20 slides in five minutes

A little bit about the communications aspect of the presentations at last night’s Ignite Seattle. (I’ll write more about the presentations themselves when the Ignite folks post the videos.)

Let me start by saying that all the presenters were experienced and skilled. So what I’ll be writing about is how folks dealt with the constraints of making a five-minute speech when the 20 slides they had prepared were being automatically advanced every 15 seconds.

Scott Berkun, unquestionably one of the most polished of the speakers, stepped outside the box by simply giving a five-minute speech. His graphics-only slides ticked off the time, moving from 20 blue squares to none by the time he’d finished.

Chris Heuer of Social Media Club also finissed the 15-second rhythm by using very general photos of people at meetings. Since his slides illustrated the very top level of his presentation on face-to-face communication, they matched anything he was saying.

The rest of us attempted to stay in sync with our slides, sometimes with amusing results. In one or two instances, people found themselves tapping their feet while waiting for their next slide; more often, a slide would beat the speaker to the punchline. I admired the very calm, very articulate fellow who looked at a slide he wasn’t ready for, looked back at the audience, and said “I’m just going to give my talk,” and went on to ignore his slides.

If you are planning to present at Ignite Seattle and will be grappling with the unusual 15-second slide format, here are a few tips:

• If possible, pick a topic that has logical steps, so you’ll never get out of sequence. Jordan Schwartz‘s presentation on the “hive mind” concept and how you can set up a beehive your backyard flowed perfectly because his slides and his speech were telling a linear story. (By contrast, Candance McNaughton‘s presentation on natural medicine Health Hacks and mine on Workplace Survival issues covered bullet points we could have presented in just about any order. A few times we had to turn around to look at our own slides to see what point was next.)

Time the comments you’ll make with each slide. Make sure they’re only 14 or 15 seconds, and edit relentless until they are! Once you’ve got them down to size, I found that chunking them into three phrases worked. I saw the slide image, it sparked the first phrase. The second phrase was a transition, and the third phrase was either a punchline or moved us along to the next slide. Each 15 seconds of text had a rhythm like a waltz, so I was ready for the next slide instead of jarred by it.

Practice til you own it. I had the speech function (part of Mac OS X) read the speech to make sure it was really 5 minutes long. The computer voice is a bit slower than mine, but I also realized I’d take up a bit of time here and there ad libbing or reacting to the audience. I then recorded myself giving the speech (to iPod via an iTalk mic) and went for a walk and listened to the speech a few times. When I got back I printed out the Keynote slides six to a page and tried to go through the speech using only the slide visuals as cues. When you can do that, you’re ready to go.

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