I just got back from a series of lightning talks hosted by Site3 CoLaboratory.
What is a lightning talk?
Think of it as a TED talk in fast-forward.
Toronto has a lot of very cool people doing a lot of very cool things. The problem is that most of these people don’t know each other; they don’t know about each other’s work. Wouldn’t it be great if all these interesting people got together one night, gave a 5 minute presentation introducing the work they are passionate about, then they all stuck around for an after party where they could all talk to each other, and actually share ideas and contact information? Well, that is exactly what a lightning talk is. Get cool people together, make them talk to each other.
If you want to get an idea of what Site3 is all about, they have a free open house on Thursdays nights where you can show up and light toilets on fire, or play with a laser cutter. You can learn the subtle difference between a “flame thrower” and a “flame effect”, talk to a professional film special effects guy, or play with a self-typing typewriter. It’s that kind of place. Its a collaborative workspace for those exploring the intersection between art and technology. They all love what they do, and they do it just ’cause it’s awesome. I love the enthusiasm and energy of this place. I find it far more refreshing and inspiring than the pretentious irony and cynicism that surrounds some of the fine-art circles.
I arrive at 7:00. I’m just in time to grab a seat. This is good, because I enjoy sitting down; it beats standing for a few hours. It’s a very informal event, with about 30 chairs laid out, a bar set up in the back, and a list of names written on a white board. Laptops line the front desk. Each person brought their own computer to use with the projector. This has me worried. Laptops and projectors usually mean powerpoint presentations. Oh no. I could be in for a terrible evening. Thankfully, this fear was unfounded. Creative people do creative things with their presentations, proving that Larry Lessig isn’t the only guy in the world who can do a powerpoint presentation well.
Their were a total of 10 presenters, covering a range of topics. No fancy sound system or lights, someone’s name would be yelled out, and they came up to the front, and gave the talk. Each speaker had a strict 5-minute time limit. Didn’t matter if you weren’t done, you were off the stage when the timer went. One fellow was stopped mid-sentence. Thats why they are called ‘lightning talks’ they don’t linger on, they happen quick, then they’re done.
This format has two big advantages. The first one is obvious – you don’t have time to get bored. Good ideas are flying at you so quickly, you don’t have time to get bored. The second advantage, and I think this is the truly important one, is the informal setup. There is no raised stage for the speaker, no back stage area separating the speakers from the audience. Speakers sit with the audience until its their turn, give their speech, then return to their seat (if the seat is still available, there was a lot of people standing around without one). This is important, because as an audience member, I don’t feel like the speakers are ‘above me’ or working on ‘another level’. We are all peers; we are just a bunch of guys hanging out, it just so happens that some gave talks, and others didn’t.
The topics were varied, some funny, some technical, some inspirational, some were accessible, some required exceptional expertise, and all were interesting. Watch out for these guys, it won’t surprise me when we see good things coming out of site3 over the next few years.