Giving an Ignite Presentation - What I learned at Gnomedex 2009

Note: All photos this page Randy Stewart,

I am grateful to Brady Forrest of O'Reilly Media for nudging me into giving my first Ignite talk at Gnomedex 2009, in the same way I'm grateful for previous circumstances nudging me to bungee-jump off a bridge near Victoria Falls or tandem hang-glide off a cliff near Rio de Janeiro. Doing an Ignite  - like doing one of those crazy stunts - changes your brain.

Because other resources online helped me get ready, and because it's not really like any other kind of presentation, I offer some observations for people wanting to do an Ignite talk themselves. I hope you find them useful and look forward to seeing yours at the next Ignite!

Preparation and Delivery

  • It helped that I'd been to several Ignite events, including the first one ever (held in Seattle). I had seen various topics presented really well  and I kenned the general vibe.  Though the Gnomedex venue last Friday had no alcohol, many of the Ignite venues do, which can help.
  • I picked a topic around which I had strong feelings (social media 'guruhood') and knew a lot about, and tried to make it funny. The important part of the formula there is the strong feelings - it's a hard enough format without adding apathy in to weigh you down. Passion buoys. Use it!
  • Read other people's pointers. Required reading and viewing were helpful items prepared by Scott Berkun (who is writing a book about giving presentations). His stuff especially helps you craft and prep the deck.
  • Scott Berkun will tell you about the double slide trick. I will tell you about the blurred slide trick. Meaning, have slides that could do double duty for each other, even though they are different images. For example the "trail" and the "foursquare" slide of mine are really about the same premise (social gurus tooting and you finding them). I could give either slides' points no matter which of the two were visible.  Also, the "good" social media guru and the "bad" social media guru slides - since "bad" was the opposite of good, I had some breathing room to recover.
  • Get better photos than I had. I was paranoid about copyright and except for photos I took myself, and one Scott Beale photo with permission, the rest were (aiieeee ) Powerpoint stock art. If I had it to do over I'd have gotten better images.
  • Pare, pare, pare. My original idea for the ignite deck had  5 ideas per slide. Too many. I tried for 3 points per slide. I ran out of time on some of them, even in the final performance.  Jason Grigsby's advice was my watchword here. Improv comedy is improv editing.
  • Prepare, prepare, prepare. If you haven't gone through your deck 12x (ie, one hour of solid practice) you are slacking. Sit with a long suffering friend for an hour and just do it.  I could recite slide order driving to work. Those were days I did not carpool. :)
  • There are two modes of preparation for Ignite. The drill mode where you have the deck done and now you are practicing delivery, ad libbing at times but the slides are all set to move at 15 seconds. The prep mode, where the deck is still changing based on how you are talking about the slides. Know which mode you are in and no cheating!
  • It's important to drill without starting over, as Jason Grigsby notes. Even if you mess up. In drill mode, you soldier on til you have one completed rev.
  • Drilling daily also teaches you when you get stale and sick of speaking. It's like overtraining - the first run through of the day sucks, but so does the last one (if it's an ignite talk). I was very conscious of not wanting to practice too much day of the talking, but knowing I had to get the "first timer" jitters out. 
  • In my early practices I was saying too much and running out of breath.Good thing you don't die after holding your breathe for 5 minutes. Have someone sit with you and coach you on when to breath. Usually it's after you make a point, but it's hard to remember.
  • I tried to figure out the right pace through a number of tactics.  I did one rehearsal in a John Wayne accent just to try for alternate delivery. Then I watched Randy Pausch's Last Lecture and some Margaret Cho standup routines about race. Both of those two have excellently paced delivery with humor.
  • Use shame if you have to, and channel muses.  I used Pausch to shame myself somewhat (dude is dying of cancer and he did it, so woman up Betsy!) and Cho for her insane faces and impeccable timing.  (I know I had to have been channeling Cho because Randy Stewart, who took these pics of me, tweeted that  I had made faces during the talk and he was glad he had a zoom. )

"We can take them!"  

As you might expect, the actual experience of diving off a bridge with a harness and straps around your feet changes your perspective and likewise, so does an ignite talk.

  • I bought new clothes for this (hey, I'm a girl). The pants had to flow and I had to be able to raise my arms over my head without the shirt whacking out.
  • An hour before, find a nook to get your head together. Before the talk, that afternoon,I tried to practice. There really was no place to do it at Bell Harbor without being like the crazy old dude on the street corner who talks to people you can't see. What I should have done was snuck off  to my car in the garage and drilled - instead I ruined some guy's cell phone call in a side conference room by babbling to myself. I also did some yoga stretches which was also fairly embarrassing but I was starting to clench up.
  • Mental breaks help. When I got sick of my own voice in the hour before the talk, I went back to looking at Margaret Cho routines. I was trying for funny so I needed her as my muse. Pick a Youtube video that has the tone of your ignite talk and watch it when you are sick of drilling. It really helps shift the chemicals in your head.
  • Remember the challenge and cut yourself some slack. Watching Elan Lee leave the stage after nailing the first Ignite Gnomedex talk - he is a fabulous presenter innately - showed me what it really costs to do an ignite even if you are a veteran. The two people before me, literally stood against the wall and panted afterwards. You can't help it - your adrenalin is up and you are coming down from a chemical cocktail.
  • Take what comfort you can. Brady introduced me and I used that time without the mike to ham it up.  Cynically, I was thinking - hey, better bow now before I do the talk, just in case I bomb and they don't want to clap later! But the movement (bowing, flourishing my arms cause I didn't know what to do with them without the mike) actually loosened me up and carried me through most of the talk ok.
  • Being on stage, you can be more expansive with your movements. Death grip on the microphone does not work. But more than that, at the beginning of the presentation Brady was with me, and it's psychologically much easier on me when I share a spotlight. Knowing I was sharing let me be expansive and I tried to use that feeling while I had it (it fled quickly! ).
  • You are supposed to pick out faces in the audience and talk to them - I blew that part. I just looked around randomly.I have no real memory of anyone I looked at.  :)
  • I made mistakes and kept going. The audience does not know what you leave out. Use that fact!
  • Figure out what your best last sentence is head of time.   It's hard to tell when the slide will blank out, so I ended slightly early with my last sentence and handed the mike to Brady.Other presenters seemed to end right on time. Your mileage may vary.

Live it vivid!