Post by Koven Smith
For those of you who have attended MCN in the last few years, one of the highlights of the conference has been Ignite MCN, where a group of courageous-slash-foolhardy speakers dispense wisdom in lightning-fast five-minute chunks on the opening-night of the conference. Each speaker has five minutes and 20 automatically-advancing slides to enlighten-slash-entertain-slas
I’ve been fortunate enough to organize and host Ignite MCN for the last five years, and each year, the same thing happens: immediately after the event, several people come up to me and say, “That was great! I’m totally submitting an Ignite talk next year!” This is typically the last time I ever hear from these people. So what I’m saying is, it’s now your time to step up! Do you have something important to say? Something that you think the rest of us need to know? Are you ready to take it to the limit, one more time?
The first question I’m usually asked as the host is, what makes a good Ignite talk, and why do some submissions get picked over others? I’m glad you asked. Ignite talks are different from more traditional presentations, so of course there are many proposals that would make great presentations, but that wouldn’t necessarily work for Ignite. So here’s a brief list of the kinds of things we’re looking for when we evaluate Ignite submissions:
Brevity: Ignite works best when the ideas are big, bright, and communicated succinctly. A good Ignite MCN proposal should be able to get to the main idea in three sentences or less. If it takes two full paragraphs to describe the concept behind your talk, it’s probably not the right fit for Ignite MCN.
A fresh perspective: Ignite talks are most interesting when coming from the standpoint of, “You’ve probably never thought about X in this way before.” Or, “I’m here to change your mind about Y.” Or, “This is an aspect of museum culture that you’ve probably not given too much thought to.” Ignite talks aren’t a great place for repeating the established wisdom, or presenting a project you’ve worked on. Enlighten us, but make it quick.
A sense of performance: Unlike more traditional conference presentations, Ignite talks are more like performances. I’m usually looking for some sense of this in the proposal. Humor can get this across, but so can a sense of excitement and/or evangelism. If I feel like the proposal is trying hard to convince me as the reviewer, then there’s a good chance that this enthusiasm will come across in the Ignite talk as well.
An understanding of the format: If you’ve never given an Ignite talk before, but mention in the proposal that you want to change the format (“I want to have 50 slides instead of 20” or “I want to have videos on every slide”), that proposal will probably not make it in. It can help if you’ve attended MCN and the Ignite event before, and seen this special event with its certain aesthetic in action, so that you know what to expect.
I’m looking for 7 to 9 talks that all work well together. Sometimes this can mean that great proposals are rejected just because they don’t fit in well with the rest. If you’ve submitted a talk in the past and didn’t get in, by all means re-submit! It may be a better fit this year. You never know!
Koven J. Smith
Director of Digital Adaptation
Blanton Museum of Art
The University of Texas at Austin