Friday, October 23, 2009

Pushing yourself on stage: Ignite!

Last night, I checked out Ignite! Baltimore, one of the public speaking or storytelling events that are cropping up around the U.S. Ignite happens in many cities. I chose to see the Baltimore event because I know one of the speakers and wanted to check out the event firsthand.

Ignite's a competition of sorts. Would-be speakers submit proposals, are approved by a committee and are limited in number. They agree to rules that include time limits (5 minutes) and slide limits (no more than 20), and perhaps the toughest guideline: Your slides will be automatically advanced every 15 seconds, whether you're ready or not. Organizers look for original content, variety, and topics that are universal as well as of local interest. On last night's program, topics ranged from nanobiotechnology to changing Maryland laws about shipping wine via mail order to the fear of fear. Sponsors help the group provide a cash bar and food, and there's ample time to network and mingle built into the evening's program. What's more, all the speakers are recorded in HD video (I'll post some of the videos when they're available so you can get a taste of what we saw). That makes Ignite! sessions a great learning tool for would-be speakers.

I spent the evening talking to several speakers, particularly the women on the program, and found that several of the women speakers said they signed up as a way of pushing themselves to speak in public. Lots of the speakers were building confidence by using the "fake it until you make it" approach. Marketing agency founder Jennifer Cohen, pictured at right giving her compelling and funny talk, "Fired: Four Times," told me it was her first major public speech. She had the crowd laughing at her tale of misfortunes with lines like, "By now, I had unemployment on speed-dial..." and like many speakers, found that while she felt nervous, she didn't look it. Telling a personal story made it easy for her to engage the audience and meant she didn't use the note card she had in hand in case she forgot something.

Mary Spiro (pictured at left) who's the public information officer for the Johns Hopkins Insitute for NanoBioTechnology, set herself the challenge of boiling down a very technical topic--and one about which many public audiences have concerns--in a short time period. Scientists she works with were skeptical she could do that in five minutes, but she did, inspiring them about communicating with public audiences in the process. She kept the audience's attention successfully, despite the non-technical nature of the crowd--and has been getting great day-after reaction to the talk on Twitter.

Would you enter such a competition to push yourself forward in public speaking? Check out the links below for more information on Ignite! and similar events for ideas and information.

Related posts: Igniting your way to a five-minute talk

Learn storytelling online, three ways

Confidence: Fake it until you make it