Friday, January 22, 2010

Lightening Talks?

Scott Berkun discussed The End of Boring Presentations on January 14th in a column at He described how in 2000 Mark Jason Dominus came up with the idea of five-minute presentations called lightning talks. However, Scott spells the phrase as “lightening talks,” which conjures up striking images like the one shown above where the lightening is supplied by personal airships.

Scott continued by discussing two more modern and more constrained formats with exactly twenty slides advanced at a fixed time interval. Pecha Kucha shows each image for 20 seconds; Ignite shows it for only 15 seconds. He ended by pointing out that the beginning of March will be Global Ignite Week.

The Wikipedia article referred to Dominus coming up with lightning talks in June 2000. When I looked further I also found an article in the March 2000 issue of Training & Development by Jacqueline I. Schmidt and Joseph B. Miller on The Five-Minute Rule for Presentations.

Back in September 2008 I wrote a post about Recent formats for brief presentations: Lightning Talks, Pecha Kucha, and Ignite. I pointed out that formats for brief presentations go back to before 2000 – at least 25 years. Ron Hoff’s 1996 book was called Say It in Six. An article titled Unaccustomed as I am to public speaking about Toastmasters International back in the April 1970 issue of Changing Times magazine mentions that: “….The talks are timed and last five to seven minutes.” Competitive debate also has long used timed speeches.

Another possible meaning for “lightening talk” could be adding cream to lighten coffee. When an audience member forgets to do this during the break between talks, he will find that by the time he walks to the back of the room, pours it in the cup, stirs it, and returns to his seat he will have missed the entire talk!

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