Fireside Chats

Franklin Roosevelt grew up with an elitist aura. He had big dreams but at the age of 39 was stricken with polio. Fueled by a determination that few people could maintain, he fought to sustain his dreams. The key moment in his physical and human rehabilitation was a spa that he discovered in Warm Springs, Georgia. Roosevelt turned the run down spa into a rehab center for fellow polio sufferers. Not only did Roosevelt direct the physical transformation of the spa, but he became a counselor for his fellow polio patients. But more important was the transformation that Roosevelt made in his relationship with others. He became humble and ridded himself of the elitist aura.

The humility that Roosevelt developed from working with his fellow polio sufferers became critical to his success in leading the U.S. through two of our most serious challenges: The Great Depression and World War II. President Roosevelt (FDR) was able to guide Americans through challenges by implementing a series of fireside chats.

On March 12, 1933 FDR began addressing Americans using radio. Each chat focused on one topic. Most chats were under 30 minutes in duration. The fireside chats were delivered in sporadic intervals to make them special. They were the most listened to radio broadcasts of the time. Cars would be parked along busy highways so those in the car could hear what the President had to say. Lines from the chats were repeated by citizens in daily conversations.

President Roosevelt was a story teller. As he prepared for his chats, he selected words that he would use in his interactions with fellow “polios” at Warm Spring, GA. He began his chats with “my friends.” The chats were designed to input information about complex subjects in ways that every American could understand. The chats were realistic portrayals of challenges our country faced but, they also contained hopeful messages.

The ability of a President to share insights about the nation is critical to building confidence in the future. In effect, the President needs to be a story teller. Story telling is an art that depends upon

  • The use of language familiar to everyone
  • The conveyance of the story in a calming voice
  • The creation of images that are hard to forget
  • The development of hope and confidence
  • An ending with an inspiring moral to the message.

Few leaders of our country have been effective story tellers. Why is that? Is story telling something we are born with, or can it be developed?

Just imagine what the ability to be a story teller says about a person’s ability to lead? Just imagine how critical storytelling is to bring together those who have very different views on the world? Just imagine how critical storytelling is to restoring our faith?  Might we hope for leaders who are story tellers?

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“Be sincere; Be brief; Be Seated.”
– Franklin Roosevelt

How To Use

Useful guides for incorporating messages into discussion.