Lightning Talks at JOIN 2017: what to expect

Elena Rowell, Product Marketing Manager

Jul 26, 2017

When we sent out a call for speakers to present at JOIN 2017, we were excited and humbled by the number of data enthusiasts eager to talk about how they used Looker to change their companies. We had a finite number of speaking sessions and they filled up quickly, but we wanted to find a way to share the passion and enthusiasm our customers were sharing with us with the wider world. So we started brainstorming some new opportunities for speakers.

One type of presentation type we found while researching was the IGNITE talk - 5-minute presentations where the presenter gets 20 slides that automatically advance every 15 seconds. There is no stop or back button; just press go and start presenting.

It sounded like a unique, albeit challenging, medium so we decided to try it out with Lookers as our guinea pigs.

We held a happy hour and invited any and all Lookers to present Lightning talks in an IGNITE-style. We had talks on how to buy a house in your 20s, how to use Looker to manage your finances, the history of IGNITE itself and more.

The evening was informative, funny, and little bit terrifying for those of us who presented. We all learned a lot, and everyone, audience and presenters alike, had a great time doing it.

IGNITE talks are a special type of challenge for speakers. Distilling a complex topic that you could talk about for hours down to 5 minutes is hard. You also don’t have any wiggle room with the structure of your presentation — 20 slides, no more, no less. And staying in line with your slides takes a lot of practice because it’s easy to get lost and hard to get back in sync.

After the happy hour, it was clear this format was exactly what we wanted for JOIN. We got people talking about topics that got them jazzed. With 5 minutes, there’s no time for fluff or filler, so you get the purest version of the story.

To boot, Lightning talks sparked an instant connection between speaker and audience. The unforgiving structure coupled with the possibility of failure mean the speakers have to get really honest with their audience really quickly and the audience has to be forgiving of any flaws this showed. Because of this trust, the audience became more invested in what the speaker was saying as the talk went along. If someone tripped up, they were able to laugh at themselves and when they had perfect timing with their slides, everyone in the room cheered.

So this year at JOIN we’ve decided to dedicate a track to Lightning Talks. We pulled the most compelling stories out of the submissions and challenged the speakers to boil their story down to 5 minutes.

Hopefully, this format will allow the passion and enthusiasm our customers shared with us to be passed along to the entire JOIN audience. Because when someone presents something they really care about in a succinct and fun way, everyone in the room cares it too.

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