What I learned giving an Ignite format talk
You know that feeling you get when you’re listening to a long boring speech. Maybe you’re listening to a politician failing to get to any point, or perhaps it’s a civil servant trying to beat the audience into submission with statistics. You can’t help noticing the hardness of the seat. You try to unobtrusively reposition your bottom so it hurts less. That’s when you notice a few other people in the audience trying to do the same thing. In that moment you know you’ve been trapped by a “speech rambler”.
Ignite talks are the antidote to speech ramblers.
Definition An ignite talk is a series of exactly twenty slides. Each slide is automatically advanced after 15 seconds - whether the speaker is ready or not. This means that each ignite talk takes exactly 5 minutes. (An Ignite format talk is like a Pecha Kucha talk, except that Pecha Kucha format means twenty-slides with twenty seconds each and a rather silly patent restriction.)
Why Ignite talks are good:
- The brutal limitations of the Ignite format force people to get to the point.
- You can get through many ignite talks in a short time.
- You can easily sample multiple viewpoints and subjects.
- There’s no time to be bored - as speech ramblers either don’t apply or are ruthlessly mown down by the clock.
- Ignite talks tend to be informal and work well in a social environment.
The post-it notes I used to organise my talk. One note per slide, one talking point per note.
I gave an Ignite format talk at Ignite Cardiff #3 back in October 2009. Here’s what I learned:
- You only have 18 slides for content because of the title and closing slides.
- Visual subjects work better than heaps of prose or numbers.
- Just pick the points that are interesting to the broadest audience. Being selective is better.
- Stories work well as does giving a “flavour” of a topic. It’s difficult to make an argument or justify a viewpoint in the time limit.
- It’s easier to arrange your talk by writing on post-its than to use powerpoint or keynote. (You can try limiting this to one point per post-it note.)
- Don’t attempt too much detail — if you must have lots of detail put it at the end of a web link on the last slide.
- Spoken English is different from written English so take the time to rewrite the post-it the way you find easiest to say. I found I needed to find a way to say things with fewer words.
- Learn the exact form of words to use as well as the timing: You don’t have time to reconstruct the words from the meaning on the spot.
- Record yourself speaking your talk to make it easier to learn. You can use editing software like Audacity to clean up the recording so you get used to hearing a perfect version of your talk over and over and over…
- Avoid bullet points by filling the slide with a full-screen picture that illustrates the point.
- You can poach good, creative-commons licensed content from flickr.com
- Delete all the distracting visual clutter from the slide templates - logos, margins, straplines. There should only be one, big visual on the screen and it should be what you’re talking about. You might need to negotiate with the event organiser to do this.
- Preview your slides using the technology used to show them on the day. There are often small rendering differences between powerpoint, keynote and open office. Your fonts may also change if you move between Mac, PC and Linux.
- If you don’t own Powerpoint but need to preview your slides in it you can download the Microsoft Powerpoint viewer for PCs from the Microsoft site.
- Even if you have to submit your presentation in advance take a copy of the presentation in standard powerpoint format on a normal pen-drive just in case it gets lost or corrupted.
We’re going to see a lot more Ignite format talks in future at conferences and events. There’s a lot of usefulness in this kind of brevity and in the diversity of presentations you get to see at Ignite-focused events.