesky delivered a master-class in how to sell at their San Francisco office. With employees, hosts and even family in the audience; Chesky was announcing their new brand campaign along with an overhaul of their mobile app.

Airbnb are a company who have built a strong brand with a devout following. Guests, hosts and employees are made to feel part of a global ‘community’. This is exactly the kind of togetherness they want the world to feel.

So change of any kind for this ‘community’ would likely be met with some hesitation.

Chesky landed the news perfectly.

But the magic wasn’t necessarily in the polished slides, well-shot videos or even the new features themselves. The magic was how he delivered the news.

There are three characteristics of Brian Chesky’s presentation style. My point here is that they aren’t rocket science. You could use them in your presentation tomorrow.

Clearly declare the enemy right upfront

Before propelling into all the new and exciting changes Airbnb have made, Chesky does two things. He briefly takes time to remind people of the simple idea of Airbnb; belonging anywhere. Immediately after he highlights what is getting in the way of this simple idea.

For Airbnb this is mass tourism.

Chesky made sure to open with this and continually references throughout. The video he shared was particularly explicit in pointing to just how awful typical tourist-y things can be. From here, he then has a point of reference to contrast Airbnb’s offering against.

“We are this, not this”.

He also uses this framework for their ‘Live Like a Local’ campaign: “don’t go there, live there”.

Declaring the enemy is a device to engage the audience. Get them on your side by giving them something they can easily agree with. Your audience will begin to buy in to what you have to say from this point because they know the reasons behind the thing you’re about to tell them before you’ve told them.

To put this in perspective, Chesky doesn’t make the company announcements until ten minutes into the presentation. He spends the entire first half of his presentation talking about the problem; before revealing the solution.

Declaring the enemy was also pointed about by Andy Raskin in his brilliant deconstruction of Elon Musk’s presentation to introduce the Tesla Powerwall. Worth a read.

Use storytelling, only support with data

Whilst Chesky refers to a few statistics, his presentation is built on telling stories.

From the story of the first three guests, to the story of his mother and father’s visit to Paris; Chesky is a master storyteller. But the stories themselves are relatively simply.

Using stories engages people. They help people understand why there’s a problem; even if it’s obvious from the facts and figures.

Airbnb often use their start-up story when talking about themselves. It’s a warming underdog tail. Humble design grads who manage to host just three guests for a design conference in San Francisco. It helps people remember that the brand and platform was created by people ‘just like them’ (irrespective of the company’s current multi-billion dollar valuation).

The founding story leads but Chesky chooses to finish with statistics. 191 countries. 2.25 million homes. The numbers are there only to bolster the story and highlight just how far “we’ve” come (we = the community).

Chesky’s style is to tell multiple short stories to support a key point. To ensure he closes his presentation well; he makes sure to loop back to his opening story of the first 3 Airbnb guests.

There are other styles; however. Malcolm Gladwell is particularly good at researching the poignant yet (most of the time) little-known story that supports the points he’s making.

Things come in 3s

Delivering things in three’s adds a rhythm to your presentation. It’s a magic number that just seems to make things; more interesting, more enjoyable and more memorable :-)

Chesky’s presentation is littered with them.

Introducing the mass tourism problem, he highlights three issues; “your find yourself in-line, alone and usually doing things which locals never do.”

Reflecting on Airbnb’s simple idea: “What if you could go to any community, any country, any city in the world; and you could feel like you belong in that community?”

Describing his parent’s Paris trip: “A portrait session. Going to see the Mona Lisa. Visiting the Eiffel Tower.”

Contrasting the idea of ‘travelling somewhere’ versus ‘living somewhere’: “Going is travel, but living is a deeper experience. You stay in a hotel, but you live in a home. You tour a city centre, but you live in a neighbourhood.”

Even their new mobile app has three distinct features; Matching, neighbourhoods, guidebooks.

When Chesky doesn’t deliver his message in threes; he relies on the simplest of comparisons to explain why Airbnb’s solution is superior to others. Most notably, comparing the top 5 tourist sites on trip advisor for Paris versus the top 5 sites to visit based on Airbnb hosts recommendation is an immediately understandable way to see the benefits of their app’s new features.


These simple foundations can make even the most basic of presentations that little bit more bearable. So next time you have a presentation; think about declaring the enemy, telling stories, and delivering things in threes. It might just lead to the outcome you desire.


Originally published at www.neilsmithdesign.com.