Anna Shipman : JFDI

Some thoughts on preparing an Ignite talk

07 July 2014

I did my first Ignite talk in November last year, based on roof bug-fixing, and these are some of the things I found useful while preparing.

Launch right in

I always start talks with some kind of anecdote or fact to get the audience interested, rather than a bio. Why should we care who you are until we know whether you’re worth listening to? So usually I introduce myself around the 2nd or 3rd slide.

But Russell Davies, who was incredibly helpful when I was preparing the talk, suggested I go one further – just keep telling the story. When he pitched it to me he said “it would be a brave move…”, which I took as a challenge I had to accept.

You will lose the beginning and the end

Scott Berkun’s Ignite talk on giving Ignite talks is very worth watching if you are considering giving an Ignite talk.

The main practical thing I took from it was that you will probably lose most of your first and last slide. Every time I practiced a run-through, I waited at least a few seconds before starting the first slide.

It was a good job I did. On the night, they had been playing music as people ascended the stage, but for some reason, they started mine when I was already on the stage, when I was about to start speaking. But because I’d practiced not starting immediately, it didn’t throw me, and it didn’t put me behind from the beginning.

Don’t be too tied to your slides

More great advice from Russell: don’t be too tied to your slides. Just talk, and if they coincide then it looks like you’re a genius, and if they don’t it doesn’t matter.

Do real practice

Another incredibly useful piece of advice I got from Jason Grigsby’s post about his Ignite talk was to do real practice. This is really important. When you make a mistake in a practice, then carry on – practice recovering. You will learn how to improvise until you get back on track – which is one of the most important skills for a successful Ignite talk.

They want you to succeed

People are at Ignite talks to have fun. It’s a great crowd, like doing a Best Man’s speech (yes, I’ve done one of those too) – the audience want you to do well. That, or fall off the stage.

It’s an excellent constraint

The format of Ignite talks is a good constraint to encourage creativity and I really recommend you give it a go. I enjoyed it a lot.

When it was finished I’d made quite a few mistakes and missed out things I’d wanted to say, but on balance, I think it went pretty well. Judge for yourself.