Last night I attended Ignite Raleigh. It’s been described as a technology variety show but that description doesn’t do it justice. Here’s how it works.

Lisa Creech Bledsoe aka twitter/glowbirdThere were 19 speakers. Each one gets five minutes and 20 slides. The slides automatically change every 15 seconds. They can speak about anything they want. They are chosen by the community. We voted for the speakers and topics we wanted to hear. Once we registered on the show’s web site, we received ten votes. We could give all ten votes to one speaker, or spread them out any way we chose. And if we changed our mind, we could take our vote back. The community chose 15 of the speakers and the organizers invited four speakers.

It’s a fast-moving show hosted by an emcee who kept it lively. At the end of five minutes, you are rickrolled off the stage. Some of last night’s topics:

  • A Day in the Life of a Meteorologist
  • NerdGirls Unite! Fact: Women Don’t Have to Be Lame
  • How to Save $100 with a DIY Home Energy Audit
  • 20 Little Know Facts About Sex & Pleasure
  • What Happens to Your Digital Identity After You Die
  • 13 Reasons Women Should Take Up Boxing
  • Everyone Needs a Dumb Guy
  • Mayberry Modernism: Why the Triangle is America’s Hotspot for Way Cool Houses
  • Ignite Night of the Living Dead
  • Why My Cat Can Get a Job Before You

Ryan Boyle aka twitter/therabAs you can see, it’s not a tech geek night, unless you call PowerPoint techy. It was fun and educational. It brought together about 500-600 people for a free night of entertainment.

Why would an association want to do this at a conference?

  • It’s a low cost (or free) night of entertainment for attendees where they can hang out and have fun with others.
  • We get to see another side of fellow members.
  • We also get to see members in the spotlight that might not normally get that exposure, a new set of faces.
  • It will be talked about. Believe me, this type of event gets lots of buzz – tweets, Facebook posts and lots of blog posts, lots.
  • It’s a great way to experiment with crowd-sourcing.
  • You can offer something to those members (perhaps younger, perhaps easily bored) who aren’t interested in your usual evening fare.

emcee Zach Ward aka twitter/zachwardWhat does it take?

  • Organizers – Ignite Raleigh was organized by the three man team of OurHashtag with the help of a volunteer coordinator.
  • A large room with a stage, screen and two mics (one for the emcee, one handheld mic for the speaker). The venue last night had some bridge chair seating in the front and in the balcony, but most of it was standing room only.
  • Voting tool – Ignite uses Uservoice on their web site.
  • Registration tool like Eventbrite – Ignite Raleigh was free and they closed registration when they reached the room’s capacity plus an additional no-show allowance.
  • Technical help to run the automated Powerpoint, sound, lights, video camera, livestream (optional) and photography.
  • Volunteers to check folks in, do crowd control and assistance, act as runners and shuffle speakers on and off stage.
  • An entertaining emcee – red tutu not required.
  • Sponsors to cover expenses – Ignite Raleigh ran short videos at the beginning of the night and at intermission and gave them lots of stage/on site love but not the microphone.
  • Brave speakers.
  • Cash bar for the audience.
  • Marketing in conference materials and through social media.

Instead of going to an association awards dinner, I would much rather attend an Ignite-like evening, and I’m a Boomer/Gen Xer (Generation Jones), imagine what your young members would prefer. This is a great alternative to your regular evening programming for those who frankly aren’t interested in what you’re offering, or can’t afford it.

UPDATE: After posting this I learned from Shelly Alcorn that the California Society of Association Executives will be doing an Ignite night at their annual conference. Can’t wait to hear how it goes!

A Twitter friend of mine, Jeff Bailey, something of a presentation guru himself, told me about a two-day speaking class, Powerful Persuasive Speaking, taught by Alan Hoffler. I don’t think any of us can ever learn enough about the science and art of communicating, so I quickly signed up.

