Ignite your audience

How recently have you heard a truly dynamic, compelling speaker–and can you recall any that were not professional keynoters or trainers?

Of the meetings, briefings, conferences, or events you attend, how many of the speakers would you rate in the top 5% on their ability to make a tremendous impact?

How often does a Powerpoint presentation you’re sitting through end with you genuinely wanting it to go on longer?

When was the last time you could recall and actually repeat a compelling phrase or piece of data from a presentation, several days later?

Yeah, that’s kind of what we thought.

Boring, poorly delivered presentations have become the norm, almost expected. Shame on us. Anyone knows the difference between an amateur singing karaoke and hearing a Grammy winner live, so why should spoken presentations be any different–and why do we allow ourselves to give/watch so many mediocre ones?

Imagine that you’re in front of an audience made up of your colleagues and your community, about to present a five-minute talk on the topic you’re most passionate about. You’ve brought 20 slides, which advance every 15 seconds whether you’re ready or not. You have a few last-minute butterflies, but off you go—and the crowd loves it.

Welcome to Ignite.

Ignite is a fast-paced geek event started by Brady Forrest, technology evangelist for O’Reilly Media, and Bre Pettis of Makerbot.com, formerly of Make magazine. The first Ignite gathering took place in Seattle in 2006, and since then the event has become an international phenomenon, with groups in Helsinki, Paris, New York and many other locations. And, yes, we have them in Denver as well.

We’re not suggesting you embrace Ignite just for fun, but in your professional interactions with staff, volunteers, funders, and donors. For nonprofit leaders, the discipline of the tightly timed, carefully crafted five-minute framework could be very powerful and really give your mission communications a much-needed, fresh boost.

Here are some considerations about Ignite and your presentations:

1.  Are you convinced that your nonprofit’s story can only be covered in your usual 20- or 30-minute spiel? If you only had a few moments in the company of an elected official, changemaker, or celebrity you admire, would you actually say, “I’d love to tell you about my organization, but we simply don’t have time?”

2. Just as an experiment, select the first 20 slides of a Powerpoint presentation you’re currently using, and set the timer for 15 seconds each. Watch what happens. You’ll immediately notice how you’ve probably got too much on each slide and are likely using too many slides overall in a single presentation.

3. Having more material than fits into an Ignite presentation means you ought to have more than one speech. Each individual idea may warrant its own Ignite presentation, so focus, focus, and focus some more. Would you rather sit through several compelling, five-minute presentations with a small break between each–or a single, 45-minute “death by Powerpoint” dronefest covering a range of topics?

4. These snappy presentations are meant to “ignite” the audience on a subject—to generate awareness and to stimulate thought and action on the subjects presented. Make sure you include the call to action.

5. Don’t use fancy animations like fading in text or images. In this discipline, it’s all just noise and distraction, a delusion that you’re being more “interesting.” You don’t have time to wait for slides to load, anyway. Remember that what YOU are saying is the core, not the visuals. At its best, Powerpoint is a speaker support tool, not an inanimate program that just runs. Otherwise, why bother with a live presenter at all?

6.  Using a new presentation approach is also an ideal time to revisit your elevator speech. There’s a great leadership refresher on the Why-How-What approach in a TED talk at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qp0HIF3SfI4.

7.  The only time you should ever be caught reading a slide aloud is when members of your audience are visually impaired. (And even then, by the way, you should be speaking conversationally, not reading—because when we read out loud we automatically reduce the inflection in our voices.)

8.  When you’ve got an Ignite format in place (20 slides, less than five minutes) then practice, practice, practice. If you’re still a member of the “I’ll just show up and wing it” club, can you honestly say it’s your best work and that you’re often complimented?

9.  The slogan of Ignite is “Enlighten us, but make it quick.” Discover more, with sample presentations, at www.igniteshow.com.

10.  Powerpoint is not the only option: consider the fresh feel of Prezi, an example of new software that leaves Powerpoint back in the 20th century (www.prezi.com).

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