This is interesting: the Ecological Society of America Annual Meeting is going to include “Ignite” sessions. These are 1 hour sessions comprised of 5-minute talks on a common theme. Each talk has to have exactly 20 slides, which advance automatically every 15 seconds. There’s no time for questions after each talk. Instead, there’s a space nearby where presenters will gather after the session to interact with session attendees. For more on Ignite talks, including videos of them, go here.
I first heard of these talks from Rees Kassen, who gave such a talk at a global leadership conference in China a couple of years ago. As Rees put it to me, the idea of Ignite talks is basically to avoid “death by PowerPoint”. And although typical science conference talks aren’t nearly as deadly as, say, typical business presentations, I can certainly see a place for Ignite talks at the ESA meeting.
Obviously, Ignite talks are totally different from regular ESA talks. All you have time to do in an Ignite talk is give people the essence of one idea, and it has to be an idea that you can get across in a compelling way with slides that can be digested visually in 15 seconds each. That doesn’t mean you can’t have any data slides at all, but they’d have to be single-panel and instantly interpretable. And while I do think you want to coordinate your words and your slides to some extent–I don’t think you’d just want to talk for five minutes while random pretty pictures scrolled by behind you–there’s no way you can say one 15-second sentence about each slide. And while you obviously can’t go into any depth or technical detail on anything, I do think you need to somehow avoid being totally superficial. I think five minutes of empty platitudes illustrated by pretty pictures of your study organism would fall flat. One way to think of an Ignite talk is as an “elevator pitch”, designed to encourage people to come talk to you afterwards (the post-session interaction between speakers and audience is a key part of the whole “Ignite” idea).
In a way, I think these Ignite talks are to regular talks as Nature and Science papers are to regular papers.* For both, I think you need a single big, interesting idea, presented in a really incisive way that gets to the heart of the matter. Although I could also see using Ignite talks in other ways, for instance to announce to the world that you’re forming a working group or something and are looking for data sources and collaborators.
Scheduling of Ignite sessions is TBD, depending on the level of interest (note that you can give a regular talk in addition to an Ignite talk). Here’s my suggestion: put them on Monday morning! (unless the ESA is going to implement my suggestion to start the regular talks on Monday morning) I could see a few Ignite sessions being a really fun way to kick off the meeting.
To gauge interest, the ESA has put out a call for proposals for Ignite sessions. So you can’t just sign up to do an Ignite talk yourself–you need to come up with a topic, write a short proposal, and line up 8-10 speakers, much as with symposium proposals. Deadline for proposals is November 29.
Hmm, what to propose?…
*Or at least, how Nature and Science papers used to be to regular papers. Nature and Science papers used to be very different than regular papers–they told simple, clear-cut, and above all incisive stories. Nowadays, they often just function as extended abstracts for dozens of pages of online supplementary material. This is not an improvement. Yes, I am old and grouchy–so what?! Get off my lawn!