Opinion
Education Opinion

Public Speaking Ignites an Unexpected Spark

By Starr Sackstein — May 20, 2018 3 min read

To ignite is to light a spark.

In education, an ignite speech is one that, in a brief amount of time, five minutes, exposes an audience to a series of images and a thoughtful, succinct talk that should inspire them in some way.

As an anxious speaker, I have routinely avoided submitting proposals to do ignite sessions as I have never been terribly good with timing and/or using slides while I speak. So the idea of having to create a really well-curated slide deck that I’d have to keep pace with (the slides automatically change every 15 seconds) never really appealed to me.

Often, I’ve admired those who do them, because they really are brilliant. Speaking for a short period of time after really considering their images and their intention, their presence and passion was conveyed so quickly and in such an engaging way.

But I never saw myself as one of those people.

This weekend, I had some unexpected “free” time so I decided to go to the Tomorrow’s Classrooms Today conference to hang out with friends and to do some learning of my own. It has been a while since I’ve attended a conference that I wasn’t presenting or speaking at. There is plenty of learning to be done when you’re in that capacity, but for me, there is pressure and until I’m done with my own responsibilities, I often don’t get as much out of it for my own growth and learning.

So this was going to be different. I wanted to recharge, connect with “my people” and be a participant, only a participant.

When I arrived Saturday morning, I was informed that some folks were unexpectedly unable to attend and would I consider giving an Ignite. Upon thought and consideration, I decided no, I’d rather just be a participant and truly enjoy other people’s hard work.

And I thought we were all on the same page about that.

The day was going along swimmingly, I got to attend a few sessions, meet some folks I’ve been “friends” with on Twitter for a long time but never have had time to talk in person and see some of my favorite folks who I don’t often see in person.

It was nice to enjoy a meal and then watch some tremendous ignite speeches, well prepared, thoughtful and engaging.

And then it happened...

Brad Currie, a friend, and a colleague called for a final “surprise” ignite speaker and I knew what was coming. I felt it in my stomach first and then in my cheeks and then he said it... “Starr Sackstein”. Of course, I wanted to throw up. (Even if I was prepared, I probably would have felt that way.)

I wasn’t prepared. I had no slides. I hate using a mic.

So I took a deep breath, despite my extreme anxiety and nervousness and got up.

As I continue to work through my own speaking anxieties, I’m overwhelmed by how well my message was received.

With such little time to prepare and such a short time to speak, there was only one thing I could speak about with passion and comfort that I knew would resonate and that’s assessment.

In five minutes, with no props or preparation, I shared with passion the direction we need to go to serve all students in education - away from grades, testing, homework and toward a more authentic, experiential, portfolio-based learning experience that prizes all students in an equitable way.

Listeners were kind and I appreciate that. One major take away from this experience is that I can do anything I put my mind to, even if with resistance.

Also, that I should always have something prepared, just in case. Looks like I will, in fact, try to build an ignite slideshow, just for the fun of it.

What inspires you most about ignite speeches? If you have done one, what’s the hardest part to plan them? Please share

The opinions expressed in Work in Progress are strictly those of the author(s) and do not reflect the opinions or endorsement of Editorial Projects in Education, or any of its publications.