Another part of my Year End Clear Out related to Ignite Phoenix, a few of the reasons things work as they do related to the event. My normal approach is not to air a lot of the internal stuff and just let people enjoy the show, but many people have been generally curious or offered other approaches so thought I would share how things are viewed.
Most of these are decisions by the Ignite Phoenix team, who I’ll encourage to chime in here, as not every one of us agrees with every approach. Most of these topics at least come up once each cycle to see if we need to modify it. None are set in stone, though a few of them I feel much more strongly about than others.
I’m going to try and be concise – a challenge for me as I’m getting my blog-legs back – and I can expound if anyone has questions.
Size of the event
500-600 people is as large as we want Ignite to get. We could fill larger venues, but then it becomes more attractive to sales-pitches and scarier to average people who want to give it a try. It also becomes harder to really interact with presenters during breaks with this many people. If it ever got so big that there was no benefit to going in person to meet the speakers, we would have lost something important.
We keep a hard line on static slides without music or video. We’ve made an exception for music a few times (Ignites #1 and #4 come to mind) but Ignite should be about a person sharing their idea personally, not taking time to show something prebuilt. As a bonus, this simplifies the tech issues enormously, but the core reason is to force the presenter to be the center of the talk.
Props & teams during presentations
We discourage this heavily for the same reasons as above, but have made some exceptions like with music. It has to be integral to the talk. Done right the slides are prop enough, but many people don’t use them as effectively as they could.
We try to do 90% of the work by general rules we’ve set, but are always willing to consider exceptions. Nearly every Ignite has had at least one talk that has been non-standard in some way. We’d be stupid to leave out a great talk just because it was a little different.
Ignite should never be a popularity contest. Some people already get very upset when their idea isn’t selected, and we don’t want to make that worse. We keep the process public but the votes private. Perhaps one of the few absolute rules we have is that judges cannot disclose anything about the voting results.
Why Wasn’t My Presentation Chosen?
I hate this question, but get it every time. Since I don’t pick the presentations, I really can’t answer it. Sometimes it is just the way the voting falls, sometimes we just get a lot of submissions on one topic and it splits the votes. Often times the difference between the 18th (Made It) and 19th (Missed) presentation votes are a fraction of a percent. One time we had about 6 all clumped together, so often times it just becomes a lack of space. We encourage people to resubmit, but very few do.
Three Times In Tempe?
We hadn’t planned to stay in Tempe for a full year (Ignites 3-5) but we made an agreement with sponsors back during Ignite Phoenix 3 and wanted to honor them. Overall Tempe was very hospitable to use – the vast majority of the problems we had were related to the venue itself. Our plan now is to move around the Valley quite a bit more, but may still revisit venues if it makes sense. We don’t want to be in one location for a full year again.
Involvement & Input
Holy crap, SO many people work to make Ignite happen, from the core team that meets for a few weeks leading up to it, to the volunteers who help the night of the event. We welcome anyone to jump in and grab a role and put their stamp on it, but we give preference to people who are really involved. We watch a lot of the general community feedback and take it to heart, but sometimes topics are a lot more complex (and sometimes stupid) than people realize so we don’t always react to public comments. I’ve lost track of the number of times I’ve invited someone to devote hours to make a change they proposed and they are never heard from again.
Having wifi is a priority for us in all future venue selections, or at least not having a venue that blocks 3G and cell connections. Many people use their phones and other devices to tweet and connect during the events, so wifi may not be a deal breaker. We want people to be able to share and talk about the presenters on the back channel, and believe me – our frustration on this topic may exceed that of any attendee to date.
Charging for Tickets
As Ignite grew, managing the tickets against reservations became a real challenge for our volunteers. Ignite #4 used Eventbrite and the reservations came through to us very spotty. Plus, no-shows on the free reservations were nearly 40%. It turned that out since the tickets were free, people just reserved a bunch even if they weren’t sure they could come. (I’ve learned since then this is a common issue that events face.
If we have a venue box office do it, they charge a handling fee we can’t get around. Our solution for #5 was to set a price ($5) that ate the fee, gave us some revenue, and set the bar just high enough that people wouldn’t grab tickets unless they were fairly sure they would come. It worked much better, but shifted the problem to the 100 free tickets we held back to give away that night – people heard we were “sold out” so didn’t drive down to claim them.
To be crystal clear on a related point, nobody makes a profit on Ignite. Nobody draws a salary or is in any way directly compensated for their time. All money – from sponsors and tickets – goes to pay the expenses tied to the event. Money coming in from tickets just helps reduce our need for getting sponsors. Ignite still costs money to put on.
Our plan for Ignite #6 is to put all tickets on sale, except for the free ones that sponsors and presenters receive. We think this is the best balance between reducing load on our volunteers, and ensuring that anyone who wants to attend that evening can plan accordingly without having to show up way in advance to wait in line.
There have been several topic specific, mini-Ignites over the past year, with the most notable being the Intel sponsored Developer Ignite, and the Ignite High School hosted by Carl Hayden High School. We love these, and our hope is to have a few more of them each year, but not a flood so it overwhelms people.