I became more aware in a few hours of my speaking shortcomings and strengths than I ever could have imagined, and then spent the next two days learning how to correct my bad habits (that I didn’t even know existed!) and become a better communicator. Our teacher Alan was a walking talking example of an engaging and effective speaker and he was also a fun, patient and knowledgeable instructor.

We had two rules to bear in mind:

  • It’s not about me, it’s about the audience.
  • Mind the gap — there’s a huge difference between what I’m feeling while speaking and what the audience is experiencing.

I definitely knew the first rule, although there have been a few times when it was hard to get out of my own worrying head and into the audience’s, especially when things out of my control disrupt my carefully prepared plan. I had experienced the second rule (the gap) and never quite believed it, but now I have the film to prove its truth. Sometimes if our mind is in turmoil and we think we are absolutely dying up there, strangely enough we can appear poised and confident to the audience – a huge gap in perception versus reality. Why do we appear so confident? It’s because we have the skills – either learned or innate. We are connecting to and engaging the audience. It seems almost magical at times.

Flickr photo by uwdigitalcollections

We learned about posture, arm placement, gestures, eye contact and movement. Yes, it is hard to walk and talk at the same time! It actually takes practice to do it in an effective way. Thankfully, we learned that much of this is similar to muscle memory. If we practice the skills, soon they become natural to us and we can build our presentation on top of them. I thought back to when I learned to figure skate and the hours I practiced school figures using different edges. Boring! But those skills became part of my muscle memory. Without having them as a base I couldn’t have done the pretty spins and jumps.

Another thing happened in class, something that wasn’t included in the program description. We started as a group of eleven strangers who were feeling a bit nervous, anxious and vulnerable about speaking, totally unprepared as to content (improvising in fact) in front of each other, and being filmed while doing it. By the end of the second day, we had bonded as a group that went through a discovery and learning process together. We felt comfortable pointing out each other’s mistakes and strengths. We became interested in each other’s professional paths. Some of us spoke of meeting regularly as a group to continue practicing our burgeoning skills.

Learning and growing is always more rewarding when doing it with others – whether it’s a class, study group, discussion group, workshop or retreat. Seeing the excited spark in someone’s eyes or noticing how their body moves to the edge of their seat leaning into a conversation – that can be infectious in the best way possible. I’ve always been motivated by opportunities to learn and find ways to make it a regular part of my life. How do you find ways to learn and grow with others?

A few months ago Scott Oser asked me if I’d like to be a presenter for a webinar series for association staff who want to learn how to implement social media tools at their organization. I don’t consider myself a social media “expert” but I do know that since immersing myself in social media over the last year and a half, I do have a lot to share with others in my profession. Since I have never presented via a webinar before, and never even presented on social media in any format, I was tempted (for just a second) to pass, but I wanted to stretch myself, so I accepted.

I’m sharing the presentation duties with my new friend Ted LaBarbera. Ted’s the web editor at the American Association of Advertising Agencies in New York. Typical of social media relationships, Ted and I have never met in real life, but I’m sure we’ll enjoy sharing a beer together one day. We’re taking turns on presenting — I’m the lead for two of the webinars (the intro and LinkedIn) and Ted is for the other two (Facebook and Twitter). When we’re not leading, we act as color commentator for each other.

Last week I took the lead on our first webinar — Social Media 101 for Associations. It took a while for me to get the content nailed down. I wanted to focus on the big picture — how social media efforts must align with an association’s strategic plan, the mindset (or culture) required to be successful and the first steps to take. It was way too much content for 50 minutes but we managed to fit it all in, barely.

I posted my PowerPoint presentation and a PDF with session notes on Slideshare in the hopes that my approach will help somebody’s organization or business.

It’s a strange feeling to talk into a phone to an audience that you can’t see and that can’t talk back. But I did enjoy the experience, not as much as speaking to real people in front of you, but hopefully what I had to say made a difference to them. And like speaking in real life, I was wired for about three hours after!

If you are ever offered the chance to do something out of your supposed comfort zone and you know that deep inside you have what it takes, or, with a little work, could have what it takes to do the job, than do it. That’s my advice for the day!