How do you inspire your executive teams to lead better without incurring significant costs in terms of time and money?
One approach I'd recommend you try is a series of fireside chats with inspirational business leaders.
Done well, they can have powerful and positive impacts, and they can be done at scale.
So, what exactly is a fireside chat?
And how do you run a series successfully?
What Is A Fireside chat?
The best firesides typically consist of a host or moderator who is leading the conversation, a guest who is sharing his or her experiences and an audience that is enabled to join in and ask questions throughout.
Thankfully, technology now means you can run these events in both physical and virtual formats.
And a well-run event can cover significant ground and do it in a way that is specific and relevant to your audience's circumstances.
In this case, I explore how governments and companies can drive entrepreneurship and innovation at scale.
And because it's being held on the first day of women's month, I also can unpack Tashmia's journey to success and look for key take-aways that both men and women can apply at work to #breakthebias.
We cover these topics because I believe these are key areas of interest for my client Sybrin's customer base.
Regardless, I'm certain of two things.
Firstly, everyone that does watch will be inspired by her story.
Secondly, the session will act as a catalyst, and many attendees will decide to act on the ideas discussed.
If this event was set up for a corporate leadership team, you can expect even better outcomes, as you have total control over who attends and what topics you want to explore.
I'm confident in this, having analysed the results of a series I ran for a client called the Inspire Series.
The link I've given you takes you to the public version, but before this, I ran a series of internal thought leadership sessions for EOH's entire complement of ~8,000 staff.
Each webinar was set for 60 minutes, and I ran one every month for over half a year.
So, What did I learn?
Firstly, we regularly had a turnout of around 10% of the workforce.
In absolute terms, we usually had between 500 and 1,000 people dialling in because they wanted to, not because the big boss had told them to.
To consistently have that number of people voluntarily take one hour out of their day was a
The second observation was that drop-off rates were typically less than 20% for viewers who stayed watching for at least a few minutes. That meant that 70% to 80% of people felt the sessions were worthwhile enough to invest up to an hour of their time listening and engaging.
It broadened my horizons, influenced my thinking and yes, entertained me as well. Please don't stop.
The most important observation, though, was the level of impact.
It's nice when I see high numbers of attendees and high engagement levels.
But what really excites me is learning that a session has been a catalyst for positive change.
Most of the time, the feedback is anecdotal, like this...
I had already started with new ideas and thinking, but this provided me with more motivation and sometimes also inspiration. Thanks!!
So when I got the opportunity to poll 1,500 people who had watched the inspire series over a period of months, I was super nervous.
My biggest fear was that the positive feedback I'd received was from an outspoken few, and it would be swamped by the silent majority who'd found little to no value and certainly were not making decisions based on the sessions.
So we asked everyone who'd ever attended a session, are you doing anything differently at work due to this series?
80% of respondents replied that they have indeed changed how they work or are planning to do so soon.
What a stunning result.
But why was the series so successful, and can it be replicated by you?
If you concentrate on these four things, you'll have similar positive impacts at your organisation.
The Four Ingredients To Running Impactful Firesides
If you want to run similarly impactful firesides, then you'll need topics, guests and hosts that can create an engaging event for you.
But what else do you need to go from good to great?
For me, there are four extra ingredients.
I ran that poll after hosting monthly interviews with thought leaders for at least half a year.
There is no way a single event will catalyse change to the same degree as a series.
Because a series provides constant reminders over time, eventually giving people the confidence to act.
Consistent nudges are critical in every sphere of our lives.
It doesn't matter if we want to lose weight or build a sales pipeline for a company.
Regular reminders will, over time, change behaviour more effectively than one-off interventions.
So don't plan for unique firesides. Run a series.
2. Relevance To Your Audience
In the Inspire Series, I focused on finding and interviewing business leaders who shared their stories about how to innovate at scale.
For Huawei, I curated a series of interviews with well-known banking CEO's, who shared their views on the future of finance.
But how did I choose the topics and guests?
The very first step is to understand your audience.
From that point, you work backwards to develop themes which will appeal and then think about who the guest should be.
A series, for example, that focused on interviewing successful salesman will have limited impact if run for the finance team!
And if your audience is wide and diverse, you'll need to zoom out on your topics and choose broader themes such as purposeful leadership, outside-in thinking and unconscious bias.
Here are a few generic examples from my 21st Century Leadership Curriculum.
In summary, it doesn't matter the size, seniority or diversity of your team, the planning approach is always the same.
Start by understanding your audience, develop the topics and then search for cool guests.
Don't, whatever you do, start with a guest and then retrofit the topic to the audience.
3. Be As Welcoming As Possible
I still have more to do here, but I try hard to make the events incredibly welcoming.
I find many firesides and panel discussions are far too formal. Some are intimidating.
They create a sense that the interviewers and panellists are somehow different to the viewers.
You'll have better results when you make everyone feel equally important.
If you can make everyone feel safe and welcome, your engagement levels during and after the sessions will increase significantly.
I try to do this by...
Making the invites as informal and conversational as possible.
Regular pre-session reminders that encourage attendees to pose questions throughout the calls.
Welcoming as many people as possible into the call by name.
Inviting attendees to ask questions and doing my best to ensure their questions get airtime.
Using self-deprecation to ensure that the host and guest(s) are perceived as approachable.
Having fun and smiling and laughing as much as possible
This is not intended to be an exhaustive list. Just ask everyone involved in organising your event to be as naturally welcoming as they can possibly be, and you'll get the right result.
How do you drive engagement and interest?
That perhaps is a question for another time because good firesides usually have had significant prep, research and practise, with the host using body language, tone and technology to enhance the occasion.
But there is a simple shortcut that brings many of these benefits automatically.
It's much easier to curate an engaging conversation if you are inherently curious about your guest and the topic you are exploring.
I know from experience that when I'm interested in what a guest is talking about, several things happen...
My performance improves
The guest's performance improves
The audience interacts more
But of these points, point 2. is the most important.
Being curious automatically makes your guests feel special. And that makes even the most wooden, measured guests open up.
The point I'm trying to get across here is that you can't do a great interview by thinking too much about how to do a great interview!
You are 10x more likely to naturally do a great interview if you simply focus on being curious about your guest and asking the questions that interest you the most!
I hope that was helpful.
If you have other suggestions on how to run engaging events that have real impact, I'd love to hear them.
And If you want help orchestrating events that can inspire your staff, build your brand or develop new connections, just shout.
Whether you want to inspire teams, create leads or deepen relationships, fireside sessions, when done well, are powerful catalysts.
Good luck, and remember, whatever you are trying to do, have fun doing it!
p.s. if you want to join my next event with Tashmia but don't have the time, sign up anyway, so you can be notified when the recordings become available.