04 May 2011

The Zen of Presentations, Part 40: Lighting a fire under speakers

Ignite! talks rock.

We have a seminar class in my department, which all our majors must take. Normally, this class meets an hour a week, and every student gives one 15 minute talk, with 5-10 minutes for questions.

The problem is, each presentation becomes very high stakes, with no opportunity to try again. If you screw up once, you’re done. I wanted to give everyone a second crack at giving a talk, so I decided to have everyone do two talks: a 12-15 minute one, and an Ignite! talk.

The Ignite! format: You have five minutes flat. 20 slides, auto-timed for 15 second each. Then you sit down and shut up. Somewhere I saw the Ignite! motto was something like, “Enlighten us, but make it snappy.”

Across the board, my students’ Ignite! talks were head and shoulders above their long talks.

When I said this on the last day of class, I say a lot of heads nodding in agreement. So it wasn’t just me; many people thought these talks were better.

There were many differences between the long and Ignite! talks. For the long talks, I banned PowerPoint and I picked the topic (these were both intended to push students out of their comfort zone). But I don’t think those were why the Ignite! talks were better.

They were better because of the energy everyone brought to their talks.

Faced with 15 second per slide, people had to know their story, had to concentrate, and absolutely no dawdling! That meant every speaker had to crank it up, and it was so much more fun to watch overall.

And even if it wasn’t great, you knew you wouldn’t be stuck listening to a crummy talk for more than a few minutes.

Not only am I sold on the value of doing these for my students, I would love to see more academic conferences try Ignite! sessions. You can get a surprising amount of information out there in five minutes if you plan it right. It could leave a lot more time for the things that people like the most, which are the meetings in the hallways and over coffee.

If you haven’t done one, try it! The format lives up to its name.

External links

Presentation Zen: The Ignite presentation method
Speaking about Presenting: The fastest Way to create an Ignite presentation (several students told me this was very useful to them)


Anonymous said...

I don't understand – do the students talk during the presentations or are they essentially slide shows? Does that mean that the slides end up being mainly text based?

Zen Faulkes said...

The students are talking, all right. Some do end up with very text heavy slides that they read (in classic "death by PowerPoint" fashion), but the better ones pick images that complement what they're saying.

I think the students may be less likely to put reams of words on a slide, because each slide is only up for 15 seconds. You can't read off as much of a 15 second slide as a slide that's up for a minute.

One of my all-time favourite Ignite! talks is here.

Zen Faulkes said...

The video is from this compilation of Ignite! talks: http://igniteshow.com/