A few weeks ago, I missed my favorite local event here in Minneapolis/St. Paul: Ignite. I know many other markets have Ignite events around the country, but here in MSP, the event is always a great time. Not so much because I learn a ton (although I usually do learn a thing or two), but more because I have a great time.
The presentations are always a nice mix of humorous, informative and sometimes quite serious. And as an added bonus I always learn a thing or two about presenting from some of the speakers.
You see, each year, there’s also a nice mix of speaking talent–from novices all the way to borderline professional speakers (or at least those who speak more than a dozen times a year). By the way, you can see all this year’s presentations here, and former year’s presentations here.
For those of you who present as part of your day job, I’m of the belief that public speaking is a work-in-progress. We can all get better. And what better way to learn than to emulate those who do it well. Let’s take a look at 7 of my favorite Minneapolis Ignite speakers and the public speaking/presentation lessons we can learn from them:
Speaker: Melissa Berggren (@marketingmama)
Lesson: One good image per slide
A first-time speaker (and admittedly, I didn’t see Missy this go around, although I’ve seen her present plenty in working with her on #mnblogcon), Missy did a great job with a topic that affects more parents than you might think. However, I thought one of the things she did best were her slides. They were simple. They helped her tell a story. And they included only one image per slide. Corporate presenters, take notice. This is how you build a slide deck–resist the urge to put full paragraphs in your slides. I’m begging you.
Killer line: 40 seconds. No clear winner here since all her slides highlight the tip above, but I love this photo of Missy’s daughter since it helps bring home the point that food allergies are very personal for her.
Speaker: Craig Key (@craigsanatomy)
Lesson: Lead with (self-depricating) humor. Close with facts.
From what I heard (and saw), Craig was probably the most entertaining presenter at this year’s Ignite in Minneapolis. Comes as no surprise, really. He’s presented in front of his fair share of clients. But, to get up in front of 400-plus people at the Heights Theater? That’s a bit different. But, Craig succeeded because he deftly understands how to use humor (and, self-depricating humor–the most effective). Keep in mind, Craig’s presentation had a valid point (educating clients around what “viral” means and strategies to pursue instead). It wasn’t merely a humorous presentation. But, by starting with the humor, he warmed the audience up and got them in the right spot to deliver his knockout punch.
Killer line: One minute, 8 seconds. “For the grandparents in the room, we make internet.” (in describing his role at Space 150)
Speaker: Jennifer Kane (@jenkaneco)
Lesson: Non-verbal cues can make or break your presentation.
In my opinion, the best public speaker in the history of Ignite (she’s presented twice). Much like Craig, Jen understands the power of humor. But, watch her prezo from year one (her Douchebag Zen prezo remains one of the top prezos in Ignite Minneapolis history)–note the non-verbal cues she’s giving off. Doesn’t that help make her presentation?
Killer line: 18 seconds. “Basically douchebags are people that just kinda spritz their BS into the cosmic vagina of our world and they need to be stopped.” (maybe the best all-time line at Ignite).
Speaker: Kristina Halvorson (@halvorson)
Lesson: Make every effort to work George Clooney in your presentation
OK, I’m kidding. Don’t work Clooney into your presentation. But, what Kristina did with this prezo is something you can do at the corporate level, too. Make your presentations HUMAN. Give them a personal connection. And, even make a pop culture reference (Clooney) every once in a while. It’ll warm up your talk. And, it’ll allow you to connect with your audience that much more. Now see, if I would have done this presentation, the reference would have been for Jessica Biel, but that’s a whole nother story…
Killer line: One minute, 40 seconds. Note: She doesn’t even mention “his” name…
Speaker: Julio Ojeda-Zapata (@ojezap)
Lesson: Swearing never works (only if your name is Julio Ojeda-Zapata)
Ha–kidding again. What worked for Julio here is this: Julio is a well-respected, long-time reporter in Minneapolis/St. Paul. But, here he comes to Ignite and he drops a couple f-bombs in the first minute of his prezo. That’s out of character for him. He zigged instead of zagging. Think about your presentations the same way. Surprise your audience. Do something unexpected. Now, to be clear, I’m not suggesting you swear in your next presentation in front of your boss. Just do the unexpected.
Killer line: 2 minutes; “I’ve been trying to figure out why I like my AeroPress so fucking much” (the visual is actually what kills it here…)
Speaker: Jim Bernard (@bernardjim)
Lesson: Let your images carry a bit of the water
So we talked about the simplicity of slides with Missy’s presentation. But, what Jim did so well with his was allowing the visuals in his slides to do some of the talking for him (which is critical at Ignite, where you only have 15 seconds per slide). Think about how you could use visuals (instead of endless text) in your presentations to help you tell your story. Remember, your deck shouldn’t be a teleprompter–it should be a tool to help you tell a full story to your audience.
Killer line: 56 seconds; great visual that sums up Jim’s entire presentation and the ineptitude of his softball team.
