Last Friday I had the pleasure of presenting at Ignite Phoenix 10. Now that the adrenaline buzz has worn off, it seemed prudent to capture some thoughts on what that experience was like.
If you aren’t familiar with Ignite, I’ll try to explain it. But it is one of those things that really needs to be experienced in order to fully grasp what it is all about. Ignite 10 was the first time I’ve presented, but I’ve attended all but two previous Ignites and volunteered at several. I’ve talked to a LOT of Ignite attendees and speakers and, without fail, everyone I’ve spoken with has thoroughly enjoyed the event. Trust me, once you go to Ignite, you are hooked. The organizers are superb and the crowd, eclectic as it is, is wonderful. Go, soak it up, enjoy, learn. Just do it.
Here’s the “elevator pitch” from the Ignite Phoenix About page:
Ignite Phoenix is an information exchange for fostering and inspiring Phoenix’s creative community. In one evening, you hear 18 passionate speakers from our creative, technical, and business communities talking about their current projects or favorite ideas for just five minutes. Presentations will educate and inspire you, and maybe make you laugh in the process.
Presentations are in a strict format. You have 20 slides, and 5 minutes. No more, no less. Slides are automatically set to advance every 15 seconds. The speaker has no “clicker” ”“ you’re getting a new slide every 15 seconds whether you are ready for it or not.
On Submitting a Speaking Proposal
I had submitted presentation proposals two previous events, neither of which was chosen. Ignite Phoenix gets a boatload of submissions ”“ 92 for Ignite 10 alone ”“ and since there is only time for 18 presentations, the odds are your submittal won’t get picked.
Do not let that deter you, for I can now attest that presenting at Ignite is an amazing experience. If you submit and aren’t selected, submit again. And again. There is no “theme” to Ignite, the crew making selections is looking for diverse presentations, and things that are interesting. It’s all about your passions. The submittal process is simple, you go to the site and fill out a short form. Space is limited for both a bio and an overview of your presentation.
This is my submittal for Ignite 10:
You can read other submittals on-line to get a better feeling, and here is a great post by Evo Terra on making a good Ignite submission. Read that before you submit a proposal.
On Being Selected
A few weeks after submitting to Ignite 10, I got an email saying I was one of the 18 chosen to present. This was a moment of elation, rapidly followed by thinking, “Oh shit. What have I done?” I had a lot of ideas in my head about how I wanted to craft my presentation, but the reality of being selected smacked me upside the head. I was going to have to stand in front of 850 people and try not to make a complete fool of myself. I have some public speaking experience, but I’ve never presented in this format. Five minutes that I suspected would feel like an eternity with slides flying by every 15 seconds. I had three primary goals: 1) expressing my passion; 2) be entertaining; and 3) don’t be booed off the stage. Actually, Ignite crowds are incredibly supportive. They would never boo a presenter. But I didn’t want to walk off the stage and be thinking in my brain, “Oh dear God, that was horrific. I can’t ever go out in public again”.
On Slides and the Speech
I knew my slides would be almost exclusively pictures of fast food, so I thought building the slide deck would be simple. In fact, I just went to Flickr and searched for Creative Commons slides of fast food, and found there were thousands of possibilities. I spent a couple of hours culling through them selecting ones I felt would work. Ignite provides a template (it’s really just the footer with the logo and a place to credit photos) and I got 20 slides loaded in and was ready to go!
I sat there watching my slides scroll by and realized I had no idea what I was going to say. So I made the command decision to write the speech (and really, it is a speech) and THEN put slides to it. Easy-peasy, right? Of course I had no idea how many words it would take to fill a five minute time slot. I read some random thing out loud and found that ”“ for me ”“ I needed about 800 – 850 words to fill five minutes. (Note: reading in your head doesn’t work. You probably read a lot faster than you speak.)
The speechwriting began. I’ve got almost 1,800 articles written on this blog you are reading, and who knows how many thousands of comments and other articles across the interwebs. I should be able to write 825 words in 10 minutes.
Yeah, not-so-much. (Incidentally, THIS is word number 837 in this article, just to give you an idea). I stared at a blank screen far longer than I normally do. I actually wound up doing an outline(?!?), careening me back into my high school days. Ultimately I decided I was over-thinking the whole process and was too focused on word count so I just wrote. Wound up with about a seven minute speech so I mercilessly hacked and edited it down to five minutes.
Or so I thought.
About this time, I attended a “speakers orientation session” held by the Ignite organizers. Very handy. There I was told to plan for audience reaction, as well as practice “recovery”. Having witnessed many Ignite presentations, I knew what that meant. Recovery is that deer-in-the-headlights look some presenters get in that moment when their entire speech has vaporized from their mind right smack in the middle of their presentation.
Audience reaction? I thought some of my speech was funny as hell. Of course, what is funny in my feeble mind could well be perceived as just plain stupid in someone else’s mind. I went back to the speech and noted where I thought there might be some reaction, and tweaked things around a little.
