What Makes a Great Ignite Talk?

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ignite-zurich-logo@2xIgnite Zurich’s live stage show’s popularity has soared the past year. We now regularly sell out 100 seats in Impact Hub’s Bogen D auditorium, and enlighten quickly hundreds more with our live stream on Facebook. We’re set our sights on selling out the Hub’s new 200-seat auditorium in its new “Selnau Unterwerk” space for our December 2017 event. But that’s another story for another time.

The high demand for Ignite tickets has seen a 3-fold increase in requests to give an Ignite talk. This creates a challenge to select a show’s lineup of speakers, but ticket-holders can count on being wowed by ever more diverse and amazing topics from speakers with a great story to tell.

The following post is for anyone who wishes to increase their chances to secure one of the limited Ignite Zurich speaker slots – or would like create compelling content to captivate any audience.

A.  Get into the right MINDSET

“And what mindset is that?” This is easy if you remember an Ignite talk is never, ever, about you. An Ignite talk can be about rising Antarctica or the lost Zamboni or anything in between. But it’s not about you. Which means if it’s not about you, it’s purely persuasive mind candy for your audience.

The mindset you want to have isn’t hard to define. Since you’ve likely been to an Ignite event before, you met people there a lot like yourself: engaging, curious, likeable, well read, open to the unusual or the mundane – as long as it comes from someone who truly loves the subject, no matter how strange.

Think about what you love or dislike the most in Ignite talks you’ve seen or watched on our social media channels. Satisfy that critic and you will satisfy the audience who have come to see Ignite speakers perform on stage.

B. Ignite talks are about IDEAS

Focus on a single idea, its novelty and your relations with it. Igniters want to hear unique perspectives on an idea – wrapped up in a purposeful story that answers what they are silently thinking: “why should I care?” and “what’s at stake here?”

C. Know your PURPOSE

What do you want people to walk away with? What do you want them to do as a result of hearing your message? For example, inspire Igniters to live life with less baggage, motivate them to stop acquiring stuff and take action to sell, donate or trash all superfluous possessions.

D. See what’s gone BEFORE

We suggest when preparing for your Ignite talk not to waste time reinventing the wheel. Binge out on some previous Ignite talks. Personally, I find Ignite Boulder talks rock. Or watch popular TED talks or listen to The Moth podcasts.

You’ll notice the best talks share an inspiring or interesting idea in story form, weaving a little bit of the speakers’s biography into the subject. But we only want to know a little. An Ignite talk is NOT about you; it’s about the idea, made personal through you.

Below is a list of exemplary TED talks by subject type curated by a medevac helicopter pilot working in Alaska, Lorena Knapp, who I met in a  some years ago in a mastermind:

E. Collect source MATERIAL

One reason people tend to talk too much about themselves in a talk is they haven’t researched their idea beyond personal experience. Consequently they have little else but autobiographical content. Take time before designing your talk to be aware of everything that relates to the idea your talk is about.
Collect these materials, examples might include:

  • a snippet of conversation you overheard about your subject
  • a quote you remember from school
  • a meme or a song that triggers automatic recall
  • a story that relates to your idea
  • data, a fact, or cluster of data that supports the idea
  • a metaphor or analogy that helps explain it
  • a personal moment in your relationship with the idea

F. Write your SCRIPT

My next post will explain in detail “How to Create Your Ignite Talk.”
Until then here’s a little spoiler from my recent Storytelling Workshops:

A. Know your audience. Know them better than they know themselves.
B. Choose one strong idea you believe will resonate with this audience.
C. Define the purpose for telling this story to this audience at this time.
D. Cull your source material, remove all that does not serve your story’s purpose.
E. Outline your talk on 20 blank Keynote/PowerPoint slides
F. Write or speak the talk slide by slide until it’s exactly 5 minutes.
G. Choose bold single images for each slide with absolute minimal texts.
H. Practice your talk until you can tell it powerfully without notes.


A.     Have the right MINDSET
B.     Choose an IDEA that your audience will eat up
C.     Have clear PURPOSE of why you are telling this story to this audience
D.    OBSERVE other great talks
E.     Collect rich source of MATERIAL to draw upon
F.     Write your SCRIPT and try it out on an impartial friend

1 Comment

  1. Shauna winram

    Thanks. I will read more of your work. You know what you are talking about. Good luck with Ignite Zurich. Shauna Winram.


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