Recently, I spoke about social innovation at Toronto’s first Ignite Talk. Ignite is a speaker series based upon Pecha Kucha, a presentation style used in creative fields like design and architecture, but increasingly popular amongst business and academic communities.
What I learned from this experience is something every entrepreneur needs to know: how to articulate big ideas in five minutes – the space of an elevator ride.
Since its inception in Seattle, Ignite has quite literally ignited around the world. Latest locations to adopt the talks: London, Portugal and Paris. What makes Ignite so unique – and what I didn’t realize when I was approached to speak – is the format. Ignite Seattle’s tagline should have been the tip off: “Enlighten us, but make it quick.”
Each speaker has but five short minutes to present a big idea. Speaking points are reinforced by a “locked” PowerPoint presentation of twenty slides on auto-play. The slides are preset to change every fifteen seconds, whether or not the point has been put across. Energy abounds in an Ignite setting. Part nervous tension (speakers and audience alike), part inspiration, the result is one high octane event.
My challenge: to spark the idea of social innovation using the Ignite template. Social innovation, considered a “big” idea due to its complex nature, is challenging to unpack under the best of circumstances. But when the tendency to be verbose would strike, the Ignite format would force me back into the proverbial elevator. Five minutes should suffice to pitch this – or any – big idea.
In the days leading up to the event, I couldn’t help but channel the spirit of American author and naturalist Henry David Thoreau. Thoreau, who famously chronicled his time at Walden Pond, lived in a tiny cabin for two years, two months and two days as an experiment in “simple living”. There, he produced many works including his memoir of Walden Pond, which he was able to condense into the equivalent of one calendar year.
Since I was unable to draw from a simple environment (in Thoreau’s case, the-middle-of-nowhere) as a source of inspiration, my mantra became two words that Thoreau once wisely uttered in reflection: “Simplify, simplify.”
Along with this Thoreau quote, there are a handful of “should-do’s” if you are to become a successful elevator goer. Whether a five-minute pitch, or a 45-minute presentation, these trusty points should help any entrepreneur to articulate a big idea:
And remember, if you were stuck in an elevator with the entire audience, what would you say?
Some resources to help Ignite your talk: