Breaking from their conventional confines, new formats are putting the fire back in fireside chats.

Throughout human history, fireside conversations have conveyed cultures, built allegiances, and shared information that elevated and connected tribes. Event marketers know the power of this metaphorical setting. In their modern incarnation, fireside chats and their elongated brethren, panel discussions, bring an event’s attendees these same feelings of community and moments of insight.

The event management industry loves fireside chats. Trade publications (and even our technology partners) all have insightful recommendations for making fireside chats more impactful and successful for their audiences. Popular conferences, like the SaaStr Annual conference, ditched solo presentations and replaced them all with onstage, fireside chat-styled interviews.

Presentation Pitfalls

Beyond the concerns of actual fire hazards and whether the format might be flaming out, the popularity of fireside chats is also exposing their limitations. Too often, this conversational method can act as an agenda filler, speaker facetime box-checker, and forced format disrupter. The underlying strategy typically follows best practices and honorable intentions, but the impact can miss the mark.

Why? The space between a highly effective, audience-beloved session and an average session often comes down to the human elements. These conversations can become scripted interviews and planned mini presentations. Without components that are heartfelt and human, unexpected and elevating, these conversations fall flat.

Facing Forward

To bring the human element back into these conversations, two popular thought leadership events have made simple but powerful changes to their approaches: They have their speakers face each other.

With simple, in-the-round stage and directors chairs, the conversations at the Nantucket Projects have become revered for the captivating stories they generate.

At C2 Montreal, a multi-purpose circular stage provided a powerful setting for conversations, with speakers facing each other across a uniquely designed stage.

In both examples, the design shift was simple yet impactful. By breaking from the traditional face-the-audience setup, the speakers were eye-to-eye in conversation. Each speaker was focused on the person they were talking with, not the full audience. From seasoned presenters to big stage newbies, each speaker avoided going into “presentation mode.” Each presenter engaged in meaningful human-to-human conversations.

Beyond the Big Stage

As brands look to bring more content moments into their attendee journeys, fireside chats are now seen across the full event design. From tradeshow floors to activation spaces to podcast booths, conversations are being held everywhere. This has also enabled brands to reimagine how they are capturing and syndicating these conversations for remote live audiences and for post-event repurposing. (See more in our trend post on Conversation Syndication.)

Back to the Fire

This budding trend of having speakers face each other shows that breaking from the conventional setups of events is a valuable way to reconnect with the origin of storytelling. By evoking the traditional setup of a fireside chat, the audience will be brought into more intimate and impactful moments.

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