Imagine an evening where you’re exposed to 16 new and diverse ideas, presented by members of your local community that pack their passions into five-minute energized PowerPoint-driven talks; presentations that can make you laugh, cry, feel enlightened, concerned and, most importantly, entertained.
Ignite, a volunteer-run organization conceived here on Capitol Hill in 2006, is the platform that brought this new simplified form of public speaking to life. Over the years, it has become an international phenomenon that brings open-minded people together to soak up the stories and messages of the new and experienced speakers in their community.
Ignite Seattle has been bringing a wide range of voices and topics to the Capitol Hill stage for the past 10 years, and celebrated its 32nd event last in front of more than 700 people on Thursday, Feb. 23, at Town Hall Seattle.
“I think it’s unique,” said Ignite Seattle emcee Scott Berkun. “Most events are so narrow in what they are about or what’s allowed to be on stage. Diversity and being open to new ideas is more important now than ever. Ignite Seattle is a very welcoming and open platform for people to express themselves.”
“The five-minute sprint is always great,” added Ferris Holliday, author of the “No, I Don’t Know Where to Buy Weed” talk. “You take this really concentrated idea and put it into five minutes. Creative ideas come out from everybody, and it doesn’t matter who you are or what you do. It’s a wonderful opportunity to be in front of the city and its thought leaders and get to be heard.”
According to the organizers, Ignite Seattle is the biggest open submission public speaking event in the Pacific Northwest; it’s being held three to four times a year, with the optional fourth happening at an outdoor location during the summer. Each time there are 50-60 submissions received, but only 16 talks are selected for each event.
The submissions can generally be divided into four categories: personal stories with a relatable message; an expert wanting to share their expertise; an opinion piece; and a “crazy pile” that doesn’t fit into any category and is far more ambitious.
The last event topics included “Let’s Talk About Menstruation,” by Sara Gentzler, “The Power of Wearing Your Pain,” by Bridget Foley, “Obsession with Causality,” by Andrei Borodin and “A World for Every Classroom,” by 16-year-old high school student John Krajewski.
“We’re trying to stay very open-minded. If we think that a speaker can handle a sensitive topic and approach it in a good, thoughtful way, we can pretty much go anywhere,” Berkun said. “We try to stay away from certain elements of politics, unless we can balance it out. But we love to be challenged. If someone in the audience is feeling that certain topics are not being talked about like abortion, immigration, or anything, they can submit it and it will certainly be considered.”
Ignite Seattle is also a way to learn more about what’s new and innovative within the city. Some talks shed light on interesting projects that are happening throughout the community that benefit society and deserve attention and recognition. Such was the talk by Karen Johanson, “Badass 3.0.” Johanson, founder of Rock Steady Boxing Seattle, told the story of her crew that battles with Parkinson’s disease through boxing and exercise and sees great improvement.
The speakers get a lot of help and guidance up until the moment they get on stage. A couple weeks prior to the event, Berkun leads a public-speaking coaching session, providing tips and tricks for the very specific presentation format — each speaker gets 20 PowerPoint slides that are automated at 15-second intervals.
“The constraints of the event itself is a challenge,” said Borodin. “When you generally make a presentation, your speech is fully live. Here, if you do so, you might shoot past that 15-second mark. You have to be very clear and precise on what you gotta say per slide.”
No matter what level of public speaking the Ignite presenters are at, it can still be a nerve-racking and palm-sweating experience. But they can always rely on the audience that comes to see them speak to provide a welcoming atmosphere and cheer them on.
“The atmosphere is always positive and engaging,” said Borodin, speaking of his experience as an audience member and a speaker. “Majority of the audience come there to be delighted by the conversations that happen on stage, and they are looking forward to that. It doesn’t feel like you have to get in front of a tough crowd.”
The next Ignite Seattle is scheduled for May 18, and may be the last event to take place at Town Hall. Just like their previous hubs, Capitol Hill Arts Center and King Cat Theater, Town Hall is due for a renovation soon and may close its doors for a year in the near future.
“We’ve always been around Capitol Hill and downtown,” Berkun said. “We are actually very excited about the idea of having to move and possibly changing the neighborhood, which will bring new audiences and change the event.”
For more information on how to submit a topic or attend Ignite Seattle, visit www.igniteseattle.com.