I presented at Ignite Minneapolis ... and survived

Way back in the end of March, 2013, I saw a social media post trumpeting that Ignite Minneapolis was accepting applications for presentations at its May 29 event. The only rules? You’re limited to 5 minutes, you can’t promote yourself and you have to inspire the audience, but make it quick.

When I rang in 2013, I also rang in a new perspective inspired largely by John Sweeney of the Brave New Workshop.  He wrote the book (literally) on how to apply  improv “philosophy” to business. I interviewed Mr. Sweeney in 2008 for a piece I did for the Mpls St. Paul Business Journal and he sent me what was to become his book “Innovation at the Speed of Laughter: 8 Secrets to World Class Idea Generation.” I re-read it, made myself of list of the key points that inspired me and posted it next to my computer. I look at it and try to live and do business by those “rules” every single day.

Inspired myself, I decided to throw my proverbial hat into the ring to speak at Ignite Minneapolis. On a whim, I submitted the topic “Yes, first. How improv ‘philosophy’ will change your life.” A month later, I received notice that I’d be speaking. After my initial, “YAY!” I immediately said, “Oh crap! Now I have to actually get on stage in front of people and give this presentation … that I have yet to create.”

So I spent a week creating my presentation, then I watched a few YouTube videos from last year’s Ignite presentations. Then I scrapped my presentation and started over. I practiced for weeks. At first, it was once every day then, in the two weeks leading up to the event, it was twice a day, every day. You see, when you present at Ignite you get exactly 20 slides and each slide is visible for 15 seconds, then it auto advances — whether you’re ready for it or not. I intended to be ready for it.

Tickets went on sale and promptly sold out in 10 minutes. Then, before I knew it, the event that had seemed so far away had suddenly arrived and I was to take the stage at the historic Heights Theater in a spotlight in front of a packed house.

ignite minneapolis

Here's what I learned from my Ignite Minneapolis experience:

* Be prepared. Know your slides and presentation backward and forward. Practice so often you see that presentation in your sleep. If, however, you’re not going to be prepared, go big and be hilariously under prepared like the gentleman who spoke on “Energy Vampires.”

* I wasn’t nervous, but I was definitely anxious. I wanted to go first, but quickly realized that was not the spot I actually coveted. I spoke after intermission, after about six other post-intermission speakers. The event is popular for many reasons, but one of them is free beer from local brewery Surly. After intermission, the crowd had plenty of that free beer and my presentation likely seemed more hilarious.

* I needed my slides as prompts, but just a glance at them. I tried to speak to the audience as much as possible and not come off too over-rehearsed (even though I probably was). You can judge for yourself whether I was successful here when the YouTube video is posted.

* I should have purchased a bottle of water because in the moments leading up to my presentation I got very, very thirsty and had a terrifying vision of coughing helplessly (and annoyingly) for five minutes on stage.

* I should have attributed the sources of the images I included in my presentation. That was the biggest missed opportunity. Dear Internet: If I used your image and didn’t attribute it to you, I’m so, so sorry. It didn’t occur to me until it was too late!

* Five minutes go by really quickly, but at the same time it’s only five minutes of your life.

* It was awesome, I had so much fun and I’d do it again in a heartbeat.

I’ll post the photos and video when they become available, but in the meantime, enjoy the presentation in its most basic form. I hope improv “philosophy” inspires you as much as it has inspired me!