About My Ignite Guelph Talk

Ignite GuelphI did a talk for Ignite Guelph last night. It was too much fun. It was also very difficult.

If you’ve already done an ignite talk (5 min. presentation, 20 presentation slides, each slide is displayed for 15 seconds and then advanced automatically; like a PechaKucha talk but faster) then you probably want to stop reading now … you’ve been there, done that. If you are thinking about giving an ignite talk, you might want to read on.

The motto for any ignite event is:

Enlighten us, but make it quick!

They aren’t kidding.

My talk was about something I know a fair bit about: post-literacy, the idea that there is something powerful beyond reading and writing, beyond the alphabet. Five minutes? No problem.


I knew 5 minutes was brief but for some reason I obessed about the slides not the time. I created and threw out at least 3 completely different versions. Apparently I was in denial. It’s all about the 5 minutes.

The discipline required to distill ideas into their most elemental and yet interesting form was a hard but wonderfully challenging. Separating the wheat from the chaff really does focus your thoughts; it makes you think about what is important and how that will be conveyed effectively to the audience.

I spoke to many of the other (wonderful!) speakers last night and most had exactly the same experience: they had spoken in public often, this was terrifying, and it was the most fun they have ever had making a presentation.

An ignite talk is really an elevator speech (assuming you are going up the CN Tower elevator five times in a row); you have to capture the attention of the audience immediately and keep them focused while you explain something you are passionate about. And that was one of the disturbing things about the talk. The format means you had to have it all mapped out, you had to have a tight script but it had to seem conversational. As a result you couldn’t easily react to the audience, you had to keep to your script or the slides would overtake you. Pressure.

Jill Tomasson Goodwin from uWaterloo brought her media class to the event; they will be doing ignite talks as part of their course work. Brilliant idea; I’m going to steal that for a future assignment. An ignite talk requires considerable preparation (research), design skills (the slides), synthesis (the 5 minutes!), confidence (public speaking), and evaluation (the audience feedback afterwards). All elements of a good assignment.

Kudos to the event brain trust that made this happen: @dcwllms @seanyo @superbang and @kylemackie. They made it easy to participate and fun for the audience (completely sold out BTW).

So, difficult? Yes. Worthwhile? YES!


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