Ignite and Short Form Story Telling

This year I have the honor to coordinate the Ignite event on Thursday night at the Web Of Change. If you've not yet experienced Ignite, let me take a moment to explain the format: each speaker has 5 minutes to present a talk consisting of 20 slides timed to auto advance every 15 seconds. The talk is usually presented without notes. Ignite events happen in hundreds of cities around the world and at conferences. Ignite topics are interesting, fun, quirky. The motto is "Enlighten us, but make it quick."

I think Ignite is a fantastic format and is just one more example of modern storytelling in the digital age -- a topic that will surely be a big part of Web Of Change this year. Everyone has an Ignite talk in them, and everyone can prepare one, whether you get up and give it on a stage, or in smaller setting like WOC, or simply in front of your co-workers. Giving the presentation is just the final five minutes of a longer process. 

Preparing the story and the accompanying slide deck is an exercise in un-learning all the bad habits of presentation design. With slides only showing for 15 seconds each, there is really no time for more than just a few words. Your audience does not have time to absorb complicated images, charts or graphs, and you don't have time to explain them. Five minutes, while plenty of time to connect with an audience, and elicit a powerful emotional response, is not enough time to make a legal argument full of facts and figures. Finding the right images, or (few) words to make that connection and drive your point home is key, not only in Ignite presentations, but also on social media sites.

I've attended countless Ignite events, given a handful of talks, and I've coached ten nonprofit executives this year on presenting Ignite talks in front of their colleagues, I've also run a few Ignite events at conferences like the NTC and DrupalCon. One thing I can say is that across the board: Ignite audiences are some of the best audiences. For people who shy away from presenting in front of crowds, Ignite can be a great way to overcome that fear: The audience is on your side, they've come to be entertained. And if you bomb, its over in five minutes and the next speaker is up.

We have a fantastic lineup of speakers for Thursday evening's Ignite event and I am sure we will see a wide variety of presentations employing a equally as diverse techniques. I encourage you to learn, not only from the content, but also from the format, and take it back with you to your organization and your work.

I've assembled a resource kit for learning about, and preparing presentations for formats like Ignite, but they are useful for presentations of all kinds. If you have any resources you would like to share, please leave a comment.

I hope to sync the audio for Ignite WOC 12 with the slide decks and make them available in the coming weeks (if you'd like to help out with this endeavor, drop me a line).