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Ignite Your Community Events

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One of my favorite things about Ignite events is that anyone, anywhere can organize one. For those of you who aren’t familiar with Ignite, it’s an event with a unique format: Presenters each get five minutes to present 20 slides; their slides auto-advance every 15 seconds, which makes for an interesting experience for presenters and the audience alike. Ignite was started by Brady Forrest and Bre Pettis with the first event in Seattle in December 2006. It’s now become a global phenomenon with events happening all the time around the world.

I’ve been involved in organizing Ignite Portland since our first one in October 2007. Last week, we organized our ninth Ignite Portland event with over 700 people in attendance and another 160 people tuning into at least part of our live stream.

I’ve helped organize all nine of the Ignite events in Portland, and I’ve been on the other side of the microphone as a presenter at several Ignite events, so I’ve picked up a few tips and tricks along the way for people who are interested in organizing one. Here are a few of the things that can help you organize an Ignite that shines.

Know Your Audience and Be Flexible

The Ignite format specifies the five-minute presentations with 20 slides that auto-advance every 15 seconds, but most of the rest is up to interpretation. We’ve customized our event to make it appeal to our Portland audience:

  • We get corporate sponsors to cover our expenses rather than charging a fee to attend.
  • We hold Ignite Portland in a cool old theater where people can order pizza, dinner and drinks.
  • Our event is almost entirely automated; we’ve eliminated the need for an MC.
  • Ignite Portland is always a standalone event not held in conjunction with other conferences.

I’ve also attended Ignite events in corporate settings, bars, convention centers and even a local library, both with and without registration fees. Several of these Ignite events were scheduled to run alongside another event as a fun evening activity. Each of those locations and formats suited the needs of their unique audience.

Keep it Simple

Keeping your event as simple as possible is especially important for the first couple of times that you organize one. The more moving parts, the more help you’ll need to pull it off, and the more chances there are that something could go wrong. While we started with a simple Ignite format, we have gotten increasingly complex with our fully automated process, live streaming, simulcasting to a second location, sponsor videos and more. Unfortunately, this also means that it takes us four or five months to organize our event, and we have a high rate of volunteer organizer burnout, since our events is run entirely by unpaid volunteers. Our first Ignite Portland was organized in about a month, since it was a much simpler format. I strongly encourage you to stay focused on keeping it simple and lightweight to organize.

Have Fun

One of the best things about organizing an Ignite is that you get to help select the talks. It can be challenging to get a coherent story in only five-minutes, and I’ve found that a fun approach to a topic can really help get the point across quickly. My favorite example was a talk about how to boil water in five easy steps using a nuclear reactor where the presenter managed to get her message across while making it interesting and funny at the same time. In Portland, we’ve also noticed that while the event was started for the technology community, we’ve ended up with quite a few technologists talking about fun side projects and interests. While we still have a number of technology topics, we also try to mix in a few talks that are just for fun.

Anyone can organize an Ignite event, and your event should be shaped to reflect your environment. Pick an interesting location to hold your Ignite, customize the format to meet your needs and your audience, but most of all, have a little fun with your Ignite!

What are your experiences attending or organizing Ignite events?

Bagdad photo by Lucas DeShazer used under the Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic license.