Hosting a fireside chat? Here are 3 tips to make it great (with video)

Two speakers with live audience

In the early 1930s, Franklin D. Roosevelt introduced the world to the “fireside chat” when he directly addressed the nation via the radio 30 different times. To achieve his goal — assuaging the fears of the American people as they navigated the Great Depression and World War II — he invoked a casual tone.

Contrary to what their name suggests, these fireside chats did not feature Roosevelt warming his toes by a flickering fire as he spoke. Harry Butcher, a CBS reporter, coined this term because he believed “it perfectly evoked the comforting intent behind Roosevelt’s words.”

Today, fireside chats are used more and more often, from conferences and low-key meet-and-greets, to television interviews, such as David Letterman’s Netflix show, My Next Guest Needs No Introduction.

They’re quite a bit different than they were over 80 years ago. Today, they’re conducted in-person (or via video) and typically include a moderator and at least one guest. But the intent is the same — to put everyone at ease and leave the audience with more information and knowledge than before.

These are a great alternative to the more traditional presentation format, where the speaker’s stuck behind a lectern and highlighted by a spotlight. If you plan on setting one up, here are three tips to help you make it a success.

Make the setting comfortable and casual

The main point here is to produce an environment that makes the speaker feel more comfortable. The hope is that he or she will open up, share more information, and relate to the audience.

No better way to do that than to make someone stand up on a stage all alone and present 30 minutes of original content, right? Not exactly.

Instead, try a mimicking the feeling of lounging around a friend’s living room or a local coffee shop. These settings are more conducive to organic discussion. (The only difference here is that a bunch of other people are watching.) You could set up a cozy armchair for each person, or, like in the Tech Inclusive example below, you could place a few chairs around a table.

Prepare, and share, questions ahead of time

Informal does not mean unprepared. People are here for a reason — and it’s not to hear you and your guest struggle through an awkward conversation.

They’re looking for knowledge and information. They want to leave feeling inspired. Figure out what you think it is they truly want and then formulate some questions that will help deliver that. To do this successfully, you’ll need to do your research. Be informed about the latest trends in the industry. Listen to podcasts or read articles that the guest is featured in. Scroll through his or her Twitter feed.

And before the event, send your interview questions to the guest so she can review and provide feedback. You don’t want to catch her off guard by asking a question she’s unprepared for. Nor do you want to venture into how-dare-you-go-there territory. It’s just safest (and most respectful) to include her in the process.

In the example below, the moderator is well-versed in energy storage (the topic of the day) and has a predetermined list of things to ask. Because of this, the conversation is jam-packed with high quality content and flows smoothly.

Read more: 9 must-know tips for successful panel moderation

Involve the audience with simple, clear instructions

The casual atmosphere of a fireside chat also opens up the doors for something else: audience participation. What better way to truly connect with the audience than to interact with them, too?

There are a couple different ways to do this. In the video below, before diving into a question she has for The Muse founders Kathryn Minshew and Alex Cavoulacos, host Kat Mañalac polls the audience, asking how many of them are also entrepreneurs. In one simple move, she breaks down the barrier. This allows those in attendance to share something about themselves (even if just by the raise of a hand) and for Minshew and Cavoulacos to get a better idea of who’s listening to them speak.

Another option is to set aside time for a question and answer session. Attendees can address the guests directly and inquire about things they heard during that session or otherwise. Again, it’s a great way for everyone in the room to connect, and to reach the goal of the audience leaving with exactly what they wanted to know.

If you’re planning an event in which you invite people to share their knowledge, experience, and advice, a fireside chat is a great choice.

Encourage participation by giving people a low-stakes, anonymous way to submit their feedback with Poll Everywhere. The audience sends in responses using their phones, and those responses appear live in your presentation. Start for free today.

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