What I Learned Presenting at Ignite

Last week was a big one in Boulder with Boulder Startup Week and the latest rendition of Ignite Boulder.  You know what Ignite is right?  If you don’t—here’s a quick synopsis: Ignite Boulder is a night of presentations with a twist. Presenting on a subject of their choice, speakers have exactly five minutes to teach something, enlighten us, or simply inspire—backed by twenty slides auto-advancing every fifteen seconds. I was lucky enough to get to speak at Ignite Boulder 10.  You can see organizer Andrew Hyde’s post about it here.  Although this was my 3rd Ignite, it was my first time speaking. As a presenter, I learned a great deal about the process and myself. Here are my thoughts for those who might want to present in the future.

Do Your Research

It makes me a bit nervous when people say they’re going to speak at an Ignite event when they’ve never attended one. While you can ask opinions about it and watch speeches online it’s hard to get a clear understanding of the event and what’s expected of a speaker. While you should teach something of social value--being at least a bit entertaining is good as well. Finding the line between the two can be a bit tricky. To reduce your stress and do your best when speaking—go to at least one Ignite Boulder event before speaking.

Be Passionate & Have a Message

Talk about something that you’re passionate about or know a good deal about. But don’t sell us on your product or service. Such a turn-off.  Also, don’t treat this as an opportunity to try out all your funniest shticks. It isn’t stand-up. Introduce us to a new concept or way of doing things. Teach us something. For instance, as an executive coach & organizational strategist, I know a thing or two about culture and transition. So, my talk focused on helping people transition from a big city to a much smaller town like Boulder.  Sharing your knowledge will feel good and leave the audience more inspired, enlightened and hopefully educated—always a good thing.


Since I'm not a designer, I was worried about how polished my slides might look. That actually wasn't the hardest part. One of the trickier things about preparing the slide deck was finding a balance between what I put on the slides and what I was going to say. Ultimately I found that my original slides were a bit too complicated.  There was simply too much for the audience to take in. Different elements on the slide were competing with each other and--with what I planned to say. I ended up taking out a ton of stuff right before I turned my deck in and probably would have simplified them even more if I had a time machine. Since I don’t--I’m pretty happy with what I did knowing what I knew then. Just make sure the message is clear. Simplify.

A good example is Ef Rodriguez (@pugofwar) who is far from a villian but does have an irreverent sense of humor,  knows how to play to his strengths and engage the crowd. His presentations are always inspiring and well done. He's pretty much the gold standard for simple, to the point slides in my book.

Be Like a Boy Scout

Cramming is one of your worst enemies in this situation. Not doing enough work along the way and waiting until the last moment can = not good. It’s just like being in school. You don’t do your best work, it’s hard to remember all the pertinent points and it’s inherently stressful. Preparation is key. An iterative process will help you refine your thoughts over time.  Start working on your overall presentation and slides well before the deadline to turn them in. This will not only help you build a deck you’re proud of but also allow you to start preparing what you’re going to say. This also helps calm your nerves.

Practice, Practice, Practice

Giving yourself plenty of time to practice will not only allow you to perform better but will also help you to calm your nerves on the night of your presentation. I was second to last when I spoke so I had the whole night to wait. Miraculously, I wasn’t as nervous as I thought I’d be. I think this was largely due to practice and being comfortable with my message for each slide. If you know what you’re going to say you won’t need notes. And frankly, you don’t want notes. 15 seconds just isn’t enough time to read notes, speak and connect to the slides. Veteran Igniter Terry Cabeen (in the blue shirt) shared this with me a few days before the event. It was good advice. Glad I listened.

Manage Your Stress

Despite all this preparation you’re bound to be a bit nervous on the night of speaking in front of nearly 900 people. It’s natural. We all respond to stress differently. For some,  it makes them rise to the occasion. For others, it makes them want to drink. Be very careful if you tend to have the latter response to stress. Slurring your word in front a huge crowd of people just ain't pretty. Monitor your intake and wait until you’re done if you really must knock a few back. This may be a once in a lifetime experience—you definitely want to remember it.

Enjoy Yourself

Speaking at Ignite Boulder is an incredible opportunity. It can be the most fun you've had in your life.  Although there can be a lot of pressure and it can be a bit overwhelming at times—make sure to slow down, take it all in and enjoy yourself. I tried to be in the moment as much as possible. This helped me to enjoy my entire Ignite speaking process immensely. I also invited my friends to share in my experience. They made it much more fun and offered great support along the way. Note: The beautiful women in the photo with me are my friends Tara Anderson and Kate Brown (stellar former Ignite presenters) celebrating with me.

Just Do It

If you have something you really want to share your insight on—do it. If you want to challenge yourself to create a cohesive presentation and keep up with the slides changing every 15 seconds…you guessed it. Just do it.  In the end, the whole process was even more fun and helped me grow personally even more than I thought it would.  Afterwards I felt the glow of having faced and conquered something I wasn’t sure I could ever do (speak in front of nearly 900 people).  After my first talk at Ignite Boulder, things that in the past I might have made a really big deal out of just seem, well…easier. I know I'll feel the positive effect of it for a long time to come. I feel so grateful to have had this experience.

Thanks to Andrew Hyde, Benjamin Chait and all the organizers for creating such a special event and for making my 1st Ignite Boulder speaking experience something I will always cherish.


If you want to attend Ignite Boulder 11—tickets are already on sale. Spark submissions will open soon. I look forward to hearing your presentation...