Article Category: Visual Aids

What is an Ignite presentation, and why should you try it?

Crafting a presentation is hard work, and as a presenter, you must make many tough decisions. How long should you present? How many slides should you create? How should you organize the speech?

What if there was a template you could use to help you with all of these decisions? There is such a template, and it is growing in popularity. Read on to find out more about Ignite!

What is Ignite?

Promoted under the slogan, “Enlighten us, but make it quick,” Ignite is a presentation format where a presenter speaks while slides advance automatically to support them. An Ignite presentation is exactly 5 minutes, and contains exactly 20 slides. The slides advance automatically after each slide is displayed for 15 seconds.

With fixed timing and clear constraints, the Ignite style is suitable for many situations, including classroom presentations, Toastmasters meetings, and both corporate and conference events.

Ignite Presentations Conventional presentation
Length 5 minutes Varies
# of Slides 20 0 or more
Time per slide 15 seconds per slide Varies from slide to slide

History of Ignite Presentations

Brady Forrest, technology specialist for O’Reilly Media, and Bre Pettis of MAKE magazine developed Ignite in 2006 as a way for the Seattle tech community to get together, socialize, and share their personal and professional passions. Ignite was born out of this desire to combine amazing, big ideas with networking. After the initial event in Seattle, Ignite has gone global in over 100 cities.

Examples of Ignite Presentations

Though Ignite began in the tech community, not all presentations must be tech-based. Three of my favorite Ignite presentations are shown below:

  1. Great Designers Steal, by Jeff Veen
  2. Jane the Concussion Slayer, by Jane McGonigal
  3. The Doodle Revolution, by Sunni Brown

Benefits of Ignite talks

A good Ignite presentation — like all good presentations — should leave an audience satisfied but still hungry for more.

There are several benefits inherent in the Ignite method which will aid you and your audience.

1. The Ignite style can prove much more fulfilling for an audience than the standard free-form presentation.

Garr Reynolds wrote, “One secret to a healthy life (and a great presentation).” In his article, Reynolds defined the concept hara hachi bu – to eat until you are 80% full. Reynolds believes we should apply this concept both to our meals and to our presentations. The Ignite presentation format is so short that it gives the audience just a taste; the presenter isn’t stuffing them full of information. A good Ignite presentation — like all good presentations — should leave an audience satisfied but still hungry for more.

2. The Ignite format emphasizes content decisions, not numbers of visuals or timing.

While the idea of speaking under such strict constraints may seem intimidating, the Ignite format helps a presenter eliminate some tough decisions about the execution of his or her speech. The speaker can instead spend time on making content-based choices. Spending much more time on speech content allows a speaker to pinpoint and explain the main idea as opposed to rambling aimlessly.

3. Preparation is mandatory.

Preparation is essential for any great presentation. Most of us, however, aren’t actually willing to put in the amount of preparation time it takes to resonate with our audiences. Even presenters who believe they can “wing it” are forced to prepare with the Ignite format. The extra practice and preparation leads to stronger speeches.

4. Ignite presentations respect audience time.

Many presenters ignore time limits. With a self-playing format that requires the extra element of practice and preparation, speakers are more likely to remain on track for time.

For example, I teach the Ignite format in my public speaking class. During non-Ignite presentations, students are likely to speak longer than the time allotted, but during Ignite presentations, students rarely go much longer than 5 minutes. The Ignite format does not guarantee that a speaker will finish at exactly 5:00; for example, the students who go over on time speak after the presentation has finished.

If done properly, an Ignite presentation will do just that: ignite an audience to support your idea, event, or cause.

5. The Ignite format encourages concision.

With only 20 slides, a presenter must make important decisions about introduction, body, and conclusion. There is an emphasis on cutting and reducing, and this is always a good thing when it comes to presentations. The age-old advice of Sir Arthur Quiller-Couch also applies to presentations: we must learn to “murder our darlings.” The act of cutting and reducing adds to the effectiveness of the speech. Why? Strong presenters know that refining a presentation allows the audience to receive, hear, and digest only the most important information.


There are drawbacks to the Ignite format:

  1. The fixed timing can be a drawback if your message cannot be communicated within 5 minutes. For example, the Ignite style probably wouldn’t work for a lecture on the composition of the human brain. If your topic is complex, an Ignite may serve as an introduction, but the format isn’t conducive for all of those intricate and dense details.
  2. If you need to use multimedia, Ignite won’t work for your presentation. Video doesn’t fit well into the format. Additionally, transitions and animations aren’t recommended because of the simplicity emphasized by the automatically-playing format. Remember, you don’t have a clicker, so you can’t control the slides while you present.
  3. Additionally, since the presentation runs automatically, the speaker doesn’t have time for extensive audience interaction during the presentation. However, since the presentation is short, the time after the speech works well for Q&A or discussion.

Though there are drawbacks to this presentation format, the benefits are much stronger, and I encourage you to try out Ignite for yourself. If done properly, an Ignite presentation will do just that: ignite an audience to support your idea, event, or cause.

Next in this series…

In future articles, I’ll examine how to prepare and deliver an Ignite talk and how to organize an Ignite event.

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Comments icon7 Comments

  1. Nichol Brummer @Twundit says:

    This format is nearly the same as the Pacha Kucha format, of 20 slides of 20 seconds each. Wikipedia states that pechakucha started in 2003, so the ignite format seems a sped-up version.

    1. Andrew Dlugan says:

      Nichol, you are right. Pecha Kucha and Ignite are similar formats with similar goals (brevity, dynamic, up-tempo, visual, …)

  2. I really like the idea of ignite presentations. Too often we get caught up in slides and wordiness.

    There’s a chance I could be speaking at an event soon and I think this would be a terrific time to try this out.

  3. Brian Carson says:

    In Phoenix Arizona, we have hosted 13 large events of 18 Ignite Presentations in theaters of 800+ people. Having hosted over 200 presenters in the past few years – including a 10yr old presenter – I believe that anyone can deliver a clear passionate message in Ignite style.

  4. Craig Hadden says:

    Thanks Alex. Nice examples in the videos you chose, too.

    I did an Ignite talk back in March here in Sydney, and it was a great learning experience. The talks that went down best on the night were the quirky or funny ones – which mine wasn’t!

    That was perhaps the biggest takeaway for me: Once again, it comes down to knowing your audience. Ironically, I’d had some humour in my talk to begin with, but took it out because it felt a bit forced. That’s probably for the best.

    I also took out the brief audience interactions I’d planned, because of the risk they wouldn’t work or would make me stumble. So the end result was a drier talk than I’d hoed for.

    After reading Alex’s post, if you’re thinking of doing an Ignite talk, I’d highly recommend it. My advice is to pick a quirky, witty or impassioned topic. I also found this tip really helpful as a way to reduce nerves – whether you’re male or female:

    Alex, I’m looking forward to your later posts in this series. It’s a great topic!

  5. Sheila B Robsinson says:

    I loved this article on Ignite. I just did my first Ignite presentation at the American Evaluation Association (AEA) conference last month and loved the format. Learning to be concise and prioritize content are key.

  6. Alex, this is brilliant – thanks for sharing. It’s good to let Ignite presenters know up-front they need to spend some serious time preparing, and your method is very sensible. There aren’t no good reasons for doing it in a “normal” presentation, but it’s a major part of the fun of Ignite. The main idea, in my opinion, is to make presentations enjoyable again, as an antidote to all the boring, death-by-powerpoint sessions we’re used to. Making the slides auto-advance adds an extra challenge and an element of danger to the presentations – once they start, there’s no going back.

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