How to ‘Ignite’ Earth and Space Scientists

EarthzineArticles, Original, Technology

The Ignite AGU logo

The Ignite AGU logo“Ignite talks” are fast-paced, geek events started by Brady Forrest, technology evangelist for O’Reilly Media, and Bre Pettis of, formerly of MAKE Magazine. Speakers prepare 20 slides, each shown for 15 seconds, giving each speaker 5 minutes of fame.
In order for this concept to work, there are a few key lessons learned from a recent session at the Fall American Geophysical Union (AGU) Meeting in San Francisco:

• Pick a topic you are passionate about and put a creative spin on it. Ignite talks push the boundaries. They are more visionary, provocative, inspiring and entertaining than a traditional oral presentation;
• 1 slide = 1 idea. Use images and graphics. Slides should be compelling and grab the audience. Do not try to put multiple concepts on a single slide. Fifteen seconds goes faster than you think;
• Practice! Fifteen seconds also can go slower than you think. Because the slides auto-advance, you have to get into the rhythm of the talk. This will not happen on your first try.

Many Ignite events allow the presenters to choose their topic, but for Ignite@AGU, we wanted the presentations to align with NASA’s Applied Sciences Program and connect science and research to real-world applications.
This was a broad enough window to bring together 18 presenters sharing a diverse range of topics from technical to socio-economic — from oceans to the atmosphere and disasters. The variety of experts had the desired effect of bringing together people from various focus areas. Many where quickly exposed to ideas and presenters that they would otherwise have never met.
The last distinction between Ignite@AGU and other oral presentations at AGU was that the talks were recorded and will be posted online at
Many left the event feeling like all presentations should follow the guidelines noted above. Try mixing it up at your next event with an Ignite session!
For more information, see “How to Produce an Ignite Event” at
Erin Robinson is the Information and Virtual Community Director for the Federation of Earth Science Information Partners (ESIP). Her current research interests include improving scientific collaboration by enhancing connections. This ranges from coordinating events, like Ignite, to developing collaborative web sites that integrate social media and sharing Earth observations through standard data access.