When I saw that Bainbridge Graduate Institute was going to offer yet another opportunity for students to flex some brainpower and get others excited about their passions, I knew I had to participate. As a business student, I wanted to use the opportunity to talk about something that makes a lot of sense for Washington State from an economic standpoint: a carbon tax. Given our budgetary woes, any reasonable source of revenue ought to be seriously considered. Revenue that can contemporaneously discourage rising GHG levels and encourage investments in transportation infrastructure should be doubly considered. Yes, this is the story I wanted to tell. The problem is, five minutes goes by really, really fast!
The Ignite presentation format barely gives you time to catch your breath. It’s mentally exhausting as an observer, to say nothing of trying to prepare one of these damn things. Twenty slides—15 seconds each—totaling five minutes of non-stop talking. There is plenty of great advice out there for a future Igniter: storytelling is everything; present what you love, what you hate, or what you’re good at; embrace the brevity; relax, the world is full of lousy speakers! What I didn’t find was guidance on building your lung capacity. Next time, I’ll practice by reciting my talk while running up the cable line on Tiger Mountain. Five minutes is enough time to make the case for your favorite Blizzard flavor at Dairy Queen, but in 300 seconds I was barely able to scratch the surface of the economic and social benefits of carbon taxation.
At the time I gave the talk, I was only loosely affiliated with the carbon taxation campaign that I presented about. My talk was more of a public endorsement of what—to my mind—is an inevitable economic reality. Since I didn’t have anything to sell, I was free to simplify. Although, it’s not like a carbon tax is completely without precedent. In 2008, our friendly neighbors to the north (British Columbia) implemented a similar policy. Since then, British Columbia has experienced the largest GDP growth in Canada accompanied by reductions in emissions. So yes, it is working for them and it could work for us. Telling the story was exciting, however my greatest takeaway was the opportunity to practice public speaking in a self-imposed, high-pressure environment.
At BGI, we’re all business students. An indispensible skill for the businessman or woman is succinctly and successfully communicating your idea, sometimes to a hostile crowd. Ignite BGI offered the luxury of a supportive audience, but didn’t skimp on the brevity. Self-advancing slides keep you moving along, so whatever your next thought is you must say it now and then move on. In Ignite, as in business, your audiences’ attention span is severely limited; capture their attention or someone else will.
BGI will provide more opportunities to give an Ignite talk. When they do, take them up on the offer! It’s free, fun, and deeply instructive on exactly how long five minutes can be.
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