Homeschoolers are weird

Posted on 06/03/2011 in misc

Last night I got up on stage and performed for 375 people at IgniteDC #7. Fifteen other people did the same thing. Why did I do it? I'm really not sure. I blame Jeremy. Shortly after we attended IgniteDC #5 he planted the idea in my head that I should do an Ignite presentation on homeschooling. The idea took a full year to germinate, but last night I did it.

I have never been up on stage in front of that many people before. I'm not sure I've ever been on stage in front of 100 people before. I consider myself a retired homeschool activist, so I certainly wasn't there out of any strong desire to fight for the cause, whatever the cause might be. I think I did it just to do it. It's easy to get into a routine, go to the same restaurants for dinner, buy the same wine, drink the same beers, etc. Every once in a while you need to really shake up you life. Getting up in front of a large crowd of people you don't know, and performing a fairly intricate 5 minute bit is definitely one way to shake things up. And this is performance. It's not a presentation like presenting last quarter's sales figures at work. Ignite is more storytelling than presenting. But it's storytelling accompanied by a slide deck that contains 20 slides that will auto rotate every 15 seconds, with absolutely no regard for whether or not you are on cue with the verbal part.

How did I do? I guess the audience is the final arbitrator of that. I'll post the video as soon as I can get my hands on it. I came off stage happy, and if anybody heckled me, I didn't hear it :) In the meantime, for future Ingite presenters that might find this via Google, here is my contribution to the "How to Give an Ignite Presentation" advice on the Internet.

  • Tell a story. The presentations that go over best with the audience are telling a story. They may be trying to sell an idea in there too, but the pitch is weaved into the story so tightly that neither can exist without the other. Stories have a beginning and end. Craft your five minutes the same way.

  • 15 seconds goes by really fast. I mean, really, really fast. You get 2 or 3 sentences per slide to say something interesting. Banish prepositional phases from your script. They take up valuable time without saying anything useful. Think about every phrase, can you make the same point with one less word?

  • Slide design is an art. They can either be eye candy behind your story, but not really an intractable part of your presentation; or they can be tightly connected to what you are saying. In the second case, even being off by 1 or 2 seconds can throw off your timing. In the first case, you have to be one hell of a good speaker to hold the audience with just your words. Pick your poison.

  • Practice. Practice some more. When you think you have it down pat, practice 10 more times. With only 15 seconds per slide, even stumbling over a word for 2 seconds can blow that slide and throw your timing off. The Ignite format is a lot harder than it looks before you try it. It's an exhilarating experience, but people really do bring their A game to Ignite. The quality of the presentations last night was remarkable. If you are going to do it, go at it 110%. I practiced more for this than I ever have for any work related sales pitch Powerpoint presentation.

  • Have fun. The audience is there to learn something new, be entertained, and maybe be moved. If you can do all three in one presentation, you are a star. For us mere mortals, pick two and go for it.

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