Communicating During Crisis – Video “Fireside Chats”

Campfire with three speech bubbles over it

This last week the California AfterSchool Network partnered with Michael Funk, Director of the Expanded Learning Division at the CA Department of Education (EXLD) to release a video interview or a video ”fireside chat” on COVID-19.

This video came together in less than 24 hours but has proven to be thus far one of the most effective communications we have put out on COVID-19. On a call last Tuesday afternoon, some of the group talked about a shift in messaging we are seeing across the country – emphasizing the personal versus the institutional.  At the same time, we (CAN and EXLD) were experiencing frustration and stress about not being able to get enough information out as quickly as people need it. A few phone calls and brainstorms later that afternoon we decided a weekly video message with Michael might be a great way to fill the gap. Less than 24 hours later we were producing, posting, and widely distributing our first video.

We took very little time to prep for this initial video and so for future videos we know there are some changes we can make and some elements we can add in, including bringing other folks from the field in to participate in these chats and also share their story from a more local perspective. 

With that, we wanted to share some tips and ideas based on our initial experience.


Who Should Be in the Video

  • If you are putting together a relatively short video (2-4 mins) one person is probably all you need to include.
  • If your video is going to be more than 5 minutes you want to likely include at least 2 people. This will help break up the video and add a more conversational tone.
  • When including 2 or more people in a video conversation it is helpful, if possible for these people to know one another and have a positive working relationship. This will help contribute to the conversation feeling authentic/natural.
  • If you are conveying official information you will want those individuals to be an appropriate senior-level staff member within their organization.
  • If you plan to do multiple videos you may want to consider incorporating multiple voices over time to bring diversity and different levels of connection and inspiration to the content. 

Messaging Tips

  • Create a Roadmap – Ahead of time you should identify what information you do and don’t want to include. Consider what is the most important information to convey to your audience. If you are doing any Q&A during the video make sure everyone has the questions ahead of time and can prepare some sort of response.
  • Honesty – When putting together our questions for the interview we did plan to bring up some questions where we knew we didn’t have an answer. Instead, the response might have been “we are working on that” or “this is a local decision.” Providing as much transparency as possible during a time of crisis can provide some reassurance to your audience.
  • Written Information – If possible consider including key information in a written format (we used a single Google Slide to include the most recent guidance from the EXLD). Avoid reading content on slides, but consider what is the most essential information that can be referenced during your conversation. 
  • Repetition, Repetition, Repetition – this is one of those things we maybe did not do as well during our first video but will focus on getting right in future videos. Identify up to five key points you want to keep repeating. This should be included in your introductions, embedded throughout questions and emphasized again in closing. For instance, since we know one of the most common questions that have been coming up is around paying staff, so in a future video, we might continually emphasize that programs can and should find a way to pay their frontline staff.

Production Tips

The video does not have to be professional-grade and in fact, considering that you may want to convey a more personal and time-sensitive video something more professional-grade may not contribute that feeling. However, there are still some key production tips to keep in mind whenever putting together a video. For our first video we utilized Zoom, but there are many different platforms that could be leveraged in a similar way.

  • Lighting - Bad or harsh lighting can be a distraction. Once you get on the video but before you start officially recording test the lighting in your space. Try turning on and off current lights in the room if needed and if you’re able to, move your computer/camera as needed to find the best lighting. Pro Tip: Zoom has a Touch Up My Appearance feature that has a softer focus and adjusts the lighting, which can contribute to a more polished look of your video.
  • Sound – Bad sound can also be a big distraction. Similar to your lighting check this before you start recording. Consider headphones if you trouble with volume and be mindful of background noise, particularly if you are working from home.
  • Background – We know many of us are working from home so your background options may be limited. Consider closing doors, decluttering your space even if temporarily, and/or if possible move your computer/video to select a better background (keeping in mind lighting). Platforms such as Zoom also allow you to upload and use images as backgrounds. 
  • Recording in Advance - Particularly if this is the first time you are creating this type of video you may want to consider recording a video in advance as opposed to hosting a live video. This allows you to edit or start over if you run into hiccups along the way. Even if you pre-record a video try to get the video posted and promoted within a couple of hours - we finished recording the video a little before 2 pm and started promoting the video via different communication channels by 3 pm.
  • Tone – Consider the tone you want to convey ahead of time. We were aiming for something official but not bureaucratic. We wanted to really promote that personal connection that wasn’t happening in other communications and tried to balance empathy, solidarity, vulnerability, and a commitment to the work. 

Promoting the Video

  • Utilize Existing Communications Channels - We have been using all our existing communication channels to promote these videos, including looking at those we have not widely used in the past. We shared out immediately through our listserv, posted on our website, and utilized our most common social media channels. We have sent individual messages to our partners and asked them to promote as well. Another great option is to include it in your signature line.
  • Repetition, Repetition, Repetition - Especially on social media you will want to share multiple times over all your social media channels and ask your partners and champions to do the same.


We hope that our experience and learnings can help support you during these unique and challenging times. If you are interested in seeing future videos you can sign up for CAN Newsletters, follow us on TwitterFacebook, or YouTube, and/or continue to visit our CAN COVID-19 Resource Center.