Friday, April 24, 2009

How to Give an Ignite Presentation

What is an "Ignite Presentation" and how do you give it? Ignite talks are a style of presenting where people speak on a subject of their choice for five minute accompanied by 20 powerpoint slides. The slides are automatically changed every 15 seconds. At the end of five minutes, the Ignite talk is over - that's it; fini; done.

On Wednesday, I gave a five minute Ignite talk at Ignite Minneapolis. It was a boisterous crowd, 500+ people strong, and many of them a little tipsy after having a few glasses of beer at the free social hour that preceded the event. I've done Ignite before and I'd do it again because I find it a lot of fun to get up there and talk about something for five minutes.

Reaction of the crowd? It was positive; they laughed at the appropriate places and I got a sort of a boozy roar of approval at the end.

I encourage everybody to give it a try. As far as public speaking goes, it's a good place to start. Here's why:
  • Like karaoke, even if you suck, no one really cares.
  • It only lasts five minutes.
  • Most people come to ignite to be entertained. It's a pretty non judgemental crowd. (But there may be some troglodytes or hecklers out there - just ignore them since they're idiots anyway.)
Convinced? Okay, if you're going to do it, here are some tips:

  • If you write out your talk in advance, figure that you can speak about 20 to 30 words per 15 second slide. That's not a lot but you can do a lot with that if you're good.
  • You have five minutes, that's it. So, you're really limited to how much you can say. Don't try to explain global warming. But you can tell people how to plant a tree and why that's a good thing. Have a single concept broken into 3 to 5 subparts (and keep those subparts SIMPLE)
  • Use as few words on your slides as possible. Most of my slides have no words at all, just a single photo or graphic. The slides should reinforce your words, not vice versa.
  • You need to connect with your audience using your voice. Modulate it. Talk fast then slow. Loud, then soft. Sound sarcastic then sincere. It keeps people interested.
  • Figure out your natural style and go with it. I tend to talk fast. It works for me. But your natural style may be completely different. Your style will become apparent when your practice your talk. Once you figure it out, go with it.
  • Humor is terrific. A few funny pictures will hold the audience attention.
  • Speakers get energy from your audience. Look for a few people in the crowd who like what you're saying and speak to them.

Sunday, April 19, 2009

Ignite Minneapolis

I am doing a talk at the upcoming Ignite Minneapolis this Wednesday (April 22) . Ignite presentations were invented by my friends Bre Pettis and Brady Forrest a few years back in Seattle and the concept has taken off. Basically, you sign up and talk for five minutes about what ever subject you want. You have 20 PowerPoint slides and they change automatically every 15 seconds.

It's fast paced and fun. I did this before at an OReilly event in San Jose and it was fun. This time it should be even better as there's free beer!

Come if you can. Feel free to email me via the form on

Here's the info from the Ignite website:

Ignite Minneapolis #1

The first ever Ignite Minneapolis event is right around the corner. Admission free. Beer is free.

Wednesday, April 22
Solera, downtown Minneapolis

6:00 – Doors Open, social hour
7:00 – Presentations Begin
8:00 – Break
8:15 – Presentations Continue
9:00 – Event Conclusion

Thursday, April 16, 2009

Risk Taking and Decision Making

I gave a talk yesterday about the Art of Living Dangerously at the Minnesota High Tech Conference. Some of what I spoke about is based on the work of a number of well known academics who more or less pioneered the ideas of measuring and analyzing an individual's proclivity to assume risk.


A number of people asked me for additional information on the field of risk taking and decision making. Here are some books I recommend on the subject.

