What If Every Government Briefing Was 5 Minutes Long?

A couple months ago, I had the opportunity to deliver an Ignite presentation for The Public Manager / ASTD’s “Government Workforce: Learning Innovations” event. If you’re not familiar with the Ignite format, it’s like a shorter version of TEDTalks developed by O’Reilly. You get 20 slides that automatically rotate at 15 seconds each so that you’re forced to keep moving forward with your presentation and finish in 5 minutes.

Here’s a quick description from my co-presenter Lauree Ofstrosky in a 5-minute presentation entitled “Ignite Your Workforce”:

Here’s an example of how it could be used as a government briefing from John Ohab on “How DoD Uses Technology to Communicate Science”:

And, finally, here’s my presentation on “Everything I Need to Know I Learned Online”, which makes the case for informal learning through online communities like GovLoop (with a gratuitous pic of my cute-as-a-button son :-).

So my questions for you are:

1. What if we could get more government briefings to follow this 5-minute format?

2. How could you see it being implemented in your organization?

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Terrence (Terry) Hill

I like the Ignite format! We need to use this at all staff meetings! I was already a big fan of the TEDTalks. Now I am a fan of Ignite! Great for vendor presentations, job interviews, sales pitches, program updates, and other events. Webcasting really makes this effort worthwhile and posting on YouTube will help it to go viral. Five minutes is probably the “sweet spot” for modern-day attention spans.

Andy – Your session was great! I like the pictures of Isaac. Can’t beat cute pictures of children for tugging at heartstrings. Great commercial for GovLoop!

Sandra Yeaman

My office at the Department of State, the Office of eDiplomacy, encourages the use of Ignite presentations for our own briefings as well as at events we sponsor, such as [email protected] where several presenters gave Ignite presentations at our most recent event, [email protected] – Real Time Awareness. While the format initially sounds intimidating, I’ve found it much easier than I had expected and I have used Ignite presentations for a number of Toastmasters speeches at my club (Toastmasters speeches are typically 5-7 minutes long, so Ignite is perfect to keep the speaker within the time limit). (Full disclosure – I work AT the Department of State, but I am an employee of STG Inc on contract with the Office of eDiplomacy.)

Andrew Krzmarzick

Thanks, Terry. I will say this: it was a bit of work to tweak it down to 5 minutes. Probably several hours to arrive at the perfect word count and timing. So it’s a great format, and I enjoyed it, but there is some upfront effort required.

Andrew Krzmarzick

@Sandra – Glad to hear that there is an agency using this format. My gut tells me it’s not widespread. Do you know of any other agencies using it?

Pat Fiorenza

That’s interesting – I think in some situations a 5 minute briefing would be enormously beneficial for agencies. The challenge I see is that in certain areas, it would be nearly impossible to get across your brief in 5 minutes. I think it would be a great way to get energy and citizens behind initiatives – especially seeing more dynamic and captivating presentations by government. I think for the right topic, it could be a powerful tool. In other situations, could present a lot of challenges. In grad school we often had to present our elevator speech on topics. It’s a great exercise to be able to condense information and quickly get your point across – also challenging! Interested to hear other examples being used by agencies..

Dorothy Ramienski Amatucci

I feel like the Ignite format is doing to presentations what Twitter did to email. Sometimes less is more … but sometimes it can just be confusing. I do think it’s something more organizations should try, though. If nothing else, it’s a great mental exercise!

Dave Hebert

This has been done at the Federal Web and New Media conference to great effect. I think it’s a great way to cover a lot of ground quickly and give you just enough to know whether you want to dive deeper if you choose, not force you to dive deeper if you don’t want to. Hey, that’s kinda like good web design!

Scott Primeau

This is one of the best ideas I’ve heard in a long time. Although, requiring 20 slides from each presenter during staff meetings might be a bit much, but creating a 5-minute limit sounds promising.

A colleague and I have brainstormed holding periodic Ignite events in the office to encourage employee development, morale, and engagement. But, we haven’t laid any solid plans yet. Thanks for the encouragement!

And, Andy, nice work on your Ignite!

Andrew Krzmarzick

Pat – That’s what I was thinking…that it might be tough to cover everything in 5 minutes. But it’s an important exercise that could be helpful – even cutting a 20 minute presentation in half would be helpful.

Scott – I like the idea of a monthly stand up with cross-organizational units sharing their latest projects with each other – folks that occasionally work together, but aren’t completely informed. It presents the opportunity for serendipitous discovery of overlapping / shared priorities…and creates a chance to recognize people’s work.

Justin Kerr-Stevens

I think the ignite format is a brilliant idea. Many years ago at the height of the Foot and Mouth Disease Crisis the Department fo Environment and Rural Affairs was – er- borrowed by the military to cope with the crisis.

One of the results of having armed soldiers in a central government building was that they seemed to feel meetings weren’t that useful and would host a stand-up ‘bird table’ meeting for no longer than 10 minutes. After the crisis was over, the ‘bird table’ format seemed to stick. I’m not sure this would work for every government organisation – but it certainly struck me as a more efficient way of doing things.

Idris Busari

It would ensure that good ideas don’t get muddled up in debate cluster and interruptions in long speeches leading to a better government.

Ari Herzog

One of my hats is serving as an elected city councilor and it is common for officials to brief us at meetings, whether elaborating the background or responding to a basic question and taking 5 minutes or less to talk. Yes, yes, there are occasional 20-minute rants when I and other councilors fall asleep; but the typical committee meeting to deliberate an item takes 5 minutes of an overview presentation and 20 minutes (or more) of discussion.