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Author Topic: The Fireside-Chat Technique  (Read 105 times)
Joe Carillo
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« on: September 25, 2017, 08:17:30 PM »

One major reason why even highly intelligent, well-educated people find it difficult to write is that they have not learned to get into the proper frame of mind for it. They stare at the blank paper or the blank computer screen with dread, wracking their brains to find that voice that can make their writing sparkle and become more persuasive, more convincing, perhaps more impressive. But more often than not, even the first line of what they want to say eludes them. This is because they cannot even form a clear mental picture of who they are writing to. The same people who can effortlessly carry on lively, brilliant conversations with their associates or deliver spellbinding speeches to huge audiences suddenly develop imaginary stage fright when writing, browbeaten into inaction by a faceless audience in their minds.


There is actually a very simple, straightforward technique to combat this mental paralysis. Just imagine an audience of one—only one. Forget about all the others who may have an interest in what you have to say; you will have time to bring them into the picture much, much later. Just focus on this audience of one—your boss, your staff, a critic, a lover, in fact anyone in particular—and imagine that he or she is right in front of you beside a nicely burning fireplace. For a reason that I will tell you later, make sure that it is a fireplace and not a living room sofa or dining table. Once this becomes clear in your mind, state your case gently, carefully answering every possible objection from your audience of one, clarifying when necessary but never arguing. When you are through, simply stop, then quietly ask your audience of one what he or she thinks. That’s all. No verbal pyrotechnics or literary flourishes. Just plain and simple talk.

You will be surprised by what the fireside-chat approach can do to your English writing, no matter what form it takes—memo, letter, essay, speech, or feature article. It will be virtually impossible for you to use legalese, gobbledygook, or wordy phrases. You will know it in your bones how ridiculous it is to use them. Just imagine how a sensible, intelligent person facing you will react to gobbledygook like this: “Sir, urban life in the context of the worsening population problem and traffic situation has taken its toll on me and my family. This realization has compelled me to make a major decision that I realize may affect the operations of the division whose management you have so kindly entrusted to me. Much to my regret, however, I am taking this occasion to inform you that my family and I have reached a decision to move...”

This is often the way memos on such sensitive subjects are written, but if you spoke this way during a fireside chat, your listener obviously will conclude that you have gone out of your mind. He may just decide to fire you ahead of your resignation, or shove you into the fireplace to put you back to your senses. Now you know why we need that fireplace there: it is not only for intimacy but for a quick reality check as well.

More likely, of course, when your thoughts are suitably tempered by the fireside ambiance, you will get rid of your legalese, gobbledygook, and wordy phrases and speak in plain and simple English, probably in this manner: “Sir, city life has become very difficult for me and my family. We can no longer bear the congestion and the traffic. I like my job and I am grateful to you for making me a division manager, but my family and I have decided to move...” Isn’t this the tenor of thought that you have been looking for all along? Imagining a fireside chat with an audience of one will not only make it possible but inevitable! This authentic human voice is really the only sensible way to talk about things that really matter to people. It is, believe me, also the most sensible and effective way to write to anyone other than yourself.

The fireside-chat technique actually uses the same formula that works so well in public speaking. You know the routine. Speak to only one person in the audience at any one time. Fix that person in the eye and imagine that you are speaking only to her and no one else, and once you have made your point, do the same to another person in the audience, and so on. Addressing all of the audience at the same time will require you to shift your eyes like crazy and focus on no one, making you look ridiculous.

So next time, when you find it difficult to write, simply use the fireside-chat technique. It may not make you a great writer, but it surely will make you a much better communicator than you are right now.

This essay first appeared in Jose Carillo’s “English Plain and Simple” column in The Manila Times and subsequently appeared as Chapter 14 of Part III: Usage and Style section of his book English Plain and Simple: No-Nonsense Ways to Learn Today’s Global Language, © 2004 by Jose A. Carillo, © 2008 by the Manila Times Publishing Corp. All rights reserved.
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