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Six Lessons Learned From FDR's Fireside Chats

by Susan Berkley.  Copyright 2002,
reprinted with permission

Although TV and radio are mass media, the best broadcasters are able to make each listener feel as if they are sharing an intimate one-on-one conversation. They never elevate themselves about their audience, but speak to everyone as if they were a dear, cherished friend.

Perhaps the first broadcaster to use this technique was President Franklin D. Roosevelt in his famous radio broadcasts, the "fireside chats." FDR delivered 31of these chats over the course of his presidency, beginning on March 12, 1933. Fortunately for us, he was closely observed by his labor secretary Frances Perkins, who gives us great insight into FDR's media style.

Here's what we can learn from Perkins' observations of FDR. While these techniques are especially useful for radio and TV interviews, use them when speaking to ANY audience; over the phone or face-to-face.

1. He visualized his audience as individuals, never as a mass of people.

When I was a broadcaster on the #1 morning show in New York City, there were hundreds of thousands listening. If I had thought about all these people, I probably would have fainted out of nervousness. Instead I imagined that the only person listening was my very best friend. Your audience listens to you one person at a time, so speak to them as

individuals, never as a group. Create a prototype audience member and make up a story about their life, their problems, their needs. They are sympathetic to your cause. They have come to you for help. Speak to this one person whenever you have a faceless audience- on radio, TV or over the phone. With practice, you can learn to transpose the face of your prototype onto an entire live audience.

2. He visualized his audience on the porch, at the dinner table.

The dinner table visualization works great to create a feeling of intimacy and trust. I use it all the time when pitching my products and services over the phone. I imagine I've invited the other person over for dinner. We're having a casual conversation in a familiar setting. We both feel comfortable and relaxed . The telephone works just like the radio. It's the theatre of the mind, and you are the set designer. So create a set that works for you.

3. He was conscious of their faces and hands, their clothes and homes.

The more specific you are about your listener, the more you will connect. Can you tell me the color of their eyes? What are they wearing? Where do they live? Hands speak volumes about a person. What do they reveal?

4. His voice and facial expression as he spoke were those of an intimate friend.

Your tone of voice is closely linked to your facial expression. A frown on your face will make your voice sound harsh and cold. But a smile will warm up your voice, making it sound warm and inviting.

5. As he talked his head would nod and his hands would move in natural, simple gestures.

Most people think that good communication is mouth-centric. Nothing could be farther from he truth! To be a powerful communicator, you have to use your entire body. Gestures and body language add energy and enthusiasm to your speech.

6. His face would smile and light up as though he were actually sitting on the front porch or in the parlor with them. People felt this and it bound them to him in affection.

A smile is one of the most powerful tools you have to create rapport with your listener, even when they can't see you! Smile while you speak. Smile while you dial. Smile even if you don't feel like it. The techniques used by FDR over 60 years ago are still relevant today. Give your very own fireside chat the next time you have to speak to an audience: over the air, on the phone or face-to-face ...and that's one more way to unlock the hidden power of YOUR voice.


From "The Voice Coach" ezine by Susan Berkley, reprinted with permission. Author of The Voice Coach ezine, a newsletter that provides tips and techniques for people who want to make a powerful and positive impression every time they speak. Susan is a top voice-over artist and communications expert. A former radio personality (including the Howard Stern Show), Susan's voice has been heard on thousands of TV & radio commercials and telephone lines. You've probably heard her say: "Thank you for using AT&T." Susan is the author of Speak to Influence: How to Unlock the Hidden Power of Your Voice, dozens of published articles, several comprehensive audio tape programs on voice-over careers, and more! Her proven techniques are used by business and sales people, customer service representatives and even medical professionals who use their voices to soothe their patients. Visit for more information.

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