I tweaked that damn speech a hundred times.
The deadline to submit my slides was looming. Looming as in it is 8:00pm on a Sunday night and the slides are due at midnight. It was time to drive a stake in the ground and submit the slides. After all, I had almost two weeks to fine-tune the speech before the big night.
Slides were submitted at 11:53pm. A full seven minutes before the deadline. I’m sure Dannie was thrilled”¦
T-minus two days to event night
Practicing, ongoing. Sometimes I nail it. Other times I’m a deer, about to get mowed over by a semi.
Nerves, a plenty.
At roughly 7:00am, I decide to make a major change to the speech. Yeah, 12 hours prior to the big event and I’m making wholesale changes. This was pretty stupid. But, I liked the revised speech a LOT better, which made me more comfortable with it. “What the hell,” I thought, “You only live once. It’s only five minutes. You can practice it ten times an hour.”
And I did, for 4 hours straight.
I felt confident. And oddly tranquil.
Backstage on event night
You don’t find out when you are presenting at Ignite until you arrive at the venue that evening. At first, I thought the organizers were just evil people and torturing us by withholding this crucial piece of info. On hindsight, it’s a stroke of genius. I happened to go on right after a very serious presentation. Had I known this in advance, I might have altered my presentation. I’m glad I didn’t.
I was however, thrilled that I was presenting in the first half. I have a friend that presented dead last at Ignite 8 and that seems like it would kind of suck. Better to get it over with early and commence to drinking at intermission.
Just before the theater doors open to the public, the speakers are whisked back stage for final preparations, we were released for a few minutes (just enough time to pound a cold one) but soon the first nine presenters had to be backstage.
The time was nigh.
I am a long time observer of the human species, and love seeing how people react in different situations. For me, watching my fellow presenters before they went on stage was fascinating. I paced like a mad man until I finally remembered I had my iPod with me and could relax listening to some tunes. One presenter buried her head in her hands for several minutes and then seemed perfectly normal. One rehearsed repeatedly with note cards. Another asked the organizers where the bucket was in case he needed to throw up. More than one asked where the alcohol was. Some were chatty, some were stone cold silent. There was a lot of pressure, walking onto a huge stage in front of 850 people is not an easy thing to do. The backstage support from the organizers was magnificent. They put the presenters at ease and executed flawlessly.
None-the-less, the pressure mounted.
I was the sixth to present, and to be honest, I remember very little of the presentations that were in front of me. When the fifth presenter was on stage, I had to get miked up, and before I knew it, an organizer was patting me on the shoulder and pointing to center stage.
It was show time!
I walked out, the crowd roared and the moment I spoke my first word, my first slide popped up.
There wasn’t enough time to be nervous. Fully expecting the five minutes to pass agonizingly slow, I was shocked at how fast it went. The crowd was awesome, responding when I thought they would, and in a few places that surprised me. I did have to drop a few lines here and there, but I think the speech flowed well. Honestly the whole thing was a blur and I’m not real sure what I put in and what I left out. I’m anxious to see it on video (which will be out at some point once it’s all processed).
I walked off the stage, high-fived presenter #7 on her way out and went backstage. It was over, and I was amped up! Presenters get to go do a short video interview right after they come off stage. I have no idea what I said in that interview. Probably came across like someone who’d just done six lines of cocaine”¦
Presenting at Ignite was quite the rush. The after-party was awesome as people came around to the presenters tables and chatted. Some enjoyed a Twinkie that I provided at my table. Two people told me they’d never had a Twinkie before. Never. Had. A. Twinkie. Seriously? One seemed to enjoy it, the other”¦ wasn’t overly impressed.
Today, almost a week later, I’m pumping gas and the guy next to me says, “Hey, aren’t you the fast food guy from Ignite?”
And here I thought I was the real estate guy”¦
JUST FREAKING DO IT!
If you’ve ever even remotely considered presenting at Ignite, DO IT. Submit. If you don’t get selected, submit again. Submit over and over if you have to, but get your butt on that stage! Believe me, you won’t regret it. (Oh, you will question your sanity several times during the process, but sharing your passions with 850 wicked cool people is a blast).
It sounds scary, and it is at times. It is also a truly amazing experience, one that everyone should experience. What are you waiting for? Submissions for Ignite Phoenix #11 are open, just go here. It’s happening on October 28. Mark it on your calendar now. And pay attention to when tickets go on sale, it will sell out. Fast.
Not in Phoenix? No worries. Ignite is global.
Oh, and looking for an edgier version of Ignite? Try Ignite After Hours. It’s”¦ edgy.
UPDATE May 30, 2011: Wheee, the video is out!
All of the first nine Ignite Phoenix 10 presentations videos are out now. The second half of the event will be released soon. Check them out here!
UPDATED! Presenting at Ignite Phoenix 10 about the marvels of fast food, only to suffer a massive heart attack 11 months later is pretty damn ironic, eh? So I had the opportunity to present a follow-up presentation at Ignite Phoenix #13. Here it is: