Giving an Ignite talk

September 2nd, 2009. Tagged: speaking

I was asked to give feedback on what it's like to give an ignite talk (for Scott Berkun's new book) and I thought why not share in a blog post.

I gave an ignite talk at this year's Velocity conference and it was a wonderful experience. I don't think the video was ever released so I'm thinking of doing the talk at home in a screencast, so stay tuned. Meanwhile - the slides and the script.

If you're not familiar with the format - it's a 5 minute talk and you have 20 slides that change automatically after 15 seconds. So you don't have time to think or you'll miss three slides.

To give you an idea of how cool the event is, speaking to someone from the crowd about last year's experience at the same ignite event they said: "it was fun. I don't remember anything, but I remember it was fun"

The good thing about the speaker at Ignite is that the format makes you:

  1. practice
  2. edit

These are two things you never get around when doing a "normal" 1 hour tech talk. The "normal" way of giving tech talks in my experience is: work on the slides till 3am the night before. Give as much content as possible. And the result is:

  • you're nervous (you don't know what's on the next slide),
  • you talk fast (lots of content),
  • you talk to the slides (because you don't remember what you put there),
  • audience dozes off.

It's amazing how much difference it makes when you prepare. Someone said that not practicing means practicing failure and I find it very true.

I'm thinking this: preparing a talk takes time, even if you don't practice. Since you're spending all this time preparing anyway, it makes sense to spend a little more and be a rock star, instead of a failure. The difference is small but significant. Anything worth doing is worth doing well. Otherwise just not do it, it's best for you and the audience, and the talk host.

I usually don't practice, but I practiced for my ignite talk. Not only that but I scripted the talk, since it's so short. I even used Mac's say utility to read my script and I took note of the length of the audio file result. Also made it say the Gettysburg address which is considered a by-the-book example of short and excellent speech. So after measuring the time I started editing, cutting, cutting, cutting, because 15 seconds is about 2 sentences and I had originally planned to say much more. Then I practiced again and edited again. Ad infinitum.

And the results of all the practice were pretty good. People who have seen me speak (and even shared the stage with me) were pleasantly surprised and couldn't believe it's me up there shining on that stage ;)

Since that Ignite talk I decided I should always practice. It's worth it. Do it right or don't do it all! But then time came to do another tech talk, and I ended up with 90+ slides for one hour, working on the slides till 3 a.m... and it was the usual disaster. We, the humans, are weird, never seem to learn from our mistakes :D

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4 Responses

  1. Ignite talk should be fun to try out, something like a rapid fire round in a Quiz competition.
    Working on slides till 3 a.m, lol, we are weird.

    Looking forward to the ignite screencast.

  2. Yep, fun it is. That’s an idea: maybe we can do something for the next FE summit at Yahoo? If you look at the other ignites at velocity, people talked about whatever topics, not necessarily technical even.

  3. yeah!, will try this one at the upcoming Y!F2E. The part where people can’t just walk up and talk will make it special.

  4. I also tend to practice my presentations (for FOSDEM 2009, DrupalCon DC 2009, my bachelor thesis defense and DrupalCon Paris 2009 — where I just presented) and the feedback I’ve received is also very positive. You must still be able to convey it in a way that doesn’t seem over-practiced, or learned by heart. That’d suck :P

    P.S.: I co-presented with Konstantin Käfer on Front End Performance (I talked about CDN integration), in which he referred to your MHTML article.

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