Helping Airbnb’s C-suite hone communication skills to win tough audiences

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Woman raising her hand during a communication training workshop.

Project background

A senior leadership group within Airbnb, a technology-based, Fortune 500 Hospitality / Hotel & Resorts company, often communicates high-stakes presentations to senior leaders, to foreign stakeholders, and to their CEO, who is known to limit talks to 5 minutes. The company also enforced a hard limit of two-hour training windows.

Future business growth depended on these leaders nailing their communication skills and presentations. Miscommunication was costing them executive buy-in on innovative projects and initiatives, and the potential cost of missing out on new international business was forecasted as a communication challenge.



The big challenge

Skills gaps and communication barriers

Multiple leaders needed to uplevel their presentation and communication skills. Some needed to frequently present, and appease, a high-standards CEO. Others needed to frequently work with foreign governments due to regulations in their industry, but were hitting communication roadblocks due to different cultures, nationalities, and other nuances.

Recognizing a strong skills gap for better communication, the L&D leader pushed hard for Duarte training, because she knew the ROI was worth it. They needed a communication training to teach their leaders how to make audience-centric presentations, whether for a CEO or for someone from another part of the world.

Start with your audience

Duarte started by conducting their own pre-workshop audience analysis of their CEO and his communication style. We referenced some quotes he gave in various interviews where he talked about story, and emphasized to our attendees how the workshop methodology couldn’t have been better suited for him. Yes, he’s the CEO of an incredibly successful tech company, but he’s also a storyteller (and story “listener”) who relies on interwoven narratives for his communications. 

Our process

We initiated several alignment meetings, one with the point of contact to set expectations, then a second involving leadership and key stakeholders to ensure we understood their KPI’s.

Our insights

For presentations, we learned they needed to balance detail with simplicity, how to design content that meets the needs of multiple audiences, and how to develop hooks to keep people interested. For communicating, we discovered they needed to learn how to adapt their message for different audiences, how to still be effective when communicating to different cultures and nationalities, how to choose whether to go deep in a topic, or to stay high level, while being prepared for either if an audience asks for it, and finally, to be audience-first in their core messaging. What a speaker may value may not be what is important to an audience.

Our approach

We walked through audience analysis exercises and taught them about who the “hero” is for their presentations. This was a big unlock for the team! The story structure section was a big win for this team, and it generated lots of insightful questions and comments.

We also instituted small group peer feedback coaching sessions: They offered feedback on content and visuals during the first round especially when some folks shared their text-heavy slides. They started to recognize the relationship of “What is and What could be,” and ensured timely transitions from their “Acts 1 to Act 2” in their presentations.

The results

Finding room for growth

This is a fast-paced learning culture, and they cap all trainings to no more than 90 minutes! It was their first time working with an outside partner, and their leaders expressed it was worth it! Some leaders started this learning journey by proclaiming themselves as master storytellers, with 15 years of communication experience. But by the end of their time training with Duarte, they surprisingly exclaimed they learned something new, and still have a lot to learn. It was obvious our workshops had a significant impact on the senior leadership here.