Ignite presentations – and why I (don’t?) like ‘em

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By Simon


Before you start, you should know that this is part of a paired blog, with my friend Lydia Bates, who’s just done her first Ignite presentation and who’s blogged about her first time. This blog is my take on it, as a professional trainer and speaker.

My position is pretty simple.

I hate Ignite as a presentation format….  🙂

Well, okay, I don’t hate it – it’s got a lot of good stuff going for it, but hear me out…

For those of you who aren’t familiar with the Ignite concept, the rules of the presentation are pretty simple: 20 slides, which automatically advance after 15 seconds, which gives you a total presentation time of exactly five minutes. No deviation allowed.

The issue, for me, as a professional, is that I know some things can be said in two seconds and some take 20 minutes. But Ignite forces things to fit its formula (by definition!) which means that only a concept with fits to that format can be handled (or at least should be!). It’s the perfect format, for example for working down a list of words, giving their definitions – there’s no development and no ‘story line’. If it was a written document instead of a presentation, it would simply be a set of bullet-points.

Of course, a real expert could make more of a sophisticated, developed presentation I know, but I stand by my point in general.

The upside of the format, obviously, is that it does a number of useful things:

  • It stops presenters boring the audience to death because it only last five minutes. (Actually it doesn’t stop them boring people but it puts a strict time limit on how long they can inflict themselves on the audience.)
  • It gives a presenter a clear structure to work with – one of the common problems for novice (and wide-eyed) presenters is that they are a bit like a kid in a sweet shop… with so many ways to say things and so many wizzy-gadgets it’s hard to know where to start! (What that means in practice all too often is that the presenter doesn’t start designing the presentation soon enough – or the presentation being loaded with unnecessary wizz-bang that gets in the way of the content)
  • It’s a recognised, organised way of getting stage-time. All other things being equal practice is a good thing.

But I keep coming back in my head to the problem that it’s an artificial structure. I spend hour after hour working with clients to help them understand a simple truth about presenting – they should use whatever works best to get the message to the audience. That, above everything else, is the critical point of a presentation…

… and if the best way to do it isn’t the Ignite way, the Ignite way becomes the wrong way. Simple as that.

rong way. Simple as that.

Cave carvings – via wikimedia

If the best way is dancing elephants, use dancing elephants.   If the best way is cave wall carvings, use cave wall carvings. If the best way is PowerPoint, then use PowerPoint. And if the best way is to use the Ignite format, use the Ignite format.   If not, don’t. ;)


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