My thoughts on Ignite SLC
Recently, I spoke at an event called Ignite. I really did! It was awesome. It really was!
Rather than try to explain what this is, I’ll let the organizer’s explain.
From their web site:
“Enlighten us, but make it quick” is the slogan of Ignite–a community event celebrating the passion and creativity of geek culture, sponsored by O’Reilly Media. Ignite events showcase a series of speakers who, in rapid succession, give five-minute talks on whatever ignites their passion.
The format is half the fun with Ignite–speakers are allowed 20 slides that auto-forward every 15 seconds, whether they’re ready or not. Organized by volunteers in the local community and presented free of charge to their communities, Ignite talks range from “Starting your own role playing game” to “The impending death of Internet Explorer” to “Zombie Defense for n00bs”.
My topic was “How to convince your friends that you’ve seen a sasquatch, (assuming that you actually did).” I spoke about the importance of doing this right, so as to make your friends believe you, as opposed to thinking you’re insane.
Here are a few pics of me speaking:
Now, I do have experience speaking in front of people. A lot of it. I often pretend to be a West Jordan mom speaking loudly about paying for her and her kids to see a spray-painted donkey that was supposed to be a zebra in Riverton on quiet late night flights. I laugh loudly and just a little late every time a football hits the groin in great comedies like Paul Blart: Mall Cop and Night at the Museum 2. I also love to yell “Utah Jazz undefeated! Two time world champs!” while crossing the street in a crowd with my friend Will on our way into the Energy Solutions Arena.
My formal public speaking background is a specialized forum known as policy debate. Policy debate is two person high school or college teams competing head to head for the win in approximately 70 minute debates at large tournaments held around the country over the course of three days. These debates are highly intense and competitive, and focus much more on the arguments presented than the style of delivery traditional public speaking.
Here is an example of a college debate round:
As you can see, this is not toastmasters. So going into Ignite I was NERVOUS. Anyway, the speech went really well. I kept pace with my slides for the most part, and got a few laughs in the process.
Now, my thoughts on the activity.
First, it was a lot of fun. I could seriously do stuff like that all the time. The energy in the crowd was amazing, and I feel like they really learned a lot from my speech :)
Keeping pace with the slides is the biggest challenge. I would have liked to flow better with the timing as opposed to fighting it, but at least I didn’t get way behind and have to catch up, or get way ahead and have dead air. Timing is one of the things that this forum would help me with most.
Next time, I will spend a lot more time with the creative process, and a little more time rehearsing. Having lots of good quality content but not a script is best. You need to have more to say than you will actually say, since you will have to adjust for applause and laughter. I think it’s best to have lists of examples to illustrate points, and you can either add or subtract from that list depending on how much time you actually have for that slide.
For example, one of my slides was “Why would I lie? I would lose everthing, my family, my credibility, my sasquatch tracking business, my sasquatch paraphanelia and curio emporium, and my line of sasquatch hair care and hygiene products.” That took me about 15 seconds to say in rehearsal, but by the time I got there I was a little behind and I had to rush the hair care and hygiene products line and really should have just deleted it to catch up.
Practice with either a stationary microphone prop, or with one in your hand. I was moving around a lot and gesturing with both hands in rehearsal. Having to keep the microphone up to my mouth threw me off.
Physically engage your slides. For example, find key moments to point at something for emphasis, turn and act surprised at something shocking such as a closeup picture of a sasquatch for comedic effect, waive a slide forward as if you’re actually controlling it, or point at a slide with both hands and do a sweeping gesture toward the crowd as if to physically deliver the content. Physically connecting to your slides will help you build timing, appear more in control, and create a seamless delivery rather than two presentations happening at once.
If you go last as I did, or later in the lineup, try to draw a couple of references to earlier speeches. If there was a moment earlier in the night that made a strong impression on the crowd, (good or bad), reference that moment in order to amplify it’s effect. For example, I thought of drawing a parallel between zombies and sasquatches, or using the word dude, with a pause, based on 3 different earlier presentations. This will take savvy since you’ll have to deviate from the original plan, but if you’re using lists like mentioned above, you should be able to incorporate this reference with a substitution. The downside to this strategy is that it may make you stumble since it will be unrehearsed, but if it’s timed well and subtle it could have a big payoff.
Show some awareness that you’re at Ignite. Make reference to the fact that you’re doing a speech, at Ignite. Have an awareness of what that means. What does it mean? First of all, 300+ people are listening to what you have to say, and there will be an impact on them. If you’re doing a speech with a political message, what would you like them to do with that message? What is your purpose in being there? Is that purpose coming through (implicitly or explicitly) in your speech? What are the limitations to the forum and how are you interacting with the inherent boundaries? Are you stretching/bending them or remaining strictly within them? What does Ignite have to do with your topic, if anything? What role is the audience playing in your presentation? Are they more of an active participant or passive observers? Answering these questions as part of your preparation will make your experience at Ignite deeper and richer.
Finally, prepare not only for your speech, but for you whole Ignite experience. Remember, there is a lot of time to mingle. Do you want to meet people while you’re there? Are you going to network? Who do you want to invite? What is your approach to networking while you’re there? I’m not saying you have to have a sales pitch or anything, but a basic strategy for meeting and greeting will help you have a better time.
Thank you Ignite good night!