We ask that some basic rules be followed, mostly around transparency, and that we cross-promote, but then let the mini-Ignite find its own style and voice. I think this is a great way to leverage the brand of Ignite Phoenix, and have new ideas and methods feed back into the overall event. I love having the mini-Ignites have a different look and feel, and I hope to see a few more of these in 2010.
Blah blah blah…
Well, I still seriously suck on the brevity angle. I held this back to try and edit it, but these are really all questions I get. It seemed dumb to make a series about it, so I’ll just put them all out there and discuss any that people find interesting. I still have a post in mind about how to improve Ignite, which hopefully I’ll still get out this week.
Related articles by Zemanta
- Event Planning Online: 14 Essential Social Media Tools (mashable.com)
- Credit Where Credit is Due (horsepigcow.com)
- Phases of Online Community Building (socialfish.org)
Brandon Franklin says
I don’t have a lot to add here. I just want to chime in and say that I’m VERY glad we’re going to put ALL the tickets on sale next time. Big thumbs up to that idea.
Chuck Reynolds says
Nice writeup… nothing much I didn’t know from being involved early on and talking to you since and nothing really to add but it’s good to see you write it all out so everybody can get a grasp on the genesis of the event and the growing pains it goes through. Putting on an event is one of the hardest all-around tasks to handle and from the outside looking in, people just don’t understand as they can’t see the whole picture.
Al Putman says
#5 was my first Ignite. I knew that it was sold out but drove up after work anyway and scored a free ticket. Lucky me.
Alan Dayley says
I agree with Jeff here. I’m a big fan of small. Big events with 1,000+ people can be amazing. A great band, a sports team or something like that can project their presence into a huge audience. That can transmit energy, re-enforced by the crowd. But such events rarely result in learning and making personal connections. Small groups of good people can produce great things. Ignite events, in my opinion, are not more valuable if they are too big. Maybe I’m wrong and it would be interesting to test that someday.
The Ignite format is powerful. The focus it forces on the presenter focuses power of the message to the audience. Props, teams, videos and other stuff pose a high risk to this focus. It’s very scary to stand there and present without a crutch, just slides that don’t adjust. But that is what makes the topic so compelling!
I have voted several times for the Ignite events. It is a grand learning process about myself and about humility. Every time I have voted, I’ve had at least one of my top picks make it to the presentations. And every time several I really wanted did not make it. The voting has been very balanced and resulted in a great mix of topics. We need to keep doing that!
One final comment on the voting: The way the voting is conducted prevents gaming or artificial inflation of specific presentations. The submission description either connects with the judges or doesn’t. This is VERY valuable to the event. The people submitting can rest assured that there is no playing of favorites. And if your idea is not selected, that is not a condemnation. Mostly it’s the difficult line in the crowded middle imposed by the limited number of presentation slots.
The question I have heard over and over again is “Why isn’t Ignite Phoenix in Phoenix?” The answer is very simple: We have not yet found a suitable venue willing to work with us to make the event happen in Phoenix. It’s not for lack of looking, contacting and asking around. The biggest killers seem to be cost and policies. The non-profit and volunteer nature of the event requires that the venue help to make things affordable and workable. Most venues cannot or will not bend.
That’s fine with me. To me this event is about building community. The venue needs to be willing to support this goal to be worthy of hosting. Venues (and entities that control them) that don’t want to contribute, self-select as not part of the energy. If you know a place and the people willing to work with us, let us know. We will run it down!
A-W-E-S-O-M-E! The ushers? A-W-E-S-O-M-E-S-T!
I could write a book full of intrigue, surprise, boredom and details you never knew you never knew. It is soo important to me that the event be as close to no-cost as possible. I worked with the other volunteers to make it happen at no-cost. And we succeeded! But the volunteer and community cost is too high to do it that way as soon as tickets are required. A low price ticket really is needed, not to fund the event but to pay for the ticket services. The weight off the volunteers when we don’t have to worry about distributing tickets is huge. Thank you to the community for paying that fee in support of the volunteers, because that is really what the price supports.
Do them! No, really, if you have any desire at all to do a themed or special or smaller or whatever Ignite, tell us. We will help. We want the the power of this format to spread and trigger more and more creativity in all fields. Drop us a line and we’ll work it together!
Thanks, Jeff, for pushing and pulling the community to new heights!
Jana Knapp says
Jeff – great post. And Alan had great additions.
The other thing I want to mention is the importance of our sponsors. We can’t emphasize enough that charging for tickets doesn’t really pay for anything other than the venue to handle the tickets.
Ignite happens because we have amazing support from the local business community. Because people believe that Ignite has value. That is both thrilling and humbling. And I can’t say thank you enough.
Jeff Moriarty says
Thanks for the comments!
@Brandon – Putting the tix on sale is going to lower a lot of people’s blood pressure – including mine!
@Chuck – It makes all the difference seeing what goes on behind the scenes. I forget sometimes that what’s clear to me about Ignite looks like random weirdness to people who aren’t as involved.
@Al – I’m glad you did, and hope you come back for more! 🙂
@Alan – Double that on the volunteers. They step up every time to make the event rock!
@Jana – We are very luck to have such great businesses locally that will pitch in to make an event like Ignite happen. It’s really amazing!