I am sitting in my hotel room in New Orleans while attending the 2018 Non-Profit Technology Conference (NTC). I am a little nervous. Tomorrow I am giving my first Ignite talk, in front of an audience of over 2,000 people.
I confess. I did not really know what I was getting myself into.
Late last year, the Non-Profit Technology Network, the organization that hosts NTC, put out a call for Ignite talk submissions. They wanted people to give a 5 minute talk based around the theme “My Biggest Little Lesson.”
I had been doing a lot of writing and talking about my work with Yammer and Working Out Loud, and I thought that might for a nice presentation. I submitted my idea, and much to my delight, my idea was selected. I would be giving an Ignite talk at the 2018 NTC.
And then I learned that I must have 20 slides in my PowerPoint accompanying my talk. And then I learned that the slides must advance automatically every 15 seconds. And then I learned that I would be seeing the slides on my speaker prompt screen the exact same way that the audience would be seeing them, so I would not be able to see my slide notes, and would therefore have to memorize the entire presentation.
See, unbeknownst to me (at the time), Ignite talks are a thing. A thing that many people know about. Except me. There is even an Ignite website at http://www.ignitetalks.io/. So I got to work, I learned what I needed to learn, and I could tell right away that I was in very good hands.
Amy Sample Ward, the CEO of NTEN, arranged to have private coaching sessions with each of the nine people who would be giving ignite talks at the 2018 NTC, and I couldn’t wait to get to work. I designed a presentation that used great images, carefully formatted that shared the information I thought would be interesting and engaging. I could not wait to get on my first call with Amy so she could tell me how impressed she was, and how she thought absolutely nothing should be changed.
Would you be surprised to learn that her response was was not what I imagined it might be?
“What is your story Larry?” she challenged me. “You should use images that are clearer, and have a better narrative.” “Don’t use borders on your slides. Borders are bad.” Every piece of feedback she had was cutting, direct and right on the mark. I immediately made revisions based on her feedback, and eagerly awaited our next meeting. Now, I was sure, she would be impressed.
“This is good Larry, but…”
More constructive feedback, more revisions to make. I got back to work, and finally got my presentation to place that told the story that I wanted to tell, that looked good, and that I could deliver reasonably well.
Since getting my presentation approved, I have been practicing. I have been memorizing. I have been delivering my Ignite while in the shower, while driving the car, while on my morning run.
This morning in New Orleans, I met the other presenters, and we had the opportunity to rehearse our Ignite talks from the big conference keynote stage. Even in front of just a few people, a talk like this is a daunting proposition. I missed lines. I talked too fast. I didn’t talk fast enough! I moved back and forth, but not side to side. And yet, despite all of the mistakes that were deeply felt by me, I think it went pretty well, and my dear friends and Ignite co-presenters (whom I had never met before this morning) were immediately and incredibly supportive and congratulatory.
During my Ignite presentation tomorrow, I will say “we learned it wasn’t the goal that was important, but rather the journey to get there.” I don’t know how my Ignite talk will go, but I am glad for the experience so far. It has been difficult, reflective and rewarding work. I have had the opportunity to meet and work with some remarkable people, and I am glad for the opportunity to go up on that stage.
If my talk goes well, I will let you know. If it does not go well, let’s just pretend we never had this conversation.