Do you have a lightning talk inside of you?


At last year’s TEDX Melbourne, I inadvertently found myself up on stage. I say inadvertently, because when the MC asked the crowd who had a Ted talk inside of them, my hand raised itself. Then my whole self jumped up and moved about in an addled kind of dance.  It’s amazing really that they picked a crazy woman having an out of body experience to stand on the stage in front of 1500 people to pitch her TED talk. I talked about how workplaces should care more about happiness.  I can’t tell you if the crowd enjoyed it because adrenaline was preventing my brain from any activity except forming the impromptu words my mouth was saying. The experience was scary good!

The great thing about doing a lightning talk at Agile Australia is that you have an opportunity to get support on your pitch, prepare your thoughts ahead of time and of course practice.

What is a lightning talk?

A lightning talk is a five minute opportunity to communicate an idea or learning to the audience.

A lightning talk isn’t a rant, a PowerPoint presentation, a video, a sales pitch or a commercial platform for your company or career.

You talk because you love the idea of sharing an idea. As with a TED talk, it “takes the listener on a journey, and provides insight into the subject that they did not have before”*

What’s the right topic for a lightning talk?

Here are some prompts to help you think up a topic:

  • Great ways to…
  • Great ideas for…
  • What we can learn from…
  • How to … in 3 easy steps

Some of the lightning talks I’ve delivered are:

  • 5 great ways to seed Agile curiosity in your organisation
  • 5 great ideas for competitions that build your team’s Agile knowledge
  • 5 great ways to reinforce or introduce Agile behaviours into a team
  • The Great Pancake Cook up – teaching collaboration
  • What we can learn from our Lean cousins at Alcoa
  • How to make the most of a field trip to another workplace
  • Help – my team has lost its mojo!

How can you do it in just five minutes?

The right amount of content is what you could convey if asked, “What was that lightning talk about?”

Like all good stories, a lightning talk needs a beginning, middle and an end. Here’s the framework:

  • Introduce your topic
  • Explain something to the audience
  • Parting words

How do you tell a good story?

Consider telling a story. Our brains are programmed to enjoy them. Good stories set the scene, they include build up, and of course resolution. They often make the audience laugh, or connect and hopefully reflect on the theme of the lightning talk.

If you’re using slides, make them scant and of few words. Where folks are reading, they aren’t listening.

A great lightning talk expresses your curiosity and enthusiasm for your topic. In putting your lightning talk together, ask the question, “How can I convey what excited me about this topic?”. This question will help you shape the few dot points that are the middle of your lightning talk.

Refine, refine, refine, using each sentence for maximum value. Your adrenaline will prevent you from thinking straight, so don’t plan to invent your talk from a few dot points on a cue card. Know every masterfully picked word.

A few words can evoke a world of thought. Think about how a pithy quote can express or cement the ideas you are trying to convey. It’s sometimes a great way to end a lightning talk.

Preparing to deliver

Because a lightning talk is not a speech, a lesson or a lecture, you need to TALK it. Have a run through with your friends and colleagues, practice it in the mirror, tell it to your pot plants, but don’t get up on stage with a script.

On the day

I have little advice for you except to say that the audience is unlikely to see your legs shaking.

Go slow. Not only will it make it easier for people to understand you, but they will also be able to absorb what you are saying.

Am I brave enough to give it a go?

There are plenty of reasons to submit a lightning talk proposal for Agile Australia. Whether you are a seasoned presenter, or beginner, here are the top five:

  1. It “gives you a rare opportunity to spend time thinking about a specific topic [you are passionate about] and distilling it down into something you can quickly and effectively communicate to others”**
  2. It is a magnet to connect with other people thinking about the same things as you
  3. For that moment in time, you are a thought leader
  4. It’s an awesome icebreaker at the post conference drinks!
  5. It’s scary good. 



This post was written by Katrina Kolt on behalf of Agile Australia. If you would like to submit a talk, please visit the website for more info.

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