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Practitioners' Forum: IGNITE Your Work Life: One Practitioner's Reflections of SIOP 2011

Rich Cober
Marriott International and Practice Committee Chair

Joan Brannick has more than capably served as the author of this column for the last year. As we look toward future TIPs, this column is going to begin a more rotational authorship facilitated through the Professional Practice Committee. The hope in doing this is to expand the idea exchange that passes through this column simply by playing a game of intellectual hot potato among committee members (there goes our volunteer rates).

SIOP 2011 has come and gone. From my perspective, this year’s conference offered a great variety of topics and represented a break from some of the types of forums that were seemingly becoming SIOP staples such as debating about proctored Internet testing and a move toward conversations about next generation practices such as assessment through mobile devices (an uberproctor challenge).

I served as a guinea pig for a new format that was part of the Saturday Theme Track titled “Using Data to Influence Organizational Decisions and Strategy”—and that was to present an IGNITE presentation about presenting data to leadership (Lightning Round: Telling a Compelling Story With Data In Five Minutes). For those who missed the session and/or have no idea what an IGNITE presentation is, I will give you the quick highlights:

• 20 slides
• 5 minutes
• Slides autoprogress every 15 seconds (so no screw ups)

I have to admit that I accepted the request to participate in this session without really knowing what I was getting into. Thankfully, the chairs of the session—Autumn Krauss,  Evan Sinar, and Jay Steffensmeier—did a really nice job of helping me and my copresenters understand the format and its uniqueness, and to respect the time involved for successful preparation.

What I found during this session is that the format provides a very unique opportunity for not only presenting information  but, even more fundamentally, for thinking about topics and information that we may take for granted in our everyday professional life.

The challenge of representing an idea, topic, or concept within a structured format like this required a level of thinking that our chairs had warned us about but which I ultimately found to be eye opening. To do a little confessing, I have found myself quite able to fly through presentations within a corporate environment by throwing a few slides together and relying on my context and what some may call expertise (or something else). Oftentimes, the result is a presentation done and concept discussed, but perhaps parts of the bigger picture or whole story left unsaid. There is a dark side to winging it.

The IGNITE format took me back to basics, to the days of prepping to teach classes to undergraduate students where my lesson plans were structured and my goals for the day absolutely clear. Storyboarding the presentation allowed me to finesse my thinking on this subject matter, think about the different points I might be able to make, and ultimately find a path that was clear, flowed logically, perhaps included a spot of humor here and there, and most important, conveyed a relatively complicated story with clarity in 5 minutes.

The presentation itself presented an interesting dynamic as well. Having prepared a bit of a script, practiced timing, and been freed of clicking slides, the pace of presentation allowed for a gradual build of the story, and there was no timeout or room for slippage once the session has started. Although some may find this a bit stressful and potentially confining, there is a clear advantage to presenting concepts in this style: There is no time, room, or even semblance of an opportunity for questions. I love questions. I love discussing complicated concepts and issues at the heart of the presentation. However, I am all too aware of the pitfalls of derailing questions, sidebars that can disrupt a meeting, and ultimately a group-wide feeling that a point has been lost or a deck has been shorted as the last few slides whiz by as a meeting adjourns. IGNITE not only keeps the presenter on track but also requires the audience to stay engaged and on track in order to follow the story, get to the punch or bottom line, and then consider what questions or elaboration on topics may be appropriate for follow up.

So I find myself now back at work and relatively jazzed about this format. My team is probably sick of hearing about it, my coworkers still hardly believe I could constrain myself to talking for 5 minutes on anything, but I can’t shake the desire to try and apply this to other projects and in other forums. I do think there is fairly broad application for using this format as a means of forcing some brainstorming around ideas, creating stories that help to illustrate concepts that may be otherwise hard to grasp or perhaps just stale to teach (think fundamentals of providing feedback), and perhaps even to senior leaders who are open to a different type of experience to get a solid dose of information critical to running a business (be it operational, leadership oriented, financial).  Not to mention that it is also simply a great way to hone oral presentation and slideware development skills.

I would be willing to bet that we will see more of these types of sessions at future SIOPs and do hope that, through those sessions, we may see some innovative approaches and thinking on topics that may have had much of the same treatment with regard to panels and symposia for many years. In fact, some good ideas as to what role IGNITE might play in future conferences (e.g., debate) were considered at the closing of the session. The inaugural SIOP IGNITE presenters (myself included) are committed to being in the front row to support our colleagues who want to take on the challenge of doing “20 in 5” next year. There are even rumors of a logo being drawn up. 

For more information about this presentation format, go to: http://ignite.oreilly.com/.

I do want to send a special thanks to Autumn, Evan, and Jay for really doing a nice job of preparing presenters for this session and having the initiative to introduce something like this to the SIOP conference.

For a taste of what creativity can come out of the IGNITE format, check out Eric Heggestad’s I-O fable that appears next.  Eric was part of the lightning round and, as the sole academician participating in the session, he took a different perspective on the topic of telling a compelling story about data in 5 minutes.  For those of you who are interested in the full set of slides from the entire session, they are posted on the SIOP practice wiki (http://siop.editme.com/Saturday-Theme-Track-2011). The session was also recorded and is part of the SIOP conference DVD available for purchase on the SIOP Web site (http://www.siop.org/Conferences/11Con/Regbk/dvd.aspx).

Other News

Now is the time to nominate practitioners deserving of SIOP recognition for contributions to the field.

If you know practitioners deserving of recognition, please visit the SIOP Awards Web site (http://www.siop.org/siopawards/) to nominate them. This year, the award for Practitioner Contributions went unfilled for lack of nominations. Let’s not let that happen again; there are too many in our community who are deserving of this kind of recognition and such recognition also helps us to celebrate the good that we can bring to organizations and work in general.

Finally—Mentoring Is Working and Expanding…

Be on the look out for opportunities to participate in the upcoming mentoring activities that the Practice Committee is working to bring to SIOP. At this year’s conference, about 80 people took advantage of the 2nd annual speed-mentoring event. It was a great time for sharing of perspectives among peers, and its success was largely due to the solid efforts of Mark Poteet and Samantha Ritchie, who have worked very hard to launch and now sustain the speed-mentoring component of our practitioner mentoring strategy.