Making Your (Power)Point

If you had five minutes, what would you say to your community?

Somehow I managed to get well into my 30’s without ever having to give a PowerPoint presentation. Never. Not once. Not even close. Then this thing called Ignite came to town. A friend of a friend contacted me through email, and the next thing I know, I’m agreeing to be one of 16 speakers at the first-ever Ignite Baltimore.

Ignite nights started in Seattle as a way for tech-centric entrepreneurs to meet, mingle, and share ideas and it has swiftly spread to cities across the country. The event is based on the pecha kucha idea of a succinct, time constrained presentation set to a slide show that advances automatically. With Ignite programs you get 5 minutes and 20 slides that click forward every 15 seconds. The Baltimore organizers expanded the mission to include a wide range of speakers from public radio hosts and reverends to software moguls and urban planners.

The first step, I was told, was to come up with a topic. The organizers ask: “If you have five minutes, what would you say to Baltimore?”

I contemplated my painful lack of PowerPoint skill and momentarily toyed with the idea of a presentation on how to give a presentation, but sobered up and instead developed the long-winded title, How to Start a Revolution: Urban Interactions for the New American City. I’ve been interested in how citizens and designers, architects and artists, are coming together to create interactions and events that question entrenched planning decisions and advocate for change. I’ve started compiling a list of some of my favorite interactions—Object Orange, Park(ing) Day, Pop Up City, Permanent Breakfast—and thought this could be a great way to get people in my own city to think about actions that they could launch. I came up with this description for the talk:
“Baltimore is a shrinking, post-industrial town. The urban planning challenges we face today are different from anytime in our history and require a new approach to architecture, design, and community building. My five minutes will provide a whirlwind tour of designers and citizens transforming cities across the country through individual and collective actions, most outside the official system of the city (think: yoga in a bank lobby, breakfast on a median strip, turning a parking spot into an actual park).”
Then I realized that my title alone took up about 30 seconds of my time and that I had no idea how to put together a slide show. Lucky for me, Baltimore is home to Ellen Lupton, graphic designer extraordinaire, and, of late, a columnist for Ready Made. I happened to pick up the latest issue and lo and behold, Ellen had written an article on how to prepare a good PowerPoint presentation (you can also access this how-to presentation on her Web site). Thank you, Ellen.

The Ignite Baltimore event took place on a recent Thursday night at a local bar/performance space. It filled to capacity with a large crowd of diverse and interesting people. It hit me as I was milling about the room, that I was meeting in person a whole host of people I had only previously interacted with via the Internet. I often wonder how the increasing options in our communication platforms impact our ability to actually talk to one another. Do things like Twitter and Facebook help or hinder our capacity to have true dialogue? Ignite, it turns out, is a shining example of social networking as its best. Everyone involved communicated remotely in advance, but once there, the technology served as a good platform to spark creative conversations, to open up new ideas, and to meet new people.

Sound good? Start your own Ignite night.

My first PowerPoint! I’m totally nervous. People are talking over me at first, but amazingly, the room quiets down by about slide 5. I like to think its because my talk was so riveting, but I think it’s because somebody started shushing them…

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