I recently presented an ignite talk at the Portland Digital Marketing Conference, and putting it together provided valuable lessons to me as a presenter and as a business owner.

An Ignite talk is a unique format of presentation. You have a strict five-minute limit, and if you go over, you are booted off the stage. You have 20 slides, and each slide automatically moves to the next slide after 15 seconds. No builds, transitions or glitz. Your presentation must be both educational and entertaining.

For me, this is like presentation poetry. Forcing yourself into the confines of a strict format can do wonders for bringing out my creativity.

My talk was called From Local Blogger to National ”Dummie.” It’s simply the story of how I went from being laid off twice in six months to having a successful blog, to getting a big book contract. At least that’s what I thought it was about when I first pitched it.

The amazing thing with putting together an Ignite talk is that sometimes your whole point can change, or rather, the real point emerges as you carve away the fluff.

For anyone with a story, or expertise, or with something interesting to say, I would highly recommend finding out whether there is an Ignite event in your area – and participating.

These are the steps I took in putting my talk together; I think they can be useful for you as well.

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Step 1: Write Your Script

The average human speaks at a rate of 150 words per minute and most public talks range between 100 to 120 wpm. Some studies have shown that women speak at a faster rate than men. Writing your script as if you were speaking it can give you a ballpark estimate of how long your talk is going to take.

All you have to do is look at your word count and divide it by 120 to get an approximate minute count.

I learned that I will try to cramp in as many details as I can, and then convince myself that I have time.

Hint: err on the side of caution. Assume you have four and a half minutes to talkYour first few drafts will probably be more like six or seven minutes. Keep carving it down to the essentials.

Script Ideas: Stories always work. Even if you are teaching your audience about your neuroscience research or your giant Jenga set, tell stories. According to Ira Glass, from This American Life, a story is a narrative, and a narrative is simply one thing happening after another thing. His video series will blow your mind!

Step 2: Segment Your Talk into 15-Second Chunks

Once you get your script to a place where you are comfortable with it (i.e. it’s a good story that can be read in 5 minutes), it’s time to figure out your slides. To do that, you have to determine what points you make every 15 seconds.

Remember that your slides are going to move every 15 seconds.

  1. Grab yourself some free audio recording and editing software, like Amadeus or Audacity.

Most laptops have built-in microphones. If you use a desktop, you may need to pick up a USB Microphone. I use a Blue Yeti.

  1. Record your script as if you were giving the talk.

If you go over or under five minutes, you may need to adjust the script. Add more or remove more till you’re right at five minutes.3. Here’s the key part of this phase:  In your audio editor, insert “Markers” every 15 seconds. In Amadeus, go to Selection and then pick Generate Markers.

From there you can generate Markers, evenly spaced every 15 seconds.

These indicate when your slides will transition.

Now you can figure out what to put in your slide! [rad_rapidology_inline optin_id=”optin_1″]

Step 3: Build Your Slide Deck

I’m a Mac user. And I struggle in admitting this (sigh), but most people in the world are not. If you furnish your slides to the Ignite committee, you should turn in a Powerpoint, because chances are, they won’t be using Keynote.

Save yourself the hassle of exporting from Keynote to PP and then fixing all the font and design errors that will invariably occur – just build your slides in PP in the first place.

Ok, rant over.

Looking at your audio file, remember that the slide showing relates to the segment of script that is being read. So where there is a marker, there is a new slide. And that new slide has to relate to the segment of script the follows the marker. Make sense?

Remember that your first slide is going to be the title slide. So the whole thing will look like this:

Title slide (15 sec): the first segment of your script

Slide 2 (15 sec): the second segment of your script

Slide 3: the third segment … and continue to the end of slide 15

So design your slides knowing that your title slide may not be very interesting, just the title of the talk and your name. The creative, fun, slide design work starts on slide 2, segment 2 of your script.

As you go through your audio script and begin putting slides together, remember that the slides are there merely to back you up and reinforce the main point of that 15-second segment.

Here are some slide design rules I’ve found useful:

  • Remember the rule of thirds. The most important elements of the slide should appear in one of the four intersections created when you divide the slide into thirds both horizontally and vertically.
  • Use 30 point font or larger, and use nice fonts. Choose fonts for readability, and avoid over-used fonts such as Comic Sans or Papyrus. Decorative fonts are not well suited for a presentation – keep it simple. You don’t need to be a graphic designer to have professional-looking slides. The large font forces you to use one point per slide, and to get to the essence of that point.
  • Images paint better pictures than words. You might need words to clarify or reinforce a point, but don’t be afraid to use a slide that is just one big picture.

For more slide design resources check these out:

Presentation Zen

How to Be a Presentation God

Six Minutes: The Rule of Thirds

Get Feedback and Practice A LOT

I got so wrapped up in telling my story, at first, that I totally forgot that the talk needs to have a clear point or two. It wasn’t until I practiced the talk in front of some fellow speakers that this became clear. Get feedback from people before you deliver your talk. And don’t let them see your slides. You want them to really pay attention to your material.

After I got initial feedback, I realized that I needed more educational elements in the piece. I also needed to take out some details that were confusing and insert other details to clarify. Be sure you really listen to this feedback. It’s not personal, it’s a key to help you make your Ignite talk ROCK!

When you are on stage, and there are hundreds of people there, you will be scared. Trust me. Even if you are experienced. The restrictions imposed by Ignite are uncomfortable, to say the least. If you are freaked out, you’ll make mistakes.

You need to be really present.

But you can’t be present if you haven’t practiced your materials!

You can set up Powerpoint so that it moves automatically to the next slide every 15 seconds. Just go to Transitions, and pick Advance Slide Every 15 seconds.

With your Powerpoint set up, there is no excuse for you to NOT practice every day for five minutes. Right?

What I Got from this Experience

The story that emerged from the feedback, the design of the slides, the crafting of the script, and the refining of the telling was much different from what I started with. And way more valuable for me as an author and presenter.

I now have the basis for a keynote talk, with lots of great details and learning points – something I struggled for months to create.

If you are looking for some clarity in your message, and a professional challenge, I would highly encourage you to sign up for an Ignite style talk in your area.


Joshua Waldman, author of Job Searching with Social Media For Dummies, is recognized as one of the nation's top authorities in Social Media Career Advancement. To learn Joshua’s secret strategies for shortening the job search and getting the right job right away, Get The Missing Manual for LinkedIn Success

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