Creative Commons: Image by National Archives and Records Administration
In case you haven’t heard, presentations delivered standing behind a lectern are out and fireside chats are in. Whether it is an effort to emulate the format originated by President Franklin D. Roosevelt or an effort to avoid the curse captured by the old Jerry Seinfeld joke: “To the average person, if you go to a funeral, you’re better off in the casket than doing the eulogy,” chats are the new way to present.
FDR, whose patrician voice and dignified manner made him sound formal and distant, developed the fireside chat to create a more intimate bond with the public. But the format has another equally-important benefit and, although FDR didn’t need the help, it reduces the pressure that presenters invariably feel when they are the sole center of attention. “Yikes! They’re all looking at me!”
In my pre-presentation coaching career, I was a producer/director of public affairs and news programs at WCBS-TV, and I used the chat format to reduce the pressure that our guests—from the business, scientific, academic, and governmental sectors— invariably felt when they appeared in front of live television cameras. “Yikes!”
We put our guests in dialogues with professional anchorpersons or hosts. The format is still used today and has broadened from in-studio to two-way split-screen exchanges from remote locations. Today, I use the same conversational approach in coaching presentations.
If you are invited to a give a fireside chat, here are four simple recommendations to help you do it well:
- Set a roadmap. Determine the key points of your chat in advance and organize them in a logical progression—including the length of each segment and the whole. Announce the structure at the beginning of your session and track the milestones as you proceed. Sound familiar? It’s telling them what you’re going to tell them, tell them, and…
- Interact with your chat partner/interviewer. All too often, chats tend to fall into the celebrity interview mode where the interviewer merely serves up questions to feed a virtual monologue. Avoid that trap by involving your chat partner’s point of view.
- Involve the audience. Bring the audience into the discussion by opening the floor to questions either during or after the chat.
- Eye Contact. Of course, engage with the interviewer, but also involve the audience further by addressing some of your remarks to them.
Above all, be conversational. It’s the best way to calm your nerves and avoid the Jerry Seinfeld curse.
This blog post by Jerry Weissman was first published on his site at Forbes. He has written five books on presentation skills. His most recent, Winning Strategies for Power Presentations, published by Pearson, is available now from Amazon.
Jerry Weissman is among the world’s foremost corporate presentations coaches. His private client list reads like a who’s who of the world’s best companies, including the top brass at Yahoo!, Intuit, Cisco, Microsoft, Netflix, RingCentral, Mobileye, OnDeck, CyberArk and many others.
Jerry founded Power Presentations, Ltd. in 1988. One of his earliest efforts was the Cisco IPO roadshow. Following its successful launch, Don Valentine, of Sequoia Capital, and then chairman of Cisco’s Board of Directors, attributed “at least two to three dollars” of the offering price to Jerry’s coaching. That endorsement led to more than 600 other IPO roadshow presentations that have raised hundreds of billions of dollars in the stock market.