Five minutes of fame
Entrepreneurs are often told to join professional networking organizations when they’re getting started. They’re advised to hand out business cards and schmooze a little.
But this doesn’t work for everybody—at least, not for Colin Loretz, a local, self-employed web developer. Upon graduating from college, he tried attending meetings and luncheons held by all the standard acronyms.
“Everything they were teaching was, well, kind of old school, and they weren’t really applicable to what I was doing,” says Loretz.
But Ignite Seattle was. Started in 2006 by techies Brady Forrest of O’Reilly Radar and Bre Pettis with the e-zine Make, Ignite Seattle was created with two goals: Enlighten audiences, and be quick about it. Five minutes, to be exact. Presenters can talk about anything—though the first event was more tech-focused, topics now range from the technical to the absurd—using 20 PowerPoint slides that advance automatically every 15 seconds, which comes to five minutes per presentation.
“It was originally created as an open source TED [technology, education and design] conference,” explains Loretz. “A TED conference is this elite event that happens once a year in the Bay Area, costs $10,000 to attend, and you have to be invited. So Ignite was inspired from that content, with a focus on technology, but allowing it to be free, and giving anyone who desired to speak a way to do so.”
Ignite Seattle took off. The first event hosted more than 250 attendees, and most recently, Ignite 8 saw more than 500. Like others in cities, Loretz adopted the project, bringing it to Reno last March.
“I was surprised at the turnout and the diversity of the presentations given,” says Michelle Montoya, a college English professor who presented at the first Ignite Reno. “From education to fire prevention, multitasking to remodeling, there’s no limit to what people can present.”
Her own presentation, coaxed to life by Loretz, was entitled “Multitasking 101: How to Get a Lot of Shit Done.” Montoya also joined pals Mike Henderson and Mike McDowell in a presentation about the benefits of drinking beer from a tall can as opposed to a short can, bottle or keg. Loretz’s most recent presentation was called “Diagnosing Technology as a Mental Disorder,” a comedy sketch that used technology to diagnose his audience’s “symptoms.” And last summer, Henderson presented “How to Remodel Your Home Without Destroying Your Marriage.” Anything goes here, within reason—no sales pitches or advertisements, although raising awareness about issues or causes is allowed. Planned Parenthood once presented a talk about the importance of sex ed. Serious, professional presentations are always welcome, too.
“Giving a normal presentation, you show slides, talk about each one until you’re done, and then go on to the next one. It’s easy to do, but it’s boring,” says Henderson. “This structure forces you not to be boring. … It feels more like a performance than a presentation. It’s like storytelling. You have to have good timing. You have to design slides that look cool. And it helps you with public speaking. So you build all kinds of skills, and you don’t pay anything or have anything to lose.”
Ignite Reno, now a quarterly event, takes place at Amendment 21, so participants can eat and drink, and so far, admission is free. The goal right now is to build a steady pool of attendees who want to socialize, share their knowledge, learn something and have fun. The next event, on Jan. 14, is themed “What have you learned in 2009?”