Enlighten us, but make it quick

I spoke last night at the second Ignite Wellington event. It was fun – thanks to Amie, Catherine, Kirk (the true star of the show) and Siobhan for putting it all together and giving me the opportunity.

I spoke about lying and cheating – not exactly a topic that I can talk to with any real authority (while I lie and cheat all the time, just like you do, we all do it mostly instinctively). Somehow I picked the short straw and got to kick things off. But, I think it went okay, and it allowed me to sit back and enjoy all of the other speakers.

It’s a great format, accommodating a bunch of speakers on wildly different topics. My favourites were Emma on wallpaper and Tash on knitting.

Here is the video from my talk:

They are already planning the next one, and I encourage you all to put your hand up to speak.

Here are my five tips for getting ready to speak at Ignite:

Feel the fear. Do it anyway. Yes, it’s terrifying to stand up in front of a big audience and speak. Get over it. It’s a wonderful feeling when you’re finished, not dissimilar to the endorphins you get at the end of a long race. Focus on that, relax and enjoy it.

Choose your subject carefully. The point I wanted to make is something that has been bubbling in my head for a while, so this was a good way to force me to think about it properly and articulate it. You have lots of similarly interesting thoughts, I’m sure, so get them out. The best Ignite talks are often people talking about something they just find interesting rather than something they are necessarily expert in. People attend to be entertained and enlightened, so keep that in mind.

Work with the format. You get just 20 slides and 15 seconds per slide. You need to work quite hard to fit in with that. I recommend writing your speech out in full on paper first. Organise it into 20 sections, so you can start to think about the slides that you’ll use. Then delete at least half the words. You can’t say as much in 15 seconds as you think you can – probably only a couple of sentences. It’s much better to say less than to have to talk like the Micro-Machine Man to fit everything in. And, writing shorter sentences forces you to choose words carefully, which is always for the better.

Make beautiful slides. The last thing you want to do is fill the screen with words – people can’t read much in 15 seconds and, anyway, they will be wanting to listen to what you’re saying. Pictures always work. Choose something that relates to what you’re going to say, if for no other reason than as a useful reminder to yourself as you present, but err on the side of interesting rather than a perfectly relevant (the Creative Commons search and “Interestingness” filter on Flickr are your friends here). If you do use text then force yourself to use a large font so you have to keep it brief. Repeat one of the sentences you’re planning to say, to emphasis a point. Or just use single words on their own. And, there is no rule to say you have to use Ariel, Verdana or Times Roman.

Rehearse. Lots. You only have to speak for 5 minutes.  So, you can practice the whole thing hundreds of times, if you need to. Set up a computer with your slides and practice your timing, talking out loud. Yes, that will feel silly, but until you’re actually speaking the words you don’t know how long they take to say and you don’t know how they actually sound. Then, change it so they auto-advance every 12 seconds rather than every 15 seconds and practice again – this is actually much more like how it will feel on the night when the slides can seem to fly by much faster that you expect (thanks to Dave Ten-Have for this tip). Then get a friend or family member to listen and laugh at the appropriate points in your talk (hopefully where you intended to be funny), which will force you to pause and say even less. By then you will have it nailed and will be able to do it in your sleep!

You’ll be great.  I’m already looking forward to it!

4 thoughts on “Enlighten us, but make it quick”

  1. Great talk on Tuesday Rowan, great pacing and good looking slides. Not saying I’m an expert, but I’d be happy to help any future speakers with layout assistance if they wanted it – for free of course.

  2. Hi Rowan,

    Thanks! Your talk was great, and your tips here will be great for future speakers.

    Allowing for laughter pauses is a good idea, as is the 12 second tip (thanks Dave!)



  3. Hey Rowan

    I really loved your ignite talk. Made me think about my 2yo son and how many unnecessary half truths there are in our conversations already!

    I was super nervous but agree that the buzz you get after makes it worth the stress


Comments are closed.