What is Ignite?
Ignite is a format for giving a talk on any subject. A speaker uses twenty slides, which auto-advance every 15 seconds, to provide a five minute talk. The purpose of this article is to elaborate on these talks and explain why we’re doing them and why you should try it at your organization as well! Feel free to browse the official documentation with videos and explanations here:
What makes Ignite special?
At its core the short format and forced slide-changes force a speaker to be brief and concise. It is also encouraged that people speak about the things they are most passionate about, all of this in combination provides something quite beautiful.
Why is it so cool?
Stories are the oldest kind of magic. They allow you to experience the life and views of another person with the added bonus of them being there to go off their cues such as tone and body language. Ignite tries to boil this down with a quick format and forced slide changes to enable a person to share their experiences in the most wonderfully brief way they can. The first Ignite style talk I saw was from Jin, a software development manager at Ancestry.com, who also started the group, and he spoke about South Korean airlines. I have never been to Korea, but the history of its airline service was not something I thought would interest me, and I was wrong. This is the crux of Ignite, to see and experience something you perhaps would’ve never even considered.
During my first Ignite talk here at Ancestry.com, I messed up on a lot of slides and had too much text written. I stuttered and panicked because I had too much to say, but in reality I simply hadn’t boiled it down enough. For my second talk, I chose a topic I knew a great deal about, something I had done for more than a decade, Lion Dancing. Something that I loved and remember fondly, even if Wikipedia disproved many of the things I learned correctly or not from my teachers. I learned a great deal that day, because my second talk went a lot better. I made it in the time-frame of (almost) all my slides and something interesting happened. People could see my story; I could see it in their eyes, as something truly surreal takes over a group of people sharing a vivid story with another person. I learned a lot that day, and maybe a few other people did too from the lens of my life.
What does Ignite do for you, the speaker?
You’re always going to need to communicate, over just about everything. There is no facet of your life that being a better communicator isn’t going to help you with. We human beings are social animals and interacting with others is something of a requirement. The unique and fast paced format forces you, as the speaker, to cut right to the point, to be quick on your feet as well as creative. Even without saying one word the act of preparing for such a performance is an interesting experiment unto itself, which as a person who’s given many speeches left me pleasantly surprised. This was also one of the primary reasons the founder wanted to give Ignite talks, as Jin wanted to practice and hone his communicating skills, for what I only assume is some kind of presidential candidacy (Jin Lee 2024!).
What does Ignite do for you, the listener?
People live, and their lives are intricately tied to the people they interact with and listen to. My very favorite talk was given by Charlene Chen, Sr. Product Manager at Ancestry.com, who gave a great Ignite talk on how to take a good picture. I had taken a whole year of photography in school, and the simple tricks and story of Charlene’s photography taught me more than that entire year. Since then I have, in fact, been taking better pictures. This honestly took me by surprise, but this is the secret sauce of Ignite talks. Ignite forces people to be brief, and by encouraging people to talk about what they are most passionate the entire format is a blueprint for engaging and memorable stories. Stories that stick with you, and hopefully leave all involved a little more enriches. And after you take all this great stuff from your peers, perhaps you’ll be encouraged to tell your story. Everyone has one, and there’s nothing that can’t be turned into a good talk.
Relationships, how do those work?
It’s easy to miss all the great people around when you work for a big company. It’s not too likely many people can connect with the hundreds or thousands of other people they work with, but things like Ignite can help. I had seen Peter Graham, a fellow software engineer, around the office before but after he gave his talk about how Japanese Animation is produced and made we had something very large in common (I’m huge Anime Fanboy). Even if people are speaking about something you know nothing about, the format of Ignite will allow them to show you a very important piece of themselves. It’s a great feeling, and in the short time since we’ve started Ignite I’ve really gotten to see and know my colleagues in a new light, which is something any person at any organization can benefit from.
Chris Lee has served as a Software Engineer on the Backend DNA team for Ancestry.com since May of 2012. Before joining Ancestry.com, he was a lead designer working on Facebook games, as well as leading a team of engineers making tools and automating their products (Games and websites) at RocketNinja. Prior to this, he served at Zynga and Electronic Arts as a Software Engineer for development and tools teams. He holds a BS in Computer Science from California Polytechnic San Luis Obispo.