Why You Should Try Lightning Talks

A Lightning Talk is an informal ~6 minute presentation where anyone can speak about anything they want.

The idea of doing Lightning Talks at the office sprung up more than two years ago and since then Aviture has been doing internal Lightning Talks on a bi-weekly basis.

Every other week up to four Aviturians sign up for a 10 minute slot (6 minute talk + a couple minutes for questions/overtime). The topics have ranged from Data Visualization to ADHD, from showing off your side project to describing helpful UX tips, from how a startup incubator works to how to budget as an adult. We’ve even had a talk on lingual accents which was particularly entertaining.

Why Lightning Talks?

Knowledge Sharing

Sharing knowledge within a company can be tricky business. Teams can be working on different parts of a product, working in different business divisions, or teams may be working in different geographic locations. All of these factors can put up impermeable knowledge barriers within your company.

Lightning Talks can periodically bring teams together to break down those knowledge barriers. It’s an opportunity for teams to escape whichever silo they work in and cross pollinate ideas and information with other teams.

Practice Speaking

Giving a Lightning Talk is a great way to practice public speaking.

  1. You’re in a safe speaking environment. You know your audience, literally. They’re your co-workers. Most of the time giving a Lightning Talk is analogous to speaking at a work meeting, except it’s far less formal and more fun.
  2. The talks are completely informal. Slides are optional. A demo is optional. Visual aids are optional. There is no process or standard format. The only thing we require is that you convey a message to your audience for up to 6–7 minutes.
  3. The talks are short. Lightning talks are not about monolithic speaking sessions. They are meant to be short and to the point which can easily be accomplished with most topics, even ones you don’t consider yourself an expert in.

It’s difficult to emphasize how beneficial public speaking practice actually is. Public speaking is a useful skill both at work and outside of work. It’s a skill that has helped a handful of Aviturians in speaking ventures. Several of us speak at local meet ups, start-up pitch competitions, and regional conferences. Lightning Talks are an opportunity to put early drafts of our ideas in front of a safe audience while at the same time getting speaking practice.

Camaraderie

Lastly, breaking away from daily routine and getting your co-workers together to listen to interesting topics helps grow bonds and friendships. It’s internal professional networking, something that can be difficult even for companies with a few dozen employees.

Taking it further

Over the last two years I’ve discovered a few tips through trial and error that can improve the overall Lightning Talk experience.

Add themes

When we first started out the guidance was that anyone can give a talk on any topic. Paradoxically, when given so many choices we actually had fewer people sign up to give a talk.

After almost a year we decided to add a topic theme for each round of Lightning Talks. Doing so helped potential presenters narrow the scope of what kind of talk to give and we’ve seen a more steady supply of presenters since then.

Here are some of the themes that we’ve used:

  • What’s your side project?
  • User Experience (UX)
  • Artificial Intelligence
  • What I learned at my last conference
  • Intro/101 topics
  • Webpack
  • What’s on your 2017 radar?
  • Lessons learned topics

Record the talks

Some people are unable to attend the talks and miss out on a presentation that is really interesting to them. It happens and it’s unfortunate when it does.

To combat this we started recording the talks and made the recordings available on our intranet. However, we deliberately do not make them public. The reason is simple. The internet is a nasty place and we didn’t want signups to dwindle if our presenters no longer felt they were in a safe speaking environment.

This can be a double-edged sword, because now members of our profession have one less resource for learning and hearing about new ideas and topics. To further combat this a speaker can optionally publish their talk through a video sharing service of their choice (1, 2) or use it to seed ideas for their own independent content (3).

Find a champion

Lightning Talks will not happen on their own. Someone will need to raise their hand and help with logistics.

This really isn’t a difficult job (coming from the guy in charge of Aviture’s Lightning Talks). There are only a few responsibilities involved:

  • Send out a calendar invite
  • Keep the talks relatively on schedule
  • Upload recordings
  • Communicate themes, cancellations, or other information

Everything considered it’s very little time required to keep things running.

Is it worth it?

The benefits listed above are actual benefits we get and that you can get too. We have a handful of speakers speaking at regional conference. We have people giving startup pitches. Our expertise in several areas is growing in competence and creativity because we are openly sharing with each other.

A Lightning Talk is an enabler. It may kickstart a conversation to solve a really interesting problem. Maybe it exposes you to an idea that will grow into a new product feature. Or perhaps it grows your company’s work culture by breaking up the week and getting people together to talk about genuinely interesting topics.

Lightning talks can help your company. Is it worth it? I believe so, but it’s absolutely worth it to try it out.