Ignite Talk Prep

Jul. 14, 2019

Last week, I had the opportunity to do an ignite talk (Checklists Save Lives) at the DevOpsDays DC conference. Earlier in the year, I had set a goal of speaking at a meetup. So, when I saw the call for proposals, I figured I’d give it a shot.

An ignite talk is a strictly timed five minute talk. Slides automatically advance every fifteen seconds. It’s a short amount of time, but everything I read about it made the point that you cannot just wing it. Coming out of it, I’d have to agree; the auto-advancing is just unforgiving.

Some things I found:

Keep it simple

I wish I had narrowed down the scope of my talk earlier. The premise was fairly simple, convince people that checklists are a viable tool to manage complexity. But I started out trying to talk about too many things (such as trying to give too many in-depth examples). You only have five minutes, and nobody enjoys it if you’re just speedreading through the talk.

Practice out loud

In Google Slides, you can choose to “Automatically advance presentation to next slide” to get the real experience. With this, it was superbly useful to record myself speaking under the same constraints and then play it back. And then, recruiting someone else to provide feedback was even more invaluable.

Filler slides are OK

Slides shouldn’t be too information dense anyway, but I found it handy to intersperse more generic slides. It gave areas where you can catch up if you’re behind or expound and slow down on a point if you’re too fast. If you want to spend more than 15 seconds on a slide you could also just repeat it.

A teleprompter is just a tool

There’s plenty of free teleprompter apps out there. I have a habit of talking faster and faster as I get nervous, so I would practice sections and use the prompter as an indicator of where I should be (average person talks 100-150 WPM). It did make those sections feel more rigid, so I’m not sure how useful it was in the end.

This was just my experience and things I’ll keep in mind if I do something like this again.