We’re delighted to share this inspiring guest post from Louise Czekaj, a social media professional in financial services about how she shared her passion with 200 people at a recent Ignite event in Cardiff! If you love public speaking or want to conquer your fear of speaking to an audience then this post is for you!
Ignite Cardiff is a bi-monthly event held at Porter’s Bar on a Wednesday evening, at which eight to ten people speak about something they are passionate about for five minutes each. Each talk has to accompany 20 PowerPoint slides which auto-advance every 15 seconds and there are strictly no sales pitches allowed.
Ignite events are held all over the world and I attended my first Ignite in November, which was the 14th of its kind held in Cardiff. I’d heard a lot of buzz about it on Twitter and tickets are always like gold dust so I was keen to find out what makes Ignite Cardiff so popular.
I was blown away! Porter’s was packed and the atmosphere was vibrant. The speakers were inspiring and entertaining, and all in completely different ways. I learnt about science; I was made even more paranoid about online security than I was already; I got to hear some of my favourite ‘90s electronic tunes played live on keyboard; I found out that YouTube is a great source for DIY advice; and I discovered that it’s rather easy to add your own ‘art’ to exhibitions without people noticing.
Steve Dimmick, compere for the evening and an Ignite Cardiff organiser, mentioned that speakers, particularly women, were needed for the next Ignite Cardiff. I was instantly convinced that I needed to do this (I had drunk rather a lot of wine by this point) and I declared afterwards on Twitter that I was going to put my name down. I joked that evening that I wanted to speak about ‘‘Buffy the Vampire Slayer as a Female Icon’ (I’m a massive Buffy fan and she is a great female icon!) but I didn’t really have a clue what I could talk about for five minutes that would be interesting or entertaining to others.
One speaker whose words particularly resonated with me was Ruth Steggles, a life and business coach, who talked about ‘From Spectating to Playing’. The message behind Ruth’s talk was that people shouldn’t be scared to do what they really want to in life, they should overcome any fears and do what makes them feel passion. I really appreciated this; over the last few years I’ve made quite a few changes in my life based on the same premise.
A few weeks and tweets later found Ruth and I walking through Bute Park in Cardiff, for a lunchtime chat. During a conversation about passion and purpose, Ruth told me a story about her husband, who’d said in the past that he wanted to write a novel but hadn’t done so. Ruth recently asked him whether or not he’d feel disappointed if he came to the end of his live without writing a novel, to which he answered no. Ruth realised that it was her expectation that her husband should write a novel and not his; he was happy as he was. This story had quite an effect on me. I told Ruth that I’d always wanted to write and so if posed with the same question my answer would be yes – I’d be extremely disappointed! Ruth then asked me what stops me from writing. I immediately churned out a handful of reasons and we laughed at how ridiculous they sounded – they were all excuses not reasons. I admitted that the real reason is that writing fills me with fear – it’s something that I used to feel so passionately about that I’d be scared to actually do it. Ruth insisted that it was the perfect topic for an Ignite Cardiff talk.
I signed up for Ignite Cardiff #15 in December 2013, giving me over a month to prepare. I’ve done loads of presentations in the past so I didn’t find the initial stages of brainstorming and planning the presentation difficult. Added to which, I had just watched the Lean In video about ‘Using Stories Powerfully’, which made me realise that in order to connect with the audience I needed to get my message across in the form of a story. I even retrieved some cuttings and papers I had up in the attic that would bring my story to life, making it more personable. The title I chose was ‘On not Writing’, which is a play on the title of a Stephen King book ‘On Writing’, in which he describes his craft as a writer.
What I found extremely hard during the preparation was the five minute time restriction and the rule of 20 slides, displaying for 15 seconds each. The speakers I saw at Ignite Cardiff #14 seemed to do this so effortlessly but it wasn’t as easy as it looked. Although I’m a notoriously fast talker, when I started to practise talking through each slide my five minutes were always up before I reached the eighth slide.
To overcome this problem, I asked two of my friends at work to listen to me recite the whole presentation, then tell me which bits didn’t work. This exercise was really useful; an honest, second opinion early on really helped me eliminate any waffly sections and I learnt that what I find funny or interesting might not necessarily appeal to my audience (i.e. I’ve got an odd sense of humour!).
I was keen to make sure that I had some friends at the event for moral support, so I promoted it on Facebook and Twitter. So many comments followed about how brave I was that I started to wonder if doing an Ignite talk was actually a terrible idea! Lots of my friends were able to get tickets despite the event ‘selling out’ within a day. Laura Dunn, (Women In’s very own co-founder!) invited me to blog about my experience. She had no idea at the time that my talk would be about writing (or my lack there-of)!
I wasn’t feeling too nervous about presenting until the week beforehand, when I had to spontaneously stand up and tell a roomful of people a few sentences about myself at a work event. I got so unexpectedly and ridiculously anxious doing it that it spooked me. I’ve had issues with anxiety and panic attacks in the past and I wasn’t at all keen to revisit those feelings so I practised until I knew my talk inside out, with only the slides themselves to prompt me. I also asked the Ignite Cardiff organisers if I could speak first on the night, so that I didn’t have to sit there waiting for my turn and working myself into a state.
On the day, I took annual leave so that I could relax and prepare. As a self-confessed hippy, I found yoga and meditation a must that morning, as well as recording myself reciting my talk and tweaking the content further.
When I arrived at Porter’s, I was horrified to find that despite getting there before the advertised start time, the bar was completed crowded and I had to fight my way to get my free glass of wine, which I suddenly felt was essential. I could see loads of people I knew but before I even got a chance to say hi to anyone all the speakers were called up to the stage for a pre-event briefing by Steve Dimmick (at this point, my legs started to shake uncontrollably!) and a minute or so later I was being introduced by Steve to the crowd. They were smiling, cheering and clapping like mad, and at least 25 of them were friends of mine. It all felt very surreal, especially as I don’t think I’ve ever been given a microphone on a stage before and I began to find the whole thing rather amusing.
When my first slide appeared on the screen, I spoke as I had done when practising and I was honestly surprised at how smoothly it flowed thereafter. I would even go as far as to say I felt relaxed – it was such a friendly, supportive atmosphere. I was, however, completely bemused by how much people were laughing at my talk, especially when I thought I’d ruthlessly cut all the funny bits out; in fact I’m still amazed by this.
It was all over in a flash; there was applause, I necked my wine and it was the next speaker’s turn. During the first break, I realised I was on a complete high as I started speaking to people I knew and their feedback was really positive. The rest of the evening was great fun; some of the other speakers were really interesting, some were hilarious and some were inspiring.
I’m so glad that I took part in Ignite Cardiff; it was an incredibly empowering experience that I’ll never forget and I would recommend it to anyone who thinks they might like to give it a try. Find out more here if you fancy getting involved!
Louise is a social media professional working in financial services, with a BA in English Language and Literature from Reading University. She’s passionate about yoga, singing in a choir and has a not-so-secret desire to be a writer, which she recently talked about at Ignite Cardiff. This is the first piece she’s written since giving the talk.