Everyone should learn how to sell a private jet, writes Ian Whitworth.


One of my favourite clients taught me a valuable lesson on how to sell private jets.

“But hang on, that has nothing to do with presentations,” you’re thinking right now. Patience grasshopper, that is our destination, but first we must make the journey.

Peter, the client, owns an insurance company, but he started his career in aviation sales and finance. He sold jets to the sort of 80’s entrepreneur who had a home the size of a shopping mall on the Swan River, before they moved to a more modest lifestyle in a minimum-security prison.

To sell a private jet, you have to get forensic on the potential client’s travel expenses. You add up all the costs involved for the CEO, his assistant, and key executives to travel first-class around the world, every week of the year. As you might imagine, that’s a serious amount of money.

“You add it all up, and it still doesn’t come anywhere near the insane cost of a private jet,” says Peter. “Through that process you learn there is no rational, logical justification for it whatsoever. That discovery frees you to focus on the real reasons they want one. Which are pure egotism and one-upmanship.”

So if one CEO had a 12-seater, his competitor would want a 14-seater at minimum, so they could casually drop it into the conversation down at the golf club. Did I mention that 100 per cent of the clients were male? Armed with this basic psychology, Peter sold a lot of jets, though of course most were eventually repossessed. And what can you, the eager presenter, learn from this?

Ask yourself why you’re doing this presentation. Not just `because your boss asked you to’, but what you’re actually trying to achieve.

Consider this. Every presentation is trying to change something, in obvious or subtle ways, otherwise there’s no point to doing it. And changing things is incredibly hard. Most people hate change more than spiders.
Sure, they’ll listen politely to your earnest plea for action. And maybe even tell you to your face that they’re giving your proposed change some serious thought. But logic never overcomes fear or laziness. They’ll leave the room, go back to their lives, and won’t change a damn thing.

And the main reason is because presenters go after their audience with a barrage of facts. Facts that you passionately believe are compelling. To you. Because hey, you can’t argue with facts, can you?

To which I would say, have a look at the reader comments below any online news article. And realise that we now live in a post-factual world, where you can construct your own reality based on the opinions of people who agree with you. In 2014, ‘what I reckon’ is as valid as ‘decades of peer-reviewed scientific research’.

This is undoubtedly a bad thing. But it’s the way it is, and you’ll have to work with it. You often hear experts bemoaning this situation.

“If we could just educate people about this!” they lament. What they mean is: “if only everyone was as obsessed by our specialty subject as we are”. And that ain’t going to happen. Never has, never will.

So the only way to make your audience change their behaviour is to put yourself in their shoes. To understand them better than others do. Ask yourself, how will my message improve their lives? Make things easier for them? Remove their annoyances? Make them look good in front of their peers? Give them more time? Make them feel like part of a cool gang? These are the things that occupy people’s everyday hopes and dreams, not shareholder value or a few points of extra market share.

Even if you’re presenting on something a long way from the business world, like The Role of Mold Spores In Nasal Discharge, ask yourself what will attract more funds to your research? How can you be seen as a smarter member of your research community? How can you get people excited enough to help build a world with less nasal discharge? Please.

To understand your audience and their emotional needs, you could do research. But research is quite slow, expensive and detached. The quickest path to understanding is to talk to them at that special time when their brain abandons logic, in favour of unfiltered emotion and truth. That is, when they are full of alcoholic beverages. If you’re able to talk, and more importantly, listen and remember, it’s a gold mine of valuable learning.

And that, my friends, is a service the meetings industry delivers like no other.

Ian Whitworth leads a double life as a co-owner of audio-visual group Scene Change, and principal of creative marketing consultancy, A Lizard Drinking. He can be contacted on email – ian@scenechange.com.au