Have you ever wondered how to structure and create internal communications or virtual events that grab peoples’ attention?

You know the type. Informal and engaging talks, unlike the ones that sound like a stern lecture from a parent. 

In this article, you’ll learn about how fireside chats, a unique presentation format, allow you to make your conferences, meets-and-greets, and other events more enjoyable for all participants.

Together, we’ll explore the history of fireside chats, the benefits you can derive from it, and tips that can help you successfully organize a fireside chat of your own.

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The history of fireside chats

Between 1933 and 1944, America was in a relative state of turmoil and unease. There was the Great Depression, and in the later years, the Second World War. 

During that period, President Franklin D Roosevelt (FDR) delivered 30 radio addresses known as the fireside chats. These addresses were aimed at alleviating the anxiety of Americans because of the Depression and the World War.

Although he was speaking over the radio, millions around the United States felt as if President Roosevelt was sitting with them in front of their living room’s fireplace. FDR became more than just a picture they saw on the TV. He became real to them. FDR’s fireside chats were so popular that the White House received 10X more inbound mails every week.

What is a fireside chat?

A fireside chat is a personal and interactive discussion involving a moderator and guest, allowing an audience to gain insights into the guest’s personal stories and thoughts on various topics.

Fireside chats in the 21st century

A lot has changed since the 1930s. We now have video, email, the internet, and so many other means of communication. 

But despite these changes, a fireside chat’s purpose remains the same — to make everyone feel relaxed and leave the audience with more information than they had before.

If you are interested in holding a fireside chat to address your company, you need to ensure that your audience can trust and see you as a real person, just as millions did with FDR. 

Benefits of fireside chats

The original FDR fireside chats were an incredible success.  They calmed the nerves of many Americans and lifted an entire nation’s spirits. 

Granted, you might not have the same resources or access that FDR had, but fireside chats today still offer a ton of benefits. Here are just a few:

  1. Share useful information with an audience.

Fireside chats often come in question and answer formats, making the audience think about the questions being asked. By answering these questions during the conversation, the guest will impart useful information to your audience.

2. Reduces pressure on guests

Since these chats are conversations, invited speakers will be at ease. Many people are uncomfortable being the center of attention, making fireside chats excellent because the focus is on more than one person.

3. Creates closer connections between your guest and audience

The informal setting establishes an affinity between the speaker and the audience. And with the speaker feeling more comfortable, they would be more inclined to delve into topics and share their knowledge with the audience.

Fireside chat formats

You can only enjoy the benefits of a fireside chat if you use the right format. With that in mind, here are some of the most common fireside chat formats to model yours after.

Live fireside chats

Like a TED talk, these live fireside chats happen right in front of an auditorium or conference room full of people.

The difference, of course, is that there are usually two or more persons seated in front of the audience.

Virtual fireside chats

Any event planner or producer knows that staying flexible is critical – especially when bringing together an in-person, virtual, or hybrid audience. Lockdowns and health protocols may have made it difficult to predict where people can gather in-person, but that doesn’t mean a fireside chat can’t go live.

Instead of using a physical location, you can explore the virtual fireside chat format. Your audience has the benefit of tuning in from anywhere around the world to listen to you and your guests. Your guests will also have the benefit of broadcasting wherever they are making it easier to source speakers who may not be able to attend otherwise.

You can still hold a live fireside chat for your company even if conducted virtually – just be sure to equip yourself with a top-notch professional live streaming platform or check out an all-in-one virtual events solution to bring your broadcasts live.

Pre-recorded fireside chats

Aren’t fireside chats supposed to be live? It’s not set in stone. And there are merits to using the pre-recorded fireside format. 

One merit is that you can easily edit and fine-tune the conversation to remove parts you deem unnecessary with pre-recorded chats. 

Also, you can engage fully with your audience in that comment section as the presentation is going on.

Tips on how to organize a fireside chat

Here are some tips that can assist you in making a success of your fireside chats.

1. Choose the right “players”

Not all speakers and moderators are equal. Some are excellent at fielding media inquiries, while others are more comfortable talking to large groups. To get the right guest, look for someone exciting, with the ability to hold the audience’s attention with their words and disposition.

Since you want the guests to open up, you must have a capable moderator or interviewer who can ask the right questions and keep the chat on a captivating path.

2. Prepare in advance

Your goal is to leave your audience with fewer questions than they came with while you want an informal setting. Thus, the moderator should be well prepared. Prepare the right questions in advance (more on the best fireside chat questions later). Also, send these questions to the guest/guests ahead of time so that they can prepare as well.

Preparation also involves knowing the critical points of the chat and creating the right structure in advance. Logically organize questions and topics. A conversation without direction will leave the audience wondering why they are wasting time attending the chat when they could be doing something else.

It might be helpful to peruse past fireside chats, panel discussions, or town halls your company has conducted to get a feel for the process. A video library to store internal videos can be helpful in centralizing past video content your company has produced.

Create and track milestones to make your discussions easy to follow.

3. Make it interactive

To get the best from a fireside chat, you should make the chat as interactive as you can. For example, when building a webinar presentation, it’s important to create an interactive discussion that involves bringing the audience into the conversation. Let your audience ask questions, host polls, and allow them some leeway in directing the conversation.

If you like, you could set aside time for a question-and-answer session. To ensure a high-quality level, you can decide who will send questions in advance and go over these questions.

As this is a fireside chat, allowing audience participation will not be as disruptive as in a formal setting. However, try to avoid questions that might make the guest uncomfortable.

Questions to ask in a fireside chat

The best questions in the fireside chat format are asked for the audience’s benefit.  If you keep the audience in mind, you are well on your way to asking excellent questions.

Here are some personal fireside chat questions to ask your guests to get the ball rolling:

  • How do you relax?
  • What is your biggest challenge?
  • Do you have a morning ritual or routine?
  • What legacy would you like to leave behind?
  • Who has had the most influence on your life and why?

Personal questions like these can create a human-to-human connection between your guests and the audience.

Another great category of questions is work-related questions. Some of these include:

  • What are the major challenges in the industry?
  • What do you foresee as the future of the industry?
  • What advice do you have for newbies in the industry?
  • What change would you like to happen in your industry?

Why hold a fireside chat for your company?

Fireside chats create new levels of connection within teams and companies. Event audiences across the globe also benefit from hearing speakers share their stories and break new ground in topics of interest. While the technology or produce these events virtually might seem challenging, the work is well worth it. Fireside chats can improve your company’s transparency, collaboration, and connection.

Live streaming and virtual event tools like Vimeo are excellent ways to hold your next discussion. Vimeo offers all-in-one virtual event solutions to empower anyone to produce a stunning fireside chat.

Go live with your next fireside chat

Originally published on April 14, 2021 and updated on November 11, 2021.