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Star Wars and Airbnb Follow a Time-Tested Formula, And So Should Your Next Presentation

By incorporating elements of ‘ The Hero’s Journey’ into a pitch, you’ll make a strong connection with your audience.

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BY Carmine Gallo - 03 Jan 2018

PHOTO CREDIT: Getty Images

In a scene in the new Stars Wars movie, The Last Jedi, a character turns to the hero and says "All is lost." It's scene that you'll see replicated in every Hollywood blockbuster and every great heroic epic throughout the history of literature. It's also a familiar part of nearly every entrepreneur's journey, which is why it's a great "scene" to include in a pitch or presentation.

Star Wars: The Last Jedi has cleared the $1 billion mark over the holidays, making it the eight highest-grossing domestic movie of all time. And it still has a lot of room to run in domestic and overseas markets. Since the day Star Wars first hit the screen in 1977, it's transfixed movie audiences. What movie-goers might forget is that the story nearly didn't get told until creator George Lucas picked up a book that outlined the timeless structure of heroic epics.

Lucas had written two drafts of Star Wars and wasn't happy with it. It lacked an emotional center that would translate to kids and adults alike, across cultures and countries. He recalled a book that he had read in college: Joseph Campbell's The Hero with a Thousand Faces. Lucas re-read it and it gave him the structure for the original movie. Campbell discovered that every heroic story throughout history follows the hero along 17 stages (a screenwriter named Christopher Vogler later condensed the cycle to twelve stages for movies). The stages take us from the hero's original world, through tests and ordeals, and ultimately to rebirth and resurrection where the hero and/or the world is transformed for the better.

The "all is lost" scene comes in during the hero's ordeal and is a staple in nearly every successful Hollywood movie. It's the scene where the hero faces a hurdle that seems insurmountable (think of Luke Skywalker and friends in the trash compactor in the original movie). By building up the tension, the resolution is all the sweeter. The hero's journey is a time-tested formula, which is why charismatic entrepreneurs like Airbnb CEO Brian Chesky will often follow it.

Chesky understands Campbell's hero's journey so well, he once said it inspired the way the company thinks about its services. When Chesky tells the Airbnb story, he even follows the broad outline of the hero's journey: Status quo, conflict, resolution.

Status quo

The status quo is the hero's ordinary world before the adventure starts. In the Airbnb story, two friends live in an apartment in San Francisco. Whey they can't pay the rent, they come up with an idea to rent out air mattresses. The adventure begins.

Conflict

In part two, the heroes are tested with a series of ordeals and setbacks. In his telling of the story, Chesky even includes an "all is lost" moment, when the founders were running out cash. "I would wake up in a panic," Chesky told one audience. "Everyone thought it was crazy. No one supported us. We had no money. It was the best weight-loss program ever. I lost 20 pounds. I didn't have any money for food. I would wake up in the morning with my heart pounding."

Resolution

In act three, the hero undergoes a transformation and makes the world a better place. In his presentations, after Chesky builds up the tension, he offers a resolution to the conflict. The founders get thrown a lifeline when Y Combinator accepts them into its selective startup accelerator program. Investors came calling and today the company is worth $30 billion with 3 million listings across across 65,000 cities.

The Airbnb story is re-told in books, blogs and on the company's website precisely because it follows a familiar and time-tested story formula.

The next time you have to present your brand or your personal story, try to replicate a version of the hero's journey. First, describe your "ordinary" world before your adventure. Second, build the suspense by talking about some of the obstacles you've had to conquer, and third, describe how the ordeals transformed you or your company.

Star Wars creator George Lucas once said that the hero's journey is recognizable because we all go through some version of it. We all face transitions in our life when we're called to adventure. The lessons we learn along the way, the friends and allies we make, and the ordeals we must endure make us stronger. It's a timeless story that will help you connect with your audience.