Ignite Waterloo 9 – Zen of Gardening – Preparing for my talk and thoughts about Ignite/Tedx

I gave a talk at Tuesday Night’s (June 12, 2012) Ignite Waterloo event (#IW9 on Twitter).

I had watched the Ignite Talks online, but never attended in person. Many familiar faces had given talks in the past, so it kind of compelled me to try as well. I also enjoy public speaking, so I decided I would give it a shot, submit a topic, and see what happens. I was lucky enough to be accepted.

I started off preparing by basically writing a speech, took me a couple days (I must note, when I do creative writing it happens in fits and bursts, it was probably all of two hour’s effort, but spread out over two days), and once I got it to ‘good enough’, I read it through. With any talk I have given in the past, preparation has been key, but at the same time, a speech always sounds better on paper/in your head than it does when you read it aloud, so at some point you need to stop and try reading it to yourself [Word file]. First time through reading it I spoke for 15 minutes. Apparently I can talk a lot about things I am passionate about. I remember thinking/tweeting that hour-long talks with props seemed easier to prepare for at this point. It was then it dawned upon me how the 20-slide, five-minute format was going to be difficult.

I then switched gears and tried to find 20 slides that lined up with the key points I was going to make. This proved equally difficult, trying to find a visual format that worked with the rest of the presentation and still conveyed/carried the narrative. As well, I had to ensure I was using slides that were also timed to the points I was trying to make.

I also had to throw some humor in there. I felt it was a necessity for an Ignite event. I actually felt that there were several key components to a successful Ignite talk (in order of what I perceive to be most to least important):

  • Passion/knowledge of your topic
  • Humor
  • Personal component with some humility
  • Emotion (just a little)

In the end, the talk development process was a very back-and-forth process. Work on my points, find slides, evolve the talk some more. Repeat. I ended up with two lines of scripted material maximum for each slide with some room for ad-libbing (more on that in a moment).

I rehearsed it about 3 dozen times total. Most of the practice came from the day before the slides were due to the Ignite folks. By that point I knew my material well from all the effort I put into preparation, it was just the timing that needed to be rehearsed. I set up my slides to do the 15-second auto-forward thing and just read it through repeatedly. During this process there were points where I kept stumbling over, and about 3 of the 20 slides and their corresponding points ended up being changed completely.

The final talk looked like nothing I had written initially. This turned out to be extremely beneficial, by this point I more or less had my talk memorized and timed well, and the extra unused content would make it easy for me to ad-lib things so once I got a feel for the room and the flow of the talk during the presentation I was able to adapt and change it up quite easily.

The talk itself flew by. I actually have very little recollection of what I said. I was hoping the live stream would be available to review immediately after the event, but alas, it was not, I shall have to wait for the final, edited content to be posted online. My favorite part was talking with all the presenters after the fact, it was an amazing array of people and I was genuinely enthusiastic about trying to meet each one.

My favorite presentation was the My Little Ponies one. I have not laughed so hard in a long time. Although I do feel an opportunity for some big laughs was missed by not mentioning the Clop Clop subreddit. (Google it, but not while at work)

Now, about Ignite and TedxWaterloo.

I tweeted that I thought Ignite Waterloo is what TedxWaterloo should aspire to be. Don’t get me wrong, both are fantastic events, and I love my experiences with both dearly, and I definitely do not think one event is better than the other.

Upon more reflection I think I may have been a little wrong in some aspects of that statement, but I do see a need for some cross-pollination of ideas and themes, and possibly for a new event to form.

From my perspective, Tedx is supposed to bring in great speakers with great ideas that you may not have exposure to locally, while Ignite is local speakers passionate about specific topics, with some irreverence thrown in. Now, I feel as though many of the speakers at Ignite were treating it like a Tedx audition, basically drying up some of the humor. Not that that is a bad thing, but there does seem to be a bit of a cultural shift in the presentation styles when you look at the individual Ignite events chronologically. This is a huge compliment to the Tedx phenomenon, but I feel there is still room for different styles of talks and presentations outside of Tedx. Tedx does have a monopoly on big ideas right now, but it doesn’t have a monopoly on fun.

The one area I do still feel Ignite does better than Tedx is in its overall event format. Tedx does seem to drag on over the course of the day, and I think it’s noticeable when you see the theatre packed at the start of the day and by the third session it is obviously starting to empty. With Ignite, I felt it’s machine-gun approach definitely got my creative juices flowing and inspired me to do more.

Overall, there seems to be a void developing for humorous talks. That is my way of observing that Ignite used to be funnier and Tedx is a little dry. During coffee one day with Ramy Nassar he threw out the idea (and I’ve helped to spread it since) of Ignite Roulette. Preselected speakers are paired with slide decks they’ve never seen before and try to make up a talk of it on the spot. This may be the type of event we need.

June 19, 2012 Edit:

Talks from #IW9 are now online!

I am also including a link to my original draft that took me 15 minutes to read through [Word file]. Compared to the video of my presentation embedded below, it’s a pretty different talk from what I ended up giving.

Some photos of the event courtesy of James Bastow (@jamesbastow on Twitter)

Oh, and here I am:

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