Ignite: A Reminder of Childhood Curiosity

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There is a certain enigma surrounding the Ignite events. What is Ignite? It’s a fast paced evening where speakers have 5 minutes and 20 powerpoint slides to share an idea with a crowd. Many people ask me why speakers do it, and many others ask what people look for when they attend an Ignite event.

It’s true that the Ignite Fall event held last week at Gorilla Tango was completely sold out a week before the event, and the speakers had not yet even been announced. Clearly people did not care about the topics covered in the event series. So what did they care about?

As an Ignite organizer, I get to be at the intersection of connecting speakers and audience members to create a memorable experience. Yet for all the hours I put into planning Ignites, I don’t see a penny for my labor. People often ask me the same question posed above: Why do I do it?

The answer lies in the contrast between reality and contrivance. Many people live their corporate lives from day to day and only dream of the cool things they could accomplish if only they…didn’t have whatever it was stopping them. A distaste for contrivance stems from prolonged exposure to the “real world,” a world where others’ expectations are met and money is made without the question of happiness or passion.

The reality is that many people choose not to go the contrived route, instead pursuing their passions and at the end of the day, are not considered crazy at all. Take for example, the Joggler, a speaker at Ignite who proselytized the joy of joggling (juggling and jogging at the same time). Why joggle? Because it is a fantastic form of exercise, a feat of unparalleled coordination, but most importantly, it puts smiles on the faces of passerby. One cannot help but smile at the absolute joy of such a pursuit…one that is so genuine, it is a jewel among the mundane we come to know as “practicality” and “the real world.”

This idea explains the global success behind events like Ignite. Although there are practical reasons for speaking and attending (great public speaking experience, networking opportunities, etc) almost everyone who participates is driven not by the practical reasons, but the intangible drive to be genuine. Ignite reminds people of their childhood curiosity, a time where they had no inhibitions and could pursue any idea in the name of imagination.

Over 100 people filled the intimate theater space, some munching on pizza while others looked over the program of 14 speakers. Topics covered varied from gaming, to body image, to fonts, and real estate.  Throughout the evening a wide variety of emotions were experienced by speakers and audience members alike, and quickly since each presentation was only 5 minutes long. However, the connecting factors were the nervous excitement of the speakers as well as genuine interest from the audience.

People come to Ignite to be inspired, they come to open their imaginations and think about their own unique stories. They wonder if they would have the guts to be onstage the next time, and what their topic would be in such a short but compelling format.  What would you talk about if you had an idea and only 5 minutes to share it with the world?

Note: Videos of each talk will be posted on the Ignite website in the next couple of weeks.

Stella Fayman is passionate about startups and Chicago. She works for Chicago startup FeeFighters.com, the place where businesses compare credit card processors. In addition to planning Ignite, Stella also volunteers for the Future Founders program, mentoring high school students in underserved areas. Catch Stella on her blog or twitter.