Fired up: How to do the fireside chats right – by Mariam Farag

Mariam Farag writes creating value addition and thought leadership through fireside chats and panel discussions

Having worked with multiple industries, I know how important data and information are to business growth and progress. But I also know that every organization needs human connection and understanding as its foundation if it wants sustainable success.  

Combining the two – a desire to find new ways to grow and improve business practices while leading people through flexibility, adaptability, and empathy in highly dynamic environments requires constant learning and sharing of information. And that’s where fireside chats and panel discussions have real potential to provide value and insight in today’s competitive world.

The rise of fireside chats and panels in corporate cultures

Long PowerPoint presentations and boring speeches at corporate events are a thing of the past. Conversely, fireside chats and panel discussions have become the ‘go-to’ strategy. This sharp rise in popularity over the last couple of years is because audiences want interactive, engaging events that put a ‘face’ to a perspective or an idea. 

And if we are being honest, it makes complete sense. Fireside chats and panel discussions are more intimate and open. The setup is casual and informal, inviting deeper and more meaningful engagement while adhering to a structure that provides relevant content.

What’s more, fireside chats give everyone present more equitable representation. And because everyone gets to speak and bring their views to the proverbial table, it becomes easier to book higher-profile talent and expertise. That, in itself, elevates the event and the value proposition of the conversation. The audience is more invested and engaged, and the takeaways are higher. It’s a win-win in every way. 

A guide to hosting a top-tier chat or panel 

However, a word of warning – not all fireside chats and panel discussions create value for the audience or help the speaker and host establish thought-leadership. In fact, if not done right, fireside chats and panels can be highly boring events and a waste of precious time.

That’s where organizers/ hosts have the supremely important job of bringing focus, meaning, and precision to the conversation. They’re tuned to both the speakers and the audience, and they’re trained to create an atmosphere where people can have a healthy and interactive discussion. It’s only when you get everything in perfect synchrony that all your guests – panellists and audience – leave more informed, knowledgeable, and fulfilled. 

To add further context, I’ve cherry-picked five strategies from my own experiences that are highly effective in ensuring success:

1. Get laser-clear on the ‘WHY’ of your event

It all starts with you and your reasons for getting people together for a conversation. You need to be crystal clear on why you are hosting an event and why the topic matters because only then will you be able to organize a discussion that focuses on getting answers.

2. Hire the right moderator

A moderator is like a traffic warden at a chaotic junction. He/ she sets the event’s tone, is your brand’s voice, and is responsible for making sure that the audience and the speakers are engaged. And hiring someone who’s a professional and is reading the room in real-time is worth every penny. It’s what makes all the difference. 

3. Book talent carefully, onboard them seamlessly, and prepare them thoroughly

The next step – is talent. Deciding who to invite is a tough task, even tougher in the case of a panel. The speakers’ dynamic amongst themselves, with the moderator, and the audience, can make or break your event. 

Do you want high-profile speakers that attract audiences, or is an unknown voice with a fresher perspective the way to go? This is where an experienced moderator can be very handy in helping you decide. 

Once you’ve booked your talent, ensure that they’re thoroughly prepped. Great communication with the talent at each step makes them comfortable speaking at your event. 

4. Create a casual setting that encourages discussio

You need to ensure that the moderator and your speakers feel comfortable. A cosy setting, comfortable chairs, and freshly brewed coffee go a long way in creating a friendly environment. 

5. Get the audience to interact

Remember, at the end of the day it’s all about your audience. They’re the ones you create value for, and they will decide whether you are a thought leader. Therefore, the right kind of audience interaction is critical for success.

Admittedly, it takes experience to conduct good fireside chats and panel discussions that leave audiences talking long after the event. There’s always a bit of trial and error, but if you want to do it really right, hire a seasoned strategist. 

Mariam Farag is an ex-UN humanitarian, ex-MBC Group media executive, educator and winner of the Humanitarian of the Year award at the C3 Summit during the UN General Assembly in NYC.