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Igniting the evaluation fire – lessons from my first Ignite presentation

By Liz Smith

At the 2018 AES conference, Ignite presentations were introduced to light some fire in our evaluation belly. Ignite presentations are a set formula of five minutes and 20 slides with each slide advancing automatically after 15 seconds. Presenters have to concisely and quickly pitch their idea.

My thoughts in 2017 when submitting an Ignite conference abstract was: ‘Great idea, let’s get a piece of this action. Let’s push my boundaries and try something new. Woohoo!’. In contrast, my thoughts one week out from #aes18LST were: ‘WTF have I got myself into this time!

Let me share, my lessons on doing my first Ignite presentation.

Effective Ignite presentations have one central theme about which you are passionate

I was arguing for short, plain English evaluation reports. I wanted to offer tips to create readable reports. Over the last two years, Litmus has implemented a company-wide plain English strategy. As a finalist in New Zealand’s Plain English Awards, this is a topic I am very passionate about and have much (probably too much) to say.

Work on content first to create a compelling and interesting story

I followed the advice from Ignite gurus and developed my story first. I worked out 15 seconds equals 35 words a slide. I struck to this rule of thumb. My first writing attempt fit with the formula. But, it was a shopping list of tips to write readable reports. Pretty boring as my critical friends agreed!

I decided to use an analogy to create a more compelling presentation around plain English reporting. I was presenting the week of Suffrage 125; a celebration of New Zealand women winning the right to vote in 1893. I set myself the challenge of using women’s suffrage to spark interest in my presentation. I found using women’s suffrage as a backdrop resulted in a story that caught and held attention.

As a feminist, I also wanted to shine the light on women’s suffrage and their achievements at #aes18LST.

Three key ideas and two critical friends are a winning formula

Getting to a compelling and interesting Ignite presentation that captured the audience’s attention was challenging. I had two colleagues – Phoebe Balle and Sam Abbato - who advised and cajoled me through the development phases. The phase when many an idea hits the cutting room floor. At times, a painful but very necessary process. The key tip, they both constantly reiterated, was I needed three points to support the central idea. Dump the rest!

Practice, then practice some more, and if needed cheat!

You have no excuse not to practice. In one hour, you can practice your Ignite presentation at least ten times. Practice does pay off. You get a sense of the flow between your script and your slides. And again more Ignite content hits the cutting room floor to burn to ashes.

On the big day, you are supposed to eloquently present your Ignite without reference to your carefully crafted script (really!). The argument goes the story flow will be better and less stilted. But be warned, time constraints do not allow for off-piste and off-the-cuff ideas.

I, like some at #aes18LST, cheated. We had our scripts (our comfort blankets) to keep us on track. Not being a purist, I’m okay with this. I believe it is better to give things a go, in whatever way that works for you.

You need to breathe slowly and prepare for the worst

In preparing for my Ignite, I watched others at #aes18LST to refine my presentation. The AES audience was definitely on your side. However, I observed the audience’s anxiety levels mirrored the presenter’s. I found the trick was to breathe and pause to create an environment inducive for the audience to listen.

You also needed to prepare for the worst - technology failure. It happened! Kudos to Jade Maloney/Katherine Rich and Joanna Farmer who presented their Ignites slideless. Their ability to create visual images through words and actions was admirable and entertaining. Missing out on Joanna’s cat in a box picture was a conference low.

#aes19 is your chance to give Ignite a go

The Ignite presentations at #aes18LST were informative and entertaining. I was amazed by how much you could learn from a carefully structured five minute Ignite presentation.

I am hoping #aes19SYD has the option for this dynamic presentation format. AES conferences offer evaluators a safe environment to present and test their boundaries. So what is your big Ignite theme for 2019? Go on, light some evaluation fires!

You can find more technical tips at the great resources I used for developing my Ignite presentation:

https://speakingaboutpresenting.com/?s=ignite

http://scottberkun.com/2009/how-to-give-a-great-ignite-talk/ 

Liz Smith, Partner Litmus Limited, a New Zealand based research and evaluation agency specialising in health and justice sectors. Vice President AES 2013-2018.

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