Debra Swersky
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One of my favorite community events in Dallas is IgniteDFW. Ignite is a nationwide speaker series held around the country by 350+ communities. What I like about this event is the unique (and somehow related) TED-esque performances: 20-slides, 15-seconds per slide, 5 minutes total presentation time. But, Ignite is like TED bootcamp: the audience can audibly participate and the slides are auto-advancing… so, if you mess up, you’ll have to compensate. (TED doesn’t tolerate mistakes.) Similarly, every speaker faces the same challenge: Convey your passion and semi-educational topic in a way that entertains the community… but quickly.

After every event (or TED talk) I think to myself, “What could I talk about?” Go figure, I rarely come up with something and therefore am not gunning for neither the TED nor the Ignite stage. But this time was different. This time I got involved pre-event. I helped to prepare speakers for the show. In doing so, I learned something new about myself, the show, and the art of public speaking. It can all be summed up in one word: Exposition

Exposition freaks me out. I internalized the concept as soon as I learned about it during my college theater class. Exposition is the release of information during a play to provide background to the audience. Lucky for me (or unlucky for you?) this was about the same time that Facebook was released to anyone with a [dot]edu e-mail address. During this time I became super self-aware of the facts that I shared with others and how parts of my life were being exposed by the things that I was saying and sharing. The professor taught me a powerful lesson about social media before social media was even social media!

When I started working with the speakers I realized that each one of them was sharing five minutes of information with the audience - oftentimes personal information that the audience was going to remember them by. For example, Fiona, Josh, and Damian for me are all known to me by their IgniteDFW talks (this was my first introduction to them). Fiona is known as someone who can GSD, Josh as Batman, and Damian that guy with crazy energy. I’ve since met them all, but those impressions are everlasting. Which means that the question, “What could I talk about?” isn’t valid. Rather, the question is, “What would I be comfortable sharing with the audience that I would want to be known for?” Better said still, “What’s my first impression?”

Yes, I understand that all speeches beg these questions, but in working with the team of speakers at Ignite I experienced each one as they practiced, and partook in helping them to hone in on and maintain the message / impression that they wanted to convey. IgniteDFW is an awesome platform for the community to take a stab at hanging their shingle on something. Take Jennifer, for example, she works in a semi-related field to her passion, but used the Ignite stage to hang her shingle on nonprofit evaluation.

In working with the speakers and taking a more active role in planning the show I learned how much the idea of exposition gnaws at me. IgniteDFW speaker, Earlina Green, said it best, “My fear of [the IgniteDFW stage] lies in the opinions of others.” She goes onto talk about “Finding Your Brave” (#findyourbravebk) and using your fears to find your passionate informed active voice. 

So… there’s a thought. Exposition, first impressions, and maybe an idea for an IgniteDFW talk.

Debra Swersky