Ignite DC #6

Last Thursday, February 3, I was bamboozled into swing dancing on stage. But that’s not what this post is about.

That same stage held the sixth Ignite DC, the first that I’ve attended. I was pumped to see the format in person: Each speaker gets five minutes and 20 slides. And the slides automatically advance every 15 seconds. Since the format was new to me, when I wasn’t thinking about what the speakers were saying, I was thinking about how they were saying it, and whether it worked for me.

The challenge of the Ignite talk

Though the format can seem daunting, people can shine at Ignite. Their success may even be encouraged by the restrictions of the format. As an Ignite speaker, you have to balance three components:

  1. Content: Is your subject engaging enough on its own?
  2. Structure: Have you thought about your content and organized it in a meaningful way?
  3. Delivery: Can you speak from memory with the correct timing?

If a speaker can answer two or even one of the three questions with a confident yes, we probably enjoyed their talk—Scott Berkun would point out here that Ignite audiences tend to be more positive and supportive.

If speakers refine their content, structure, and delivery, oooh, the audience will love them for it.

Teddy Downey did a fantastic job at all three. He took “The Political Economics of Monopolies” and used specific examples to which we could easily relate. He clearly laid out his structure at the beginning—that he was going to show that monopolies were (1) bad and (2) back—and reminded us of it as he spoke. And his delivery was great—he spoke from memory, with enthusiasm, and with excellent timing. The only tiny flaw I picked out was the need to clearly enunciate the words “bad” and “back.” Before you scoff at that, try saying them aloud, right now. It’s tough! I thoroughly enjoyed his talk, and admire his ability to make the format work for him.

Sometimes things go wrong, but the best can handle the pressure

The first half of the talks and an excellent break behind us, the crowd settled down for more five minute bites of inspiration. First up was Alison Horner. I was especially looking forward to her talk, “Why Jack Bauer Needs A Nap,” both because of the blurb provided on the Ignite DC website and because I’m already in the choir—I agree that folks need to take more time to slow down than we expect each other to do these days.

As expected, her talk was great. Not only did she have the right content and structure, but her delivery was confident and easy to follow. What was even more impressive was how she handled the technical difficulties that started on the third or forth slide of her presentation: the projector crapped out.*

One by one, the audience started turning around, so they could watch the confidence projectors that lined the back wall of the venue. Alison, true to the theme of her talk, handled the situation beautifully. She continued to say what she planned to say, and even ventured, “So, I’m guessing that the slides behind me have stopped showing, huh?” after noticing that most of the audience had turned away from her.

Alison rocked the house, because of her talk and her ability to take things as they come.

Please practice enough so you can ditch your notes

As I watched the talks, I realized that, especially in this format, I do not want to see you using notes. Sure, have a few reminders in your hand, in case the dreaded blankness hits your brain, but notes should be a backup. There were a couple presenters who literally read their talks, and luckily, their content and structure were of a high enough quality that their five minutes of Ignite were still enjoyable.

A dedication to the old adage of “practice makes perfect” must be paramount to a successful Ignite talk. I’m going to guess that Teddy and Alison know the value of practice. We know that Dan Morrison, who spoke about Citizen Effect, values practice because he knew when and where on each slide to point on the screen behind him, despite his slides not being projected there.

If a speaker decides to appear at Ignite, I hope they follow the examples of people like Teddy, Alison, and Dan, and practice enough to gain the confidence to speak to us directly—both for their nerves and for our benefit.

Other favorites and final thoughts

Before I conclude, I want to give a shout out to my other Ignite DC #6 favorites. In order of appearance:

Regardless of how speakers did, or whether I’ve mentioned them in this post, I am glad they had the audacity to take on such a challenging format. I enjoyed each talk, and thank each speaker for getting up and sharing with us.

If you have never been to Ignite, I highly recommend trying it out. The crowd is friendly and full of interesting people to talk to, and the ideas presented on stage are bound to get you thinking.

Regardless of whether it is your first or seventh, I hope to meet you at the next Ignite! As always, feel free to post comments below, tweet at me, or send me an email.

Photo credit: Chris Suspect

* Technology snafus happens to the best of us. The Ignite crew did a great job of quickly responding to the unfortunate projector. Eventually, speakers presented from the back of the room, some even standing or sitting on the bar! Sadly, none of the speakers noticed that Jared had quickly set up his laptop for them to use as a confidence monitor.

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About Veronica Erb

Designs, researches, illustrates, and writes code. Plays ukulele. Dances Balboa. Grew up in a geodesic dome, and hasn't gotten over it.
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