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communication, humor, Speaking

So, you want to give a lightning talk?

Lightning talks… what are lightning talks? Why are they so much fun? Why do we love them?

An instant cure for death by PowerPoint, a lightning talk is an entertaining and alternative method of sharing information.

Lightning talks were added to the international Society for Technical Communication (STC) Summit in 2011 and have quickly gained in popularity. At STC conferences, the lightning talk slides are set to advance every 15 seconds, so you get to adjust (or not) and keep going with a swift pace and a smile.

Each lightning talk is five minutes. A lightning talk is typically included in a session that consists of at least 5 and sometimes as many as 10 or 15 lightning talks. At many conferences, lightning talks are the second most popular presentation type, after the keynote presentation.

Why are lightning talks so popular and so much fun? In addition to hearing many speakers in a single time slot, the audience learns many facts in a short time. Most importantly, the lightning-speed automatic slide advancement provides many opportunities to laugh!

A good lightning talk is insightful, inspiring, thought-provoking, useful, humorous, controversial, or enlightening. Lightning talks are almost always fun, for both the speaker and the audience.

If you are a novice speaker, a lightening talk gives you the opportunity to present for the first time without having to create a formal presentation proposal and conference paper. My friend Kelly survived her lightning talk and lived to write about it.

As a speaker, the lightning talk format tests your resilience and oratory skills. The timing of the slides and the presentation is strictly enforced. You provide 20 slides. Each slide is displayed for 15 seconds each. You do not control the slides, so be prepared to keep up and have fun.

Tips for an entertaining, joyous, and informative lightning talk

  • Get to the point quickly; invest no more than one minute on setup and background.
  • Select a relevant topic for the audience.
  • Share one great idea.
  • Tell a story; storytelling is universal and we all have a story to tell.
  • Show passion for an idea; spread your joy.
  • Share information but resist the temptation to explain in detail.
  • Use more pictures and fewer words; text at least 50 pts.
  • Plan on not using the first and the last slides, time flies when you’re having fun.
  • Don’t forget that the audience is on your side.
  • Remember that delivery is more important than content.
  • Be a star and get to Carnegie Hall. How? Practice, practice, practice.
  • Practice with a timer (there’s an app for that).
  • End strong and “power wrap” your lightning talk… restate your one great idea.

I’m one of five lightning talk presenters on March 8 at the 2013 Mid-Atlantic Technical Communication Conference: Sharpening Your Personal Brand. Come join us.

For more information, refer to the following resources:

About Barrie Byron

Innovative information developer specializing in presenting complex ideas in ways that are clear and concise. Persistent optimist, intrepid adventurer, mentor. Builder of relationships, connecting friends and peers to people they want to know. Social duct tape and generator of goodwill. Follow me on twitter @barriebyron


3 thoughts on “So, you want to give a lightning talk?

  1. Thanks for the mention, Barrie. And it’s good timing, as I am currently putting together my lightning talk for Spectrum!

    Posted by headbookworm | February 18, 2013, 10:05 pm


  1. Pingback: So, you want to go to a tech comm conference? | Barrie Byron's blog - February 21, 2014

  2. Pingback: 10 Reasons Why you should give a Lightning Talk/Demo at WordCamp Pune | WordCamp Pune 2015 - July 27, 2015

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