Mark Suter

“Why do we have to give a speech during a Microsoft Office class?” – Disgruntled Student

“Software changes too fast. Let’s learn something you’ll use your whole life, like how to talk about something you care about in a clear, concise way.” – Me.

“Enlighten us, but make it quick.”

An Ignite talk is exactly 5 minutes long…20 slides auto rotated every 15 seconds. The presenter can’t slow it down or speed it up. It’s more difficult than a “death by PowerPoint” type talk that aides the presenter with bullet points. The 20 Ignite slides are 1 full screen picture per slide. No text. The topic can be anything the presenter is passionate about and wants to share with the audience.

I have 50 students giving Ignite talks this week in class. We watched an Ignite talk about Why and How to Give an Ignite Talk, then students would fill out a Google Form that asks for a list of things they love, and things they hate. They pick a topic from this list and form it into a catchy title.

Why an Ignite during a Microsoft Office class?

I don’t like textbooks, neither do the students. Rather than follow step-by-step instruction on using the numbing features of Microsoft Word, Excel, PowerPoint and Access, I wanted Students to learn how to communicate with each other, and with an audience. I ran into some Cisco (the technology company) guys in suits recently and asked them about what they’re looking for when hiring. I was expecting something like, “Experience in the field” or “Fluent in multiple programming languages” but they replied, “Soft skills”. I was pleasantly surprised. They added, “our software engineers spend all day on the phone with clients communicating and solving problems.”

I asked, “If I gave you two candidates, the first a good communicator with strong soft skills, but very little experience in the field, or a second with strong industry experience, but a poor communicator, who do you take”. As expected, they didn’t hesitate, “The first one, without a doubt. We can teach you the other skills, we just need people that can communicate.”

Having students write and deliver an Ignite talk doesn’t sound as bizarre anymore. Now it sounds crazy to just teach the software and omit the soft skills element.

Conference Speaking…by Students

As part of Grit9, our student run web design business, I have more students than I do positions for conference presentations. By allowing them to volunteer to “tryout” to speak, what better way than by giving an Ignite? We’ve done just that, and it has served as a realistic way to gauge a student’s ability to present an idea to an audience.

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