Sunday, September 18, 2011

Speaking at Ignite Boulder 16 : The Story

I was one of the speakers at Ignite Boulder 16 which was held on Sep 1st at the spacious Boulder Theater. The entire jaunt - from submitting the talk to getting selected to preparing for the talk to actually going up on stage and deliver the talk to 800 attendees and the post-talk exuberance - was an awesome experience for me. Hoping to capture the thrill and excitement from the whole experience in this blogpost.

For those who weren't at the Boulder Theater watching me speak in person, or watched the video of the talk yet, here is the video of my talk "Everything you need to know about Cricket" posted by IgniteBoulder team on YouTube:



1. In the beginning...

For those who don't know, here is the answer to What is Ignite? from the Ignite website:

What is Ignite?

Fast-paced, fun, thought-provoking, social, local, global—Ignite is all of these and more. It's a high-energy evening of 5-minute talks by people who have an idea—and the guts to get onstage and share it with their hometown crowd. Run by local volunteers who are connected through the global Ignite network, Ignite is a force for raising the collective IQ and building connections in each city. And, via streaming and archived videos of local talks, local Ignites share all that knowledge and passion with the world.

I am aware of Ignite for a while now, and have even helped with the organization of one of the IgniteNYC events a couple of years ago. I like the idea of Ignite with it's Enlighten us, but make it fast! mantra. And have been wanting to speak at an Ignite for long, but always stopped myself by saying I don't have anything of value to say at an Ignite.

After attending Ignite Boulder 13 last year - mainly because my buddy Ryan Angilly was speaking, I started to believe I could pull off a good talk! Over the next few months, I landed on Cricket as one topic I could do an awesome job with, aided in no small measure by the Cricket World Cup in Feb concluding in a fairytale finish for India. Another factor that made me settle on this topic was the many short conversations about Cricket I had with folks in my circle - they didn't know much about Cricket, but were curious to learn about it, and understand why it has such a passionate following in the Indian sub-continent.

2. The Spark submission & the selection....

So when Ef Rodriquez - one of the Ignite Boulder organizers - called for submissions for Ignite Boulder Sweet 16, I had to just check briefly to verify that the dates work for me before I submitted my "Cricket" spark. Ignite Boulder has a system of having people vote on the talks and select some of the talks based on the votes received. I decided not to campaign for getting votes, having decided that my talk should get selected - if at all it does so - by the merit of its own uniqueness.

And selected it was because of the very same reason, as one of the organizers Andrew Hyde let me know in a DM a few weeks later:
"You're my pick for Ignite! Let's work hard on it and make it amazing!"
3. The Preparation...
Even though I got to know of my selection almost 4 weeks before the event, for various reasons it turned out that all the preparation happened only in the last 10-11 days.

The Ignite Boulder team had organized a mandatory rehearsal for all the speakers on a Monday evening 10 days before the event, forcing me to have a slide deck ready the day before that. The rehearsal turned out to be a very valuable exercise, with the Ignite Boulder team and the fellow speakers playing a very friendly audience, and providing valuable feedback on the talks. Based on the comments made during the rehearsal, I threw away my entire slide deck, and decided to restructure the talk to focus more on explaining the game.

The next major rehearsal was with my Indian friends in Longmont where for 2-3 hours, I was fine-tuning the slides, ran through the complete presentation a few times, and got good feedback on each individual slides. Thanks to Anand Sharma, his wife Kavitha, his mother-in-law, and another common friend Arvind Sridharan, for being a patient audience that evening!

My last rehearsal - a couple of days before - was with my housemates Meg & Barron as the audience. Both of them didn't know about Cricket before, and didn't learn much about cricket in the 5 minutes of my talk, but both were touched by my enthusiasm while speaking. This reaction made me settle on having fun as the main objective for my talk instead of getting people educated about Cricket.

The day before the talk, I was really convinced that there is no point in trying to make someone know everything about Cricket in 5 minutes, and hence was seriously considering making it 'different' by talking about "crickets" with the same slides - with the hope that the disconnect between the talk and the slides would make it a memorable one. Decided against it after giving it considerable thought, and instead to talk about what I love. Glad I did that, as my love for Cricket carried me through with flying colors!

I should thank two people separately for making a huge impact on the quality of my presentation:
  • Andrew Hyde - for not only selecting my talk, but also providing the gem about "India-Pakistan matches & Nuclear weapons" during the rehearsal with the Ignite team.
  • My friend Ravi Chander - for forwarding the amazing tid-bit about the very first international match being between USA & Canada!

4. The Delivery...
By the time Sep 1st arrived, I was all excited and quite confident about making a good hand of it at the event. A few people suggested having a calming drink before going up to talk, but I was way too excited and thrilled - with no shred of nervousness - to be needing a drink ;-) The good vibe created by the fellow speakers - especially fellow rubyist (a slightly more famous one at that) Anthony Eden - and the Ignite Boulder team made it a pleasurable thing to go up there to speak.

And we couldn't have asked for a better audience! They were very supportive of every speaker, and the 'heckling' too was to encourage the speakers! Terry Cabeen in particular was very vocal during my talk with some funny comments, making whatever little nervousness I had vanish!

5. In Conclusion...
I had a ball preparing for the talk, and while on stage delivering the talk! And the audience seem to lap it up as well. Quite a few people congratulated me on a job well done after the talk. More heartening was to have many people come up to me and share their Cricket related stories!

My fiancée Meera Devraj & Anand's wife Kavita watched my talk on the live video stream and immediately after sent me messages of congratulations! The comments on twitter about my talk were very positive as well.

From being a guy who went through 2 years of MBA course with my mouth zipped shut back in 1994-96, to being the guy who revelled on stage at Ignite Boulder 2 weeks ago, I have come a long way! And most of the credit for this transformation should go to the Landmark Forum course & the Introduction Leaders Program at Landmark Education.

So folks, in conclusion, take up the opportunity to speak at your local Ignite event; it is a terrific - fun & rewarding - experience! With Ignite being an international phenomenon, it is quite likely there is one in your city. And if you feel public speaking is a thing to be avoided like the plague, check out the courses I mentioned in the above paragraph.

Thanks for reading till the end ;-)