Last night I had the pleasure of speaking at Ignite Guelph 3. This would be the second talk I’ve given (the first being at Ignite Guelph 1) as part of the Ignite speaker series, but the first that I’ve done solo1.
The night was a blast. There were so many amazing talks spanning topics from ukuleles, to animation, to metadata, and even hip hop. Some of the talks brought a smile to my face, others presented ideas on topics that I don’t think I would have thought about were not for the speaker, and some of the talks hit me right in the feelings zone2. I’m looking at you Bang Ly.
For those unaware of the Ignite Guelph speaker series format, it’s quite simple: each speaker gets 5 minutes and 20 slides – timed to automatically transition every 15 seconds – to inspire the audience with something they happen to be passionate about. It can be nerve-racking and scary, but it’s a lot of fun.
Given that I do a lot of public speaking – what with having to lecture students on a regular basis, and spreading the word about Farm To Fork to anyone who will listen – I’m very comfortable speaking in front of an audience. However, Ignite talks are different. They demand that you get to your point quickly, and without the benefit of notes (save for whatever you may have put onto the slides). For someone who usually has 20-80 minutes of speaking time per presentation, the shorter duration poses a challenge. But it’s the kind of challenge I like because it forces me to distill my thoughts to the most essential components.
Of course it’s not an easy task. In fact the talk I gave last night wasn’t the original talk I had intended to present. During the week preceding Ignite Guelph I finalized what I thought would be my talk. I spent my spare time memorizing the story of my talk – which I find better than memorizing the exact text – and working on my timing. By Monday night I was fully prepped, but I just wasn’t feeling it. The confidence wasn’t quite where I wanted it to be, and I found this frustrating. Something was missing from my presentation.
And then at 6pm on Monday night it hit me. My presentation was too academic. It lacked a human connection. Don’t get me wrong, I wasn’t spouting statistics or theories, but it just wasn’t as relatable or personable as I’d wanted it to be. It was almost clinical.
And so I made the decision to rewrite the entire thing.
I’m glad I did because I was able to better connect with my own story – which I hope translated to a better connection with the audience. Having a story that I could embrace fully made telling that story so much simpler. It’s amazing what a little humanity will do for a talk. And given the feedback I received last night at the after-party, I know that the rewrite was the correct thing to do.
For those curious, I spoke about my experiences with fear and how, at the age of 37, I decided to embrace my arachnophobia.
Thanks to the Ignite Guelph team for organizing another amazing event, and thanks to all of the speakers for sharing what inspires you. I can’t wait for Ignite Guelph 4.
1 Last year I spoke at the inaugural Ignite Guelph with my friend (and co-founder of Farm To Fork) Danny Williamson.
2 Ew – feelings.