You've got five minutes. What are you going to do with it? What will you say? If you can answer that, you just scored a guest speaker gig in front of a few hundred people.
That's the idea that Seattle Web developers Brady Forrest and Bre Pettis had in mind when they started the Ignite speaker series in 2006. In their battle against boring and seemingly endless business meetings, Forrest and Pettis forced speakers to use less time but be more informative. The concept has launched in a small group of cities across the U.S. and around the globe including Boston, Dublin and Toronto, and for one night only, Feb. 1, at the Roosevelt's Grand ballroom, New Orleans gets its soapbox.
IgniteNOLA is based on the "elevator pitch," which shouldn't last any longer than the length of an elevator ride, says Grant Lange of Evidence Studios, who presents "Graduate Level Branding Class in Five Minutes or Less." Lange's address serves almost as an anchor for the other presenters — it covers the art of branding, or how to pitch the pitches the other presenters are pitching. It's a three-step brand analysis tool, he says, but one he'll need to show the room with only a few minutes to spare. "Now I have to put it in slides and worry about it," he says. "I'm terrified I'll either over-burn it or just won't be able to get all my points across."
Ignite's tagline is "Enlighten Us, But Make It Quick," as participants have only five minutes and 20 PowerPoint slides (at 15 seconds each) to make their points on any desired topic — literally any topic, as in "Conspiracy Is More Normal than Normal" or "The Art of Internet Stalking," all actual titles.
"The very first goal is to get people in a room so we can all share knowledge," says event organizer Chris Boudy. "You got people from all different backgrounds — the business community, nonprofit community, tech community. I know in New Orleans there are pockets of people, so with IgniteNOLA you not only get a chance to network but to gain knowledge. The topics cover the gamut. The key is all these topics will be witty, informative and fun."
Other subjects include the evolution of the shoe, the art of hacking, social-justice legal tender ("CareBucks"), what to gain from total failure, and "You're OK — You Just Need Help: Guilt-Free Criminal Defense for Students and Young Professionals." So what can attendees take away from the event, and what will the speakers learn from one another? That's up to them, Boudy says.
"You know how you go to an event and you feel pressured, like somebody's trying to sell something? This provides an open atmosphere," Boudy says. "Just come, relax and learn new stuff. That big part of learning and sharing is key."
The Ignite series focuses largely on learning, on idea sharing, and a sort of controlled ranting, but not product pitching. Ignite is a wider-scale, global spin on other social-networking, open-speaker events like the arts-focused Pecha Kucha or young-entrepreneur-led All Day Buffet — both of which have hosted New Orleans installments, and offer commercial enterprises an avenue to advertise. Not so much with Ignite. Boudy says its other goal, apart from getting people in the room, isn't to strike business deals but to do IgniteNOLA again, and often.
"We want people to take the lead, have it once a year or once every two years," Boudy says. "Keep in mind they started this in 2006 and have only had a select few cities. Seattle, Boston, Portland. We're really privileged to have it here, 'cause they don't have it everywhere else. The goal is ... just to see if this thing can continue."
But Boudy says attracting people to the session could take "a couple of things. Could be the venue. Everybody knows about the Roosevelt. Could be the free food and drink. Could be just the non-pressure."
The series kicks off with Web analytics and marketing firm Web Trends's annual conference on digital marketing. This year, engage2010 meets in New Orleans from Feb. 1-4, bringing its technology-minded attendees downtown and to IgniteNOLA, which serves asthe conference's welcoming reception.
Conference speakers include Bravo television's Rives, BusinessWeek's Stephen Baker, designer Eric Rodenbeck, The Huffington Post's Paul Berry, BUZZMEDIA's Alan Citron, writer Sam Whitmore and others. Taking the Ignite lead, engage2010 encourages speakers use only a brief window of time for their presentations rather than deliver keynote addresses. The conference also offers workshops, breakout sessions and continuing education courses for digital media professionals.
Engage2010 coordinators contacted Boudy and IgniteNOLA co-organizer Adele Tiblier, marketing strategist for FSC Interactive, about setting up an Ignite series for the conference. ("I got to piggyback on it," he says.) Boudy, who co-founded technology news providers New Orleans Tech, says he expects between 100 and 150 attendees from out of town to join the conference and the IgniteNOLA event, which he says already has attracted 200 locals, along with a growing list of presenters. The events and topics are open to anyone.
"I really like the idea of being able to share one of my geeky passions, and put a face to it and hopefully meet a fellow geek I can commiserate with out here," says Lange, a Seattle transplant to New Orleans who, with his business Evidence Studio, set up at collaborative workspace Launch Pad. "Trying to wade in without a little bit of help is hard. This just seemed like a great opportunity to meet some people and see what else is going on in the city, coming from a place where there's a lot of tech going on to landing in a place where you need to find some folks who are doing it. I'm relatively passionate about some of the geeky stuff I do."
The IgniteNOLA event comes before the launch of Global Ignite Week (March 1-4), which plans for 10,000 speakers over four nights in 40 cities, from Ann Arbor to Warsaw. Event organizers hope the idea-sharing event lands on all seven continents.
In New Orleans, Lange is still putting together his presentation, putting his three-pronged "brand analysis" into a wee 15-seconds-per-slide display.
"I'm just looking forward to see who can really nail a five-minute speech," he says.
When: 7 p.m. to 9 p.m., Monday, Feb. 1
Where: The Roosevelt Hotel New Orleans, 123 Baronne St.
How much: Free admission