Speaker: Mykl Roventine (@myklroventine)
Lesson: Bring the energy
A hat-tip to one of the founders of our local Ignite, Mykl brought great energy to his presentation on karaoke (a topic of which he is very familiar, for those who know in the Twin Cities). This is one of those lessons that should be obvious, but clearly is not based on the hundreds of presentations I’ve sat in over the course of my 18-plus year career. Even if your deck sucks. Even if you haven’t had that cup of coffee. Even if it is 6:30 a.m. Always. Bring. Energy.
Killer line: 4 seconds; “Hello Minneapolis!!!!!!!!!”
Two weeks ago, I attended one of my favorite local events of the year: Ignite. In case you’re not familiar, Ignite is a worldwide phenomenon. What started as a relatively small event in Seattle in 2006, has now grown into 200-plus events around the globe.
Our version in Minneapolis has been around for three years–I’ve been lucky enough to attend the last two.
What makes Ignite so great isn’t the free beer. Or, the camaraderie (although that is great). Or, the venues (this year at The Heights was fantastic).
It’s the presentations.
For me, Ignite is a chance to sit back, relax and support some of my colleagues who take the stage. But, it’s also a chance to analyze and learn about the art of the presentation.
Because make no mistake about it, presenting is an art form. But, one that can be learned, practiced and perfected.
Each year, it’s great to see the variety of topics and presentation styles at Ignite. And it’s great to see people who don’t take the stage all that often at the usual conferences and events around town get five minutes to share their humor, a story or a how-to presentation.
But, during the last two Ignites I haven’t been able to resist the urge to analyze and critique the presenters–even if it was just internally in my mind. I can’t help it–this thing never shuts off 😉
And, over those last two years, I’ve noticed that there are certain keys. Predictors of success for a killer Ignite presentation–and when I say “killer” I mean one that solicits audience reaction. After all, isn’t that the purpose of Ignite? Sure, I want to learn, but I really want to be entertained. If I want deep, meaningful content, I have other venues in town to get that.
So, I share with you my 5 tips to a killer Ignite presentation (featuring videos and examples from last year’s Ignite):
* Body language is everything. If you get up on stage, stand behind the podium and stare at the screen for five minutes, you may find more folks getting up to refresh their Surly. But, if you use hand gestures, pace around the stage and use turns and twists effectively, it makes all the difference. There are so many things I love about Jennifer Kane’s epic “Douchebag Zen” presentation from Ignite 2009 (I wasn’t there, sadly), but her body language on stage is key to her success as a presenter. This is a must watch if you haven’t seen it yet.
* Don’t be afraid to poke a little fun at yourself. The best speakers I know are self-depricating–not arrogant. Cockiness doesn’t play in a presentation setting. Confidence is fine. Arrogance is something altogether difference. And it doesn’t work. Believe me. Try to make a few jokes at your expense at the outset of the presentation. Soften the audience up. Let them know you don’t take yourself too seriously. Then hammer them with your message. Last year, Julie Kucinski did a great job of injecting humor into her presentation. Content-wise, I though Julie was the cream of the crop in 2010.
* Own the stage. You can almost tell the people at Ignite that are going to rock it in the first two minutes they’re on stage. Why? Because they have a presence. They own the stage. What do I mean by that? They have attitude. They have confidence (not arrogance). And they believe in what they’re saying–and they’re having fun. At Ignite this year, Matt Ellsworth took a lot of heat for his presentation, but I thought it was brilliant. He OWNED that damn stage–whether you liked his content or not, you can’t take that away from him. Last year, I think back to Meghan Wilker’s presentation on Bollywood. The moment she got on that stage, she had energy and enthusiasm and it just kinda rolled her through the entire presentation.
* Tell stories. Lots of them. At Ignite Minneapolis, I though Jim Bernard of the Star Tribune did a wonderful job here. He worked in a number of stories about his winless softball team that absolutely made the presentation. Stories are probably the most important facet of any presentation. Without them, you have only facts, figures and a lame-ass Powerpoint presentation. With them, you have a presentation the touches hearts, minds and souls. And hopefully, something that will compel the audience to act in some way, shape or form. It’s tough with Ignite since the slides switch so quickly, and time is of the essence, but I thought Kristin Halvoson did a great job of working stories into her presentation last year (although she did talk about Mr. Clooney a bit too much for my taste).
* Experiment–and have fun for the love of God. It’s Ignite–it’s not TED. We’re drinking free beer in the audience. We want to laugh. We want to have a good time. Let us. As a presenter, that means HAVE SOME FUN! It also means experimenting with the presentation format. This year, Matt Ellsworth took some big risks with his presentation–and he took some heat for it online and at the Heights Theater. But, I thought it was brilliant. He took risks. He experimented. And, he was having fun. Got my laughs. Last year, I thought Meghan Seawell did the same thing. Hell, she even experimented with a hardcore Minnesota accent (although I’m not sure everyone picked up on that at the time).
Note: Photo courtesy of IgniteMpls via FlickR Creative Commons.