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Way Better Than an Hour Long Powerpoint

2010 May 4

I recently came across a fairly unique presentation format called Ignite! The basic premise is well captured by its tag line, “enlighten us, but make it quick.”  Speakers have 5 minutes to present 20 slides that advance automatically every 15 seconds, and there are relatively few restrictions on who can be a speaker – in fact, random folks are actively encouraged to present or even lead their own Ignite event.

What’s especially amazing about Ignite! in particular is the wide range of folks attracted to present at these events. Kids at least as young as 10 and at least as old as 61 have presented at Ignite! events, and about 3% had never done public speaking before.  Only 15% were regular public speakers.  All Ignite! events appear to be well-attended.

The popularity of Ignite!, I think, reflects a movement toward short form presentations.  Death by Powerpoint has been viewed increasingly negatively of late.  One only needs glance at the title of the New York Times piece, We Have Met the Enemy and He Is PowerPoint, to get a sense of  how bad it’s become in the military.

One of the reasons PowerPoint is viewed so negatively is that the popularity of PowerPoint has exploded while the theory behind its use has not.  People have been giving presentations with visual aids for millennia, but for some reason, when designing something in PowerPoint, most people forget what makes an effective presentation – engaging, interactive, high-energy speaking.  The visuals are only for reference or to illustrate – when you put 10 bullet-points up per slide, you’re doing it wrong.  And even more importantly, PowerPoint slides are not a replacement for speaker’s notes. If you have so much raw information displayed on your slides that your speaking only provides light context for the bullet points on the slide, you’ve probably got too much up there.

This also reflects a larger problem in education/instructional technology: the belief that throwing new technology at a problem will somehow “fix” it.  We see this when millions of dollars are invested in new technology infrastructure in an organization or school district with very little attention being paid to how it will be used.  Tech by itself doesn’t accomplish anything.  You need a plan.  PowerPoint doesn’t make your presentation better unless you have a clear reason to use it.  Without a plan, it could actually make your talk much worse.

What Ignite! does is force speakers to consider what they’re saying and why they’re saying it, rather than just encouraging them to spew forth every little bit of information on the topic that they can.  And that’s the real strength.  It also makes me wonder what would happen in an organization that implemented a 5-minute maximum policy for presentations.  I bet meetings would be just a little bit more pleasant.

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2 Responses leave one →
  1. May 4, 2010

    Rich thanks for this article – I am definitely checking out Ignite!

  2. May 6, 2010

    It sounds really interesting, doesn’t it? I just wish I’d know about them when I still lived in Minneapolis.

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