Igniting Chicago Five Minutes at a Time

Ignite Chicago screen

I exited the Brown Line at the Merchandise Mart, walked through the turnstiles into the massive building and suddenly remembered how confused it always makes me feel – after all, with 4 million square feet, it was once the largest building in the world. This Tuesday evening, I was on a mission to find the 12th floor – the home of “1871” and my first Ignite Chicago event.

I had never heard of 1871 until reading an article about it in Crain’s Chicago – an article I only read because my friend Saya was quoted in it. Turns out 1871 is home to this whole other world in Chicago that I never knew existed – it’s like a mini-Silicon Valley, home to all sorts of techies and creative types who share workspace and support each other’s pursuit of the “next big thing.”

This premise of 1871 and the idea behind Ignite Chicago mesh well together. Indeed, most of the people I talked to at the event seemed to be far more techie/creative/entrepreneurial than I will ever be, many speaking in a language of start-ups that I just nodded and pretended to understand. Ignite is about igniting passions and inspiring people and it was clear that several presenters assumed that most people in the room were of the entrepreneurial mold. I have to admit, I felt a tad bit left out.

Ignite Chicago Greg

But let me take a step back. The format of Ignite Chicago is that a series of presenters get up and talk about anything for 5 minutes – with 20 slides that advance every few seconds. Thirteen people were scheduled to present this particular evening and I really had no idea what to expect.

The first guy up – Greg Baugues – was one of my favorites, giving a well-organized and well delivered talk about the art of good conversation, aptly titled “How to Be the Most Interesting Man in the World.” He set the bar high and unfortunately the next couple presenters didn’t quite measure up. Then came the fire-dancing girl.

Better known as Kate Houlihan, fire-dancing girl didn’t actually dance with fire or dance on fire. But she gave a straight-faced hilarious five minute presentation instructing all of us on how to dance with fire (I think the formal title was “The Proper Care and Feeding of Fire Swords”). All while slides of people actually dancing with fire played in the background.

Kate Houlihan

Then someone talked about dividing equity in startups, which brought back too many memories of my lawyer days.  And someone else talked about gamification or gamerization or some construction of the word “gamer. ” You won’t be surprised to learn I had no clue what he was talking about.

The second half of the presentations picked up as they became more interactive. Lisa Zimmer talked about beer and food pairing, complete with beer and cheese samples for the audience. Nice touch. And Tamara Nolte basically said to heck with the slides, recruited five volunteers from the audience and did a fun demo of an improv game. By far the most entertaining presentation of the night.

Ignite Chicago improv

Overall, it was an enjoyable way to spend two hours on a Tuesday night. And it got me thinking I may even speak at a future event – about travel, of course.

Meeting people potential: B-
There were plenty of people to meet and Pete and Claire, the emcees, actively encouraged people to chat with their neighbors during the intermission and afterwards. But there didn’t seem to be people I had much I common with. And most people seemed to be there with friends, making the approach a little intimidating.

Interest factor: B
Totally depends on your interests & presenters.

Fun factor: B
I had some laughs, but I can’t really look back and say “I had fun.” But it was a good, enjoyable time.

Would I go again? Sure, why not?

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2 thoughts on “Igniting Chicago Five Minutes at a Time”

  1. Sounds interesting. And it sounds like something that could be more or less interesting each time, depending on the topics.

    You should totally present on something travel-related sometime!

    1. I’ve actually found the topic has little to do with how interesting the presentation is to me, which is one of my favorite things about Ignite, Pecha Kucha, Potluck!, TED, etc.

      If the presenter is passionate about what they’re talking about and has a presentation-style I like, I find myself getting passionate about the topic, regardless of what it is. There have been many folks ‘on paper’ that I pre-judged and thought would be boring, but because of the person talking, I became hooked! Lisa re. beer was one such presentation — could care less about beer but she was SO into it and so vivacious, she finished and I wanted to talk/taste beer.

      As someone who LOVES all things entrepreneurial, I do agree that Ignite can be entre-heavy. Same for Pecha Kucha being architect/design-heavy. That’s one of the reasons we started Potluck! — no common thread amongst presenters other than awesomeness. We also did away with the tech requirement, as not everyone wants to use/watch Powerpoint.

      Good wrap-up of the event, excited to see what you discover next!

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