Advice for getting accepted at Seattle Ignite

Ignite Seattle is a special event, with one of the largest (800+) and most engaged storytelling audiences you will find in our city. We take open submissions for talk ideas and want to help you to pitch us well. This post explains the best possible advice for getting your talk accepted.

(Based on co-organizer Randy Stewart’s Ignite talk called How to Pitch an Ignite talk)

Important Facts

  • Talks are strictly 5 minutes long with automated slides. You can speak about anything, but all talks must consist of 20 slides, each timed to be on screen for 15 seconds, for a total of 5 minutes (Similar to Pecha-Kucha). It’s an exciting and dynamic format and if you’ve never seen an Ignite talk, watch some. Don’t worry too much about slides, it’s you and your story or lessons that matter most.
  • There are only 12 slots / we average 60 submissions. This means far more people are rejected than accepted. This is competitive, so bring your A game. Show it to a friend and get their feedback. But don’t take it personally if you’re rejected – these slots are precious and you’re competing with Seattle’s best.
  • The organizers meet to vote on who gets accepted. We review all submissions, mostly blind except for the title and description, with a short window of time for discussing each submission. We quickly filter out poorly written, under-thought or vague ones.
  • Your submission will be reviewed in a huge spreadsheet (shown below). Submissions that are concise, clear, compelling, smart or funny prove to us you’ll do well in the Ignite format, where you’ll have similarly tough constraints.
  • 98% of speakers at Ignite are glad they did it. Ignite is challenging but a great professional and personal opportunity. If you’re going to submit, do it right.

Invest in a great title

Spend the time necessary to come up with a great title. By demonstrating you can name your talk something simultaneously descriptive, informative, compelling and perhaps funny, you prove you’re worthy of a slot on our stage. Ignite is about concision. Show us you’re good at this. By working hard on the title I promise you, the talk itself will improve.

When the organizers meet to review submissions, we look at a giant spreadsheet of the submission data (see below). It’s overwhelming. An easy way to cut through the noise is to give us a strong quality signal in your title.

ignite spreadsheet 2

Good titles distill big ideas into a single, easy to evaluate sentence. We read the descriptions of course, but nothing gives us more confidence in you than your title.

Good titles from past Ignites include:

  • SCRUM management for wedding planning
  • Fighting Dirty in Scrabble
  • Hacking Birth
  • Commut-A-Pult
  • Build your own Standing Desk
  • Welcome to the Psych Ward
  • What cities can learn from Burning Man
  • How Science is Destroying My Childhood

These titles express an interesting angle on a topic. These angle choices can make a seemingly boring topic suddenly fascinating. It’s easy to imagine what the talks will contain, and even when it’s hard to imagine, they are compelling enough that we’d want to find out.

As opposed to failed topic submissions like these:

  • Why I don’t mind Subway sandwiches
  • Ten ways to do something even I don’t care about
  • How web 8.0 disruption widgets will bore the world to tears
  • I’m passionate about “things” but too lazy to think carefully about my message or what I want to say so I’ll submit things I haven’t really thought about or distilled down and make everyone sad

Get us interested, but don’t be vague

A good title is 50% of your proposal, but a good description is the other 50%. A great proposal description balances our need to understand your story with the need to be concise. If you’re accepted, we can be mysterious and vague when we promote your talk, but please don’t be mysterious and vague with us. If you have 3 points to tell the audience, tell us what they are.

We don’t have a hard word limit, but aim for under 150-200 words. You don’t need to detail every point in your talk, but don’t leave us wondering what you’ll be talking about.

A good example:

Title: How To Not Be The Slowest Gazelle On The Internet
Description: The slowest gazelle gets eaten by the lion. In the world of cybersecurity, you are probably one of the slowest gazelle. Unless you’re a movie star, a CEO, or a politician, you probably don’t need to be in the front of the pack. Just safely in the middle.

Luckily – it’s real easy to get to the middle of the pack. There is ONE thing you can do that will drastically enhance your personal security and safety on the internet – and that’s using complicated, unique passwords on every account and saving them with a password manager. Many people give advice. But I will tell you the secret to actually getting it done: identify the most important accounts and do those first.

A bad example:

Title: How A Cafe Changed My Life
Description: There was a time once when I had to make a tough decision, but couldn’t decide what to do. I went to a cafe and ordered some toast with butter. While I ate it I came to an incredible realization about my quandary. As I crunched on that last bite of toast, I realized what I needed to do. And that realization set into motion a series of events that changed my life. That cafe changed my life, the lessons I learned my work for you too.

 

Share your passion on any topic

There are no restrictions on your choice of topic. If we’re convinced you’re telling a great story, any topic goes. Over the years we’ve had one armed jugglers, street musicians and some dramatic personal stories that would be appropriate for The Moth or This American Life (if they were on speed). We’ve had topics that range from video games to Ultimate Frisbee, eating bugs to how to write a song, and once even had two speakers get married on stage (in 5 minutes).

We expect three things from you regarding topics:

  1. You’re passionate about it
  2. You’re knowledgeable (enough that you know more than most of the audience)
  3. You’ll share that passion and knowledge in ways the audience can connect with

Some other general suggestions:

  • Avoid cliches in your title and description. Sharing what you learned from an experience is great, but try to avoid the phrase “life lessons.”
  • It’s okay not to have a takeaway from the talk. We’re not TED, and not every talk has to be actionable.
  • Speaking of which, we’re not TED. Don’t feel like you need to be a professional speaker or be a leading expert in a world-changing topic to qualify to speak. We want proposals from normal, everyday people.

Don’t pitch your business

Talks pitching your product, startup or consulting business will be automatically rejected. Don’t even try. We’ve made this mistake in the past and everyone in the audience knows in 10 seconds what you’re doing and they will hate you for it, and us for letting you on stage.

We do want you to promote yourself, but solely as someone who has given a great Ignite talk. It’s ok to tell your story provided it’s not centered on selling something. We have had speakers talk about something they invented or how they started a company (Rich Johnston from Vertical World) or a non-profit organization, but the focus was on the lessons and stories, rather than promoting anything. Think of your talk as a self-contained creation, and not a tool for some other purpose.

A good example of balancing self-promotion with giving an excellent talk is I Stalk Strangers Online (great title) by Carmen Hudson. Her talk was about her job as a tech headhunter and she successfully focused on sharing secrets and insider knowledge – it never felt like she was pitching her services, since she wasn’t. But here I am talking about her and her excellent talk (see how this works?)

How to submit your talk

Submissions typically close six weeks before the Ignite event and the talk submission form to fill out is always found here.

If you have questions, leave a comment.

Author: Scott Berkun

Author and Speaker, known for fine books including The Myths of Innovation, Making things Happen, Confessions of a Public Speaker and The Dance of The Possible. Speaker coach and MC for Ignite Seattle.

14 thoughts on “Advice for getting accepted at Seattle Ignite”

  1. Where is the form that one fills out to submit a talk? And submissions start being accepted January 12th, right? When I hit the hyperlink “the form to fill out is always found here” it takes me to a webpage without a form. Please advise what to do.

    Like

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s