Avoid my mistakes in your Ignite talk – part 2 [Video]

Ignite Sydney logoIf you’ve read my last post, you’ll know I was inspired by Aaron Beverly (World Champion of Public Speaking 2019) to write a self-critique of one of my talks.

In today’s post, I discuss what are (to me) the strongest aspects and weakest aspects of my talk.

Why not watch my 5-minute presentation below, and judge for yourself?

Then, feel free to share your viewpoint in the comment box at the bottom of this post.

Here’s what you’ll find in the rest of this post – you can click any of these links to skip ahead:

Critique (part 2a) – strong aspects of my talk

Critique (part 2b) – weak aspects of my talk


Strong: Keeping pace with the slidesScroll up to Contents ↑

Things can come badly unstuck if you get out-of-sync

It’s very common for Ignite speakers to have too much to say, because each slide appears for just 15 seconds. As a result, things can come badly unstuck if you get out-of-sync with your slides and start to panic.

For me though, because I’m strongly introverted, I rarely have too much to say. So that can actually be a great help when giving a 5-minute talk, like an Ignite.

The timing of some of the slide changes worked out really well. For instance, here’s what I say in the 10-second clip below:

“Or say the next question was about money.
Well you could straight away
<Photo of bank notes appears>
just jump to a slide that showed money – coins…
You know, you get the picture…”


Strong: Looking around the crowdScroll up to Contents ↑

I think I did a pretty good job of looking around the room from stage, which conveys a level of comfort at being up there.

That helps to put the audience at ease, which lets them focus on your message

That helps to put the audience at ease, which lets them focus on your message – rather than people subconsciously wondering what you seem worried about!

To see the crowd well from stage, you need them to be pretty well lit – without you being blinded by spotlights.

As a speaker, it certainly helps if you can see people quite well, because then you’ll notice some of them smiling or nodding. And those signs of approval really help settle your nerves.

(By the way, lighting came up as an issue in my critique of Allan Pease’s TEDx talk.)


Strong: Using full-screen photosScroll up to Contents ↑

Full-screen iconic photos are ideal for an Ignite talk because:

The slides should just support you and your message, not be the message

  • They’re a powerful way to remind yourself what to say.
  • Yet – unlike text-based slides – photos don’t distract the crowd much from you. And that’s vital when a (literally) shiny new slide appears every 15 seconds. (In any presentation, the slides should just support you and your message, not be the message.)

In my last post, I mentioned I’m quite proud of 1 or 2 aspects of my Ignite talk. That’s the case with a couple of the full-screen photos I used:

Slide showing a close-up photo of an engagement ringSlide showing a close-up photo of an Enter key on a keyboard

The 1st of those (an engagement ring) appeared when I mentioned an engaging way to run a Q&A session in a presentation. And the 2nd appeared (right on cue!) when I mentioned pressing the Enter key, as shown in this 10-second clip:

Looking back, I also really like the strong contrast I used in the visual metaphors for “past” and “future”:

Slide showing pairs of themes, like a statue’s foot for “past” and a baby’s foot for “future”

Still, some of my other slides weren’t so effective, as I discuss in the section on expressing myself poorly.


Did I use a cliché?Scroll up to Contents ↑

What do you think of the slide with an engagement ring to represent audience engagement?

Some people might say that isn’t exactly inspired. For instance, the presentation experts below have all written about using well thought-out, non-clichéd visuals, rather than choosing the most obvious metaphor.

You can click these links to read their posts on that subject:

(You’ve probably heard of Nancy, as she’s written several bestsellers on presentation skills. You’re less likely to have heard of Geetesh and Nolan, but they’re both PowerPoint MVPs.)

I’m not convinced about that advice from Nancy, Geetesh and Nolan

I’m not convinced about that advice from Nancy, Geetesh and Nolan. And I reckon the engagement ring worked fine – perhaps because it’s not an object you often see on a slide. So although it was an obvious choice, at least it’s not a cliché.

