Last week we had our final meetup of the year at the And while there is much to write about how we went about organizing the event, engaging with the community or what we have in store for next year, the thing I want to talk about most is the lightning talk format.

Lightning talks are usually shorter talks (10 to 15 minutes, sometimes even less) with fewer or even no slides to accompany them. And while the concept in general is not new (Wikipedia dates the first lightning talks in the late 90s early 2000s), last week was the first time we applied the concept to a meetup.

In some communities lightning talks might be frowned upon, because they are often perceived as the equivalent of „an open mic“ at a meetup or conference - especially at the latter where people probably paid a ticket-fee and in turn (fairly) expect high quality content.

In my humble opinion that take is a bit short-sighted. I like to think of lightning talks as lowering the bar, while at the same time raising it. Let me explain that paradox:

Lightning talks are shorter and require less (or even no) slides, code demos, or any other form of supportive content. Thus they are lowering the barrier of entry. And that is intended.

It makes it feel less overwhelming and daunting for first time speakers to take that first step and get out there. But don’t be fooled. The same applies for experienced speakers (including myself here). Just because we have given long talks and presentations before doesn’t mean we necessarily want to go through that process all the time and for every topic. We too appreciate the chance of not having to prepare a huge slide deck just to be able to talk about a subject that might be near and dear to us.

Then of course there is the other side:

Lightning talks are shorter and allow for less (or even no) slides, code demos, or any other form of supportive content. Thus they are raising the barrier of entry. And that is intended.

Talking about a complex subject at length is easy. But breaking it down into a short, concise and capturing talk - without skipping on the important and necessary details - is not. It is not for nothing that famous French philosopher Pascal already noted in the 17th century that “I would have written a shorter letter, but I did not have the time“1. Hence, doing so well can be a challenge even for an experienced speaker.

So what I would like you to take away from this is: Whenever you see lightning talks listed on an agenda somewhere, don’t dismiss them right away. Instead take them for what they are - a format that can be challenging for all kinds of speakers. And a format that can be entertaining and educational - if only you let it.

  1. This quote in fact has been attributed to many great minds, but Pascal was the one I found most often. So take that with a grain of salt.