  1. "Risk Taking, A Managerial Perspective" by Zur Shapira. It's good, although I'd have say it's pretty densely written, and doesn't lend itself to skimming.
  2. "Behavioral Expressions and Biosocial Bases of Sensation Seeking" by Marvin Zuckerman. This is a terrific book should be read by more people. No doubt the title puts people off.
  3. "Choices, Values, and Frames" edited by Amos Tversky. Covers the concept of framing bias in risk taking and decision making.
  4. For a book on decision making in general, apart from looking strictly at risk taking psychology, consider "Decision Making" by the editors at Harvard Business School
  5. Finally, there is much information on risk taking psychology and suggestions on ways to improve your life through wise and rational risktaking in my new book, Absinthe and Flamethrowers: Ruminations on the Art of Living Dangerously. It will be widely available in June. To reserve a copy, preorder now on Amazon by clicking below:

An adapted version of Zuckerman's Sensation Seeking Scale V psychological test is available online here . Note that SSSv and provides a more detailed breakdown of risk taking behavior than the SSSVI version we took at MHTA. The online test provides raw scores and some interpretation.

Fully interpreting SSSv is a bit involved, but there are instructions in the Zuckerman Book listed above.


I speak professionally and consult with organizations on this subject and would be happy to discuss working with your organization. For more information, please visit

Thursday, April 09, 2009

Methylene Chloride and Dippy Bird Science

Methylene Chloride is the bonding agent I used to attach one piece of polycarbonate plastic to another piece when I was constructing the firepiston (see Feb 13 post in this blog.) MC works well because it's thin and penetrates into seams well and does a good job of dissolving the plastic so it solvent welds together.

Coincidentally, I found out, while researching dippy bird physics, that methylene chloride is the same stuff used in the dippy birds to make them go up and down. The science of dippy birds, according to the How Stuff Works website are this:
  1. When water evaporates from the fuzz on the Dippy Bird's head, the head is cooled.
  2. The temperature decrease in the head condenses the methylene chloride vapor, decreasing the vapor pressure in the head relative to the vapor pressure in the abdomen.
  3. The greater vapor pressure in the abdomen forces fluid up through the neck and into the head.
  4. As fluid enters the head, it makes the Dippy Bird top-heavy.
  5. The bird tips. Liquid travels to the head. The bottom of the tube is no longer submerged in liquid.
  6. Vapor bubbles travel through the tube and into the head. Liquid drains from the head, displaced by the bubbles.
  7. Fluid drains back into the abdomen, making the bird bottom-heavy.
  8. The bird tips back up.
Methylene chloride is also used, apparently in decaffinating coffee. The MSDS says the stuff is somewhat dangerous, but apparently not so much that it cannot be used in dippy bird toys - at least until someone complains.

Monday, April 06, 2009

Publishers Weekly review

My new book, Absinthe and Flamethrowers, was reviewed in today's Publisher's Weekly:

Absinthe & Flamethrowers: Projects and Ruminations on the Art of Living Dangerously William Gurstelle. Chicago Review, $16.95 paper (224p) ISBN 978-1-55652-822-4

If you can imagine Calvin of Calvin and Hobbes all grown up, this supercharged guide for amateur thrill seekers would probably replace Hobbes as his constant companion. Ostensibly in order to encourage the notion that “to a point, the ability to wage risk is a useful and worthwhile attribute,” professional engineer Gurstelle (The Art of the Catapult) lays out detailed instructions for making “black powder” (gunpowder), rockets, flamethrowers and other devices that will endanger your digits and eyebrows. To the author’s credit, he is equally detailed in his prescriptions of safety gear and precautions. He also details more hedonistic thrills, such as absinthe, cigarette smoking and “thrill eating” à la the Travel Channel’s Andrew Zimmern—“in small amounts,” he says, “they add bite and depth to the flavor of life.” Most of the recipes and blueprints that Gurstelle shares with fellow “Big-T” (thrill-seeking) personalities, can be found all over the Internet, but this antidote to the usual cautious self-help guides is written well if occasionally in overheated prose, and, more important, is presented responsibly. Illus. (June)

From this day forward, it shall becomes my life's work, nay, my life's passion, to henceforth, wrest every infinitesimal bit, every intimation of overheatedness from my prose. Seriously though, it's a great review and I think the reviewer understands what it's about. Look for it in June at bookstores everywhere.