Seattle Ignite #12: the recap

Last night was the 12th Seattle Ignite and they celebrated their 4 year anniversary. How awesome. I had the honor of speaking at the first Ignite in 2006, and it’s amazing how far this thing has come (Photo credit: Eugene Hsu).

When it started it was a crazy format that few understood (20 slides per speaker, 15 seconds per slide, automated = 5 minutes per talk. 10-15 talks per night, inspired by Pecha Kucha). Half the fun was watching smart people struggle live on stage with their own slides. Since the bar for entry was low, it was safe for people to take a chance, and the audiences were super supportive as a result. But people have seen this enough they’re gaming the format – some people are exceptional at optimizing for this kind of speaking.

Which makes me think its time to change the format, or at least encourage more curveballs and cheats, like I recommend in the Ignite talk I gave about how to speak at Ignite.  This isn’t the Olympics. There’s no score and no prizes. If you have a great idea that requires hacking the format, do it. What is a “slide” really anyway?

As long as something happens every 15 seconds, the goal of more interesting presentations has been served.  You could pick 20 pretty backgrounds that have nothing to do with what you’re saying and show those (juxtaposition can be cool). Or have 20 blank slides. Or have a jigsaw puzzle made from one slide that fills in piece by piece every 15 seconds. There’s plenty of room for innovation here.

I hacked the format last night, showing a time-lapsed video of me writing this essay as my 5 minutes (I had permission from the organizers – thanks Brady and Randy). Some people said to me after “but you’re cheating” and I said “Absolutely. But was it interesting?” Rules are the means, not the ends.

Here’s my actual recap:

I didn’t catch all the speakers, but here were my notes.

  • Karen Cheng gave one of the best Ignite talks I’ve ever seen (How to solve a song). It was interesting, clever, informative, funny, involved live performance, and exposed the basic mathematics of pop music. Her closing medley of about 12 pop song choruses based on the same 3 chords was brilliant. When this is online as a video, it will be hugely popular. Very impressive.
  • Mandy Sorensen talked about parasites. Watching this made me think how cowardly I am for picking topics easy to find interesting. Not sure I can make parasites fun, but she did. She managed to make this entertaining and oddly, if grossly, captivating. She did cheat by showing a picture of puppies though, but as I said, cheats are ok.
  • Gregory Heller.  SCRUM Project Management For Wedding Planning is a great title, and he delivered. The concept of Invested/Committed applied to weddings was apt. He also wins a prize for showing a diagram and immediately saying “Don’t try to understand this diagram”.  Awesome.
  • Justin Martenstein – He runs the 400 person game at the beginning of the evening, and every time I’m thinking “there’s no way people will participate” and yet every time he gets 80% of the crowd up on stage, in groups of mostly strangers, to work happily together on some crazy team project. Proof our species does not (always) suck. Amazing.  He warms up the crowd for all the speakers.
  • As a testament to how cool the Seattle Ignite crowd is, Emily Chen’s talk on owning fewer things (Have less, live more) had technical issues. But when she let the crowd know, they gave her a rally of cheers and encouragement. And she made the right call: abandoning her slides, and just speaking directly to the crowd.
  • Sadly I didn’t catch James Callan talk about grammar Nazis or Joel Grus talk about how to be funny. Hoping to catch these and the other talks I missed online.