Ignite Asheville draws crowd with concise presentations

by Joanna Woodson – jwoodson@unca.edu – Staff Writer

Enlighten us, but make it quick – this was the motto of Ignite Asheville.

People with a forward-moving message came to Ignite and gave a five minute speech that embodied the most basic ideas of the message. This was the second year Asheville ignited, and it was a huge explosion, according to attendees.

“Ignite started in Seattle in a coffee house. It’s a very programmed format. It is a five minute talk with 20 slides, and a slide advances every 15 seconds. Now people are doing it all over the country, and I believe all over the world,” said Michele Swicegood, the director of volunteers and presenter liaison for Ignite.

Twelve speakers brought Ignite back at Highland Brewing’s tasting room. Each person who spoke had previously uploaded a video of what they wanted to say during their five minutes and the Asheville community voted on 10 people they wanted to speak. The directors of Ignite chose the last two.

As popular as Ignite Asheville was last year, it nearly doubled in attendance this year.

“This year we chose a larger venue and we are going to be well over 400 people,” said Swicegood.

Last year’s event took place at the Grey Eagle with about 218 guests, and 60 had to be turned away at the door.

“When I took over I really started looking for things that bring creative people together and entrepreneurs together, and so the first event we did last year sold out,” said Pam Lewis, the director of entrepreneurship. “That was really good validation that yes, this is a good thing that folks in Asheville want to do. So we moved it to a bigger venue.”

Even after moving to a larger venue, the show almost sold out. Talks ranged from the principles of priority and habit change, to rethinking dolphin language, to the adventures of a geek dad. The crowd voted for their top three favorite speeches. The audience voted Tom Heck the most popular speech. He spoke about the adventures of being a geek dad, and shared a few life lessons he learned through gifting his children with his passion for science and technology.

“Celebrate your geek tendencies. Don’t hide it. Share your love of geek with your kids.  We geeks are perfectly suited to share really cool life lessons,” he said in his speech.

Second place went to Jim MacKenzie whose speech was entitled, “Beam me up, Ringo: The fab four’s journey through rock music, the Jim Crow South and outer space.” He spoke about how fans remember the Beatles for many reasons, but usually not for being pioneers of integration.

“When they first came to America in 1964, they grew up idolizing these African-American musicians like Fats Domino, Chuck Berry and all of these guys,” MacKenzie said. “They said they weren’t going to play segregated shows. I think that’s a little-known story about the Beatles. Out of everything that they brought to the world, brought to music, brought to our lives, I think this is a little-known story that gets overlooked in all of the other Beatle mania.”

Mike Drinkuth took home third place with his speech on the five practices for lasting peace. He said his passion comes from a near death experience when he was eight, where he clinically died in the hospital for four minutes before being resuscitated.

“His goal is to enlighten people and to be a speaker, so this is just a step for him and that’s what he does as a writer,” said his wife, Diana Drinkuth.

There were other events associated with Ignite.

“We’ve got Sabor food bus selling food tonight. They’re Asheville’s very first food bus. Daniel Martinez is bringing that. We’ve been so supported by the Asheville community and our zillions of sponsors,” said Swicegood.

Aside from the drinks, food and prepared speeches, there was a bit of improvisation as well. Slideshow karaoke is a game played in the middle and the end of Ignite events. People who attend Ignite have the opportunity to sign up and give an improvised speech based on slides pre-made by the directors.

Some of the topics ranged from the importance of video games, a how-to guide for Facebook statuses and the significance of local food.

Hugo Munro said he loved all of the speeches, but there were a few such as the principles of priority that really stuck out to him.

“I came to ignite Asheville because there is always an interesting idea that I’ve never heard of,” Munro said.

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