By all means share your own thoughts on that issue.


Critique (part 2b) – weak aspects of my talk

Weak: Stumbling over wordsScroll up to Contents ↑

This is the aspect of my talk I’m least happy with

This is the aspect of my talk I’m least happy with. In particular, stumbling over my opening line was a really poor start!

On the plus side, at least I didn’t get flustered – or even say “sorry” about stumbling.

Saying sorry’s an issue for 2 reasons:

  • It draws attention to the slip.
  • It puts you in a position of low power compared to your audience, which makes people less likely to listen to (and trust) what you say.

Instead of saying sorry, to correct what you’ve said it’s better to say something like:

“Or rather, …”

Then, simply continue with what you meant to say.

I took what you might call a “minimalist approach” to my mistakes. In other words, I didn’t acknowledge them at all – I just continued as normal.

That certainly doesn’t draw attention to the gaffs, but it has a drawback too. That is, it makes what I said rather disjointed, leaving the audience to piece together the fragmented thoughts

Talking more artic­ulately comes down to rehearsing more

Like with so many lessons I learnt from this talk, talking more articulately comes down to rehearsing more.

You might like to try these rehearsal tips that I recommend:

  • Record yourself on your phone – ideally on video, not just audio.
  • After you’ve rehearsed several times, make some of your rehearsals more challenging. For instance, you could have a radio playing in the background. That helps you practise keeping composed in stressful conditions – which’ll serve you well for the real event!


Weak: Expressing myself poorlyScroll up to Contents ↑

Due to nerves (and because I could’ve done with practising my talk more – especially the opening), sometimes I didn’t express myself well (verbally). And at least one of my slides wasn’t very clear, too. So let’s look at each of those issues in turn.

A couple of times I started a sentence but then changed tack

In terms of what I said, a couple of times I started a sentence but then changed tack. (Some listeners mightn’t have really noticed, but it did make my talk less smooth, and harder to understand.)

For instance, I changed tack in just the 2nd sentence of my talk:

“Often – like for example just last month…”

In terms of my visuals, the slide below’s another example of how I sometimes expressed myself poorly:

6 photos arranged in 2 rows on a slide

In hindsight, I think that slide had 3 main problems:

  • Placing the captions along the middle wasn’t intuitive, and it broke up the (vertical) pairs of photos.
  • The “2+” caption was confusing.
  • The narrow spacing between the photos made the slide harder to interpret, and made it look cramped.

So here’s a better version of that slide, with each of those problems fixed:

6 photos arranged in 3 columns on a slide

Ask someone you trust to watch you rehearse

To iron out kinks in how you express yourself, I highly recommend you ask someone you trust to watch you rehearse (or to watch one of your recordings).

Then, ask them for specific feedback like:

  • Did they find anything you said hard to understand?
  • What would’ve made that clearer for them?
  • Were any of your slides confusing or distracting?
  • How did your pace seem? (Rushed, or relaxed?)
  • What was their key takeaway from your talk?


Weak: Coughing into the micScroll up to Contents ↑

I was acting a bit like a deer in headlights

Because I’d rarely used a hand-held mic before (and I was also acting a bit like a deer in headlights) I didn’t move the mic away from my mouth before coughing a couple of times.

In hindsight, I really wish I had. (Lesson learnt – I hope!)

If you have to cough, then cough. But at least make sure your mouth and the mic are well separated at the time! (That’s a big plus of using a hand-held mic rather than a lapel mic, as I hinted at last month.)

My coughing was more due to nerves, though, and I think it came across that way too. So what I could’ve ideally done is pause, swallow, and carry on – without coughing.


RecapScroll up to Contents ↑

Thanks for reading, and I hope you found this critique helpful.

As this post covers quite a few points, here’s a quick recap:

Critique (part 2a) – strong aspects of my talk

Critique (part 2b) – weak aspects of my talk


Related postsScroll up to Contents ↑


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