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Some really bad ideas for preparing an Ignite-style presentation

Ignite-style (five or ten minute) presentations are becoming popular at conferences and I think that this is a great development. A crisp five minutes on something can really get you up to speed without a lot of additional verbiage, and it is a joy to see a good one being delivered. The pitfalls for presenters, and therefore their audiences, however, are many, and in the belief that forewarned is forearmed, I offer the following bad ideas.

Bad idea 1

“All I have to do is talk fast and skip over some things and I can use my old thirty minute presentation”.

How many times have I seen this? It always ends up one of two ways: 1) the presenter doesn’t get anywhere near the end, and keeps talking for a couple minutes after the timekeeper has signalled time, finally skipping to the last slide that is now disembodied from the rest of the presentation. It’s awkward, and the audience just feels sorry for them, or maybe a little annoyed; 2) the presenter rushes to say all of their stuff, pausing often to say “If I had more time……” and, out of breath, makes it to the end. But by that time, the audience just wants it to stop because it has been so uncomfortable to witness.

If you are going to do a five minute presentation, then do a five minute presentation. Not a smushed thirty minute one.

Related bad idea

“I want to tell them all about my topic.”

You can’t. You don’t have time. What you do have time for is a point that you want to make and the main information that supports and illustrates that point.

Bad idea 2

“The point is to tell them what I did”.

They don’t want to know about you doing whatever you did, nice as you are. It’s not about you. They want to know about the idea that you are presenting. Why did you do this, how, and what was the result? Why does it matter and why should they know about it?

Related bad idea

“What I did is so intrinsically interesting that the audience will be automatically engaged”.

Even if what you have is fascinating, they don’t know about it yet. You’ll probably have to tell them why it’s interesting. Here’s where the story-building techniques of arc, “the hero’s journey”, turning points and tension/release/what is/what could be, are so important. You have to build the idea up and leave them to be convinced in their own minds. There are lots of resources to learn these skills, applicable to presentations of any length.

Related bad idea

“I am not trying to convince them of anything”.

Yes you are. You want the audience to get something from this, such as: “that was a good idea, I should look into that”, or “yes, we do need to improve on that”, or even “boy, Anne is smart, let’s hire her”. If you don’t want to convince your audience of anything, if you don’t want to make a point, then don’t present.

Related bad idea

“I’ll ‘tell ‘em what I’m going to say, say it, and tell ‘em what I said’”.

If this just meant that you’d introduce your talk and have a conclusion, then that would be fine. But applying this bit of military advice literally to how you structure a presentation is audience death itself.*see story-building techniques, above.

Bad idea 3

“I can put my notes up on the screen. That’ll keep me on track.”

Nope, this is even worse than it is for a standard-length presentation. They will not have time to listen to you and read. They’ll just read.

Bad idea 4

“I’ll preface my presentation with some casual remarks and thank you’s to the conference organizers, etc”.

You don’t have time. Get to it.

Bad idea 5

“This shouldn’t take any time at all to prepare for since it’s so short”.

In reality, designing a five minute presentation should involve a great deal of work, and potentially as much as a longer one. You need to be crystal clear on your idea and the things that support it most. That process is like writing a one-page summary. Plus visuals.

Related bad idea

“My personality and theatre training will carry this – I’ll sell it”.

You will look like you’re trying to sell it. Remember, it’s not about you, it’s about the audience, and what you would like to impart to them. You don’t need to be an extrovert, what you need to be is properly prepared for a five minute presentation.

Related bad idea

“I’ll wing it, it’s just 5 minutes”.

Really bad idea. If you are going to wing it, I hope you enjoy your five minutes of discomfort and things you’d like to retract if you could. Don’t wing it. Prepare, time and rehearse a five minute presentation until it’s easy to do by yourself. You want to get to where it’s easy with no-one looking at you, because there’s more pressure when they are looking at you and you need that buffer of preparation and confidence.

I hope this helps and you truly “ignite” your audiences.