Sunday, August 8, 2010

How to pick & prepare an Ignite talk

I am now somewhat of an Ignite veteran. I've given talks at multiple Ignites, including Ignite Spatial (for GIS folks) and Google I/O Ignite (for hard core developers). I don't necessarily give the best talk, but I usually give a talk that goes over well. So, I thought I'd share my personal technique for creating an Ignite talk, as it can be a bit different from typical talks.

When I think of a topic for an Ignite talk, I look for one with the following characteristics:

  • Something that mixes humor, inspiration, information
  • Something I'm personally passionate about
  • Something that tells a story or has a narrative

Then, once I've decided the topic, I need to actually create the talk. I typically take these steps:

  • Spend a week simply thinking about the topic, hearing yourself talk about it in my head. It's a great way to spend the morning commute, and a great way to make sure that the flow of the talk will be natural once it's down on paper.
  • Create a text document. I usually draft in Wave these days, so that I can share it with my friend and ask for comments, but otherwise any old editor will do - some folks even use real-life things like post-its. The important thing is that it should be a format that allows you to iterate easily.
  • Write down a list of all the bits of information you potentially want to communicate, and order them according to what feels natural.
  • See if you are at or around 20 bits of information, where a bit is about 2-3 sentences (you may want to time yourself to see what your personal pace of communication is, and calibrate that #). If you have too many, think about what point to cut, or what details to leave. If you have too little, think about what else you might communicate - maybe more backstory, a calls to action, or an anecdote.
  • Say this talk to yourself. Say it to a friend. See if it feels natural, that everything transitions together, and that it's similar to the way you might spontaneously tell these bits of information. That will make it easier to deliver.
  • Start thinking about the visualization of your information bits. If you've got 5 bits in a row that you have no idea how to visualize, you may want to re-think those bits. Eventually, each bit will need a picture.
  • Keep playing around with the talk, moving bits of information around, moving them in and out, until you get to a point where it just feels right, and you're at the right # of slides.
  • Create a powerpoint (or keynote) presentation.
  • Insert a text box on each slide that contains the text for that slide. Position it below the slides.
  • Start filling in the visuals. They might be photos that you've taken, images from the web (like iStockPhoto or CC-licensed Flickr pics), or hand-drawn doodles. Try and make them be something that jives with the audience, but also jives your memory about the content of the slide.
  • Add short headers to each slide, if you want. Position them near the top of the slide, as the bottom is often hard for the audience to see. Try to avoid adding any text besides a header -- you don't want to distract audience members from what you're saying, and you don't want to make them feel they're reading off your talk.
  • Move the slide text up to the bottom of the slide.
  • Set the animation settings for auto-advance every 15 seconds.
  • Start practicing the talk. Since the slide text is visible, you get to view the text while practicing. After each practice, go back and make any tweaks to the text, change anything that didn't feel right, went too long, etc.
  • Once you feel comfortable, move the slide text below the slides, and practice the talk that way multiple times. This is the test that most nearly mimics the actual event characteristics.
  • Create a text document with all of your slide text, and print it out. You can now carry it around and practice it to yourself when you have the chance, like at the bathroom at the venue. :)
  • Go to Ignite! Drink water. Give the talk. Be excited.
  • Create a version of the slides that's consumable by non-Ignite attendees by moving the slide text box back onto the bottom of the slides. Upload it to Scribd, Slideshare, Google docs, and share it on Twitter, Facebook, etc. People love to read through these short slidesets, and with the transcript pasted on, the slides will actually make sense.

My past Ignite talks:

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