Lightning talks are a brilliant way to harness and share internal and external expertise. If you’ve participated in a research or design sprint before, then you’ll know how powerful a good lightning talk can be. Done right, they should inspire and inform “how might we” brainstorming sessions, as well as help energise and align participants.

Whenever we facilitate a sprint, we spend quite a bit of time planning lightning talks. We’ll then work with presenters on their scripts and slides. The time invested in this is always well worth the effort, as the benefits can be huge.

Outputs from a successful how might we brainstorm

What is a lightning talk?

A lightning talk is a short, they tend to be 5-mins, but can be up to 15-mins, presentation that should provide participants with a broad overview of a topic. They’re deliberately fast-paced as the aim is for each lightning talk to be as informative and engaging as possible within this tight time constraint. Unlike a traditional presentation, it’s not about depth or comprehensiveness.

A lightning talk is more about providing a rapid overview of a highly relevant to the purpose, objective, and goals of your sprint.

As the underlying idea behind lightning talks is to compile a number of different speakers, each of whom will cover a different topic. So, participants get a broad overview of a range of relevant perspectives, opinions, and insights, as rapidly as possible.

Why do lightning talks?

A lightning talk in progress

As mentioned, lightning talks are a really useful, and time-efficient, way to share knowledge and insights. But perhaps most importantly they provide you with the opportunity to:

How we plan lightning talks

First, we’ll establish the objective and desired outcomes for a sprint. Without this, you just won’t know what topics will be relevant. Once the objective is defined, we’ll then brainstorm a list of topics that participants should have a shared understanding of, may not be familiar with, and/or require a fresh perspective on. We’ll ruthlessly prioritise these. As you simply can’t cover everything,

Once we’ve got a short-list of topics, we’ll then try to source speakers. It’s best to adopt this approach, as opposed to letting who’s available, or willing, dictate this. We’ll contact people as early as possible asking them to speak, so that they have as much lead time as possible. When we do this, we try to provide as the following information up-front:

The key thing is, give senior stakeholders and external participants as much notice as possible. It will result in a higher acceptance rate, and better lightning talks!

Prepping speakers and practising lightning talks

Once someone says yes, it is critical to keep in touch and ensure they have everything they need. If possible, always try and get a preview of the talk and the slides to be used. Offering practice runs is a great way to do this. That way you can ensure every speaker is delivering clear and informative talks that are focussed on a different topic, perspective, or insight.

Remember the point of the lightning talks is to prime participants and help ensure the sprint delivers the maximum value. So, be honest and direct with your feedback – even with senior or external stakeholders!

Here’s some of the key tips we share with speakers

Enhance lightning talks with artefacts and sources of further information

Example of an artefact produced for an Innovation Festival

If you’d like to share additional relevant information or can’t cover everything you want to in your lightning talks, consider these fallback tactics:

Lighting talks aren’t just for day 1

Sometimes availability means you just can’t get the people you need on the day you need them. This doesn’t have to be a blocker. We’ve run sprints where we’ve kicked off each day with a different set of lightning talks.

We’ve also deliberately integrated them within certain days/steps in the process as they were likely to be highly relevant to the point at which we were likely to be. So, it’s always useful to be flexible, reactive, and accommodative as possible, if it means getting the inputs you need.

Helping participants get the most out of your lightning talks

To get the most out of your lightning talks, and in turn ensure participants are as primed as possible for your how might we brainstorm consider sharing Points of View templates or Lightning talk note taking worksheets with participants. These are really simple tools that help participants jot down notes or points of interest throughout the lightning talks. We tend to use the following column headings: User, Need, Insight. They don’t have to be completed dogmatically, they’re just used to capture and log key points.

User, need, insight - Points of View Worksheet Template
Example of a simple Points of View worksheet

Obviously, a scrap of paper would do for this, but the beauty of these templates is that they really help participants start to form solid how might we’s. What do we mean by solid? Well, a good how might we, should always detail the:

Whether or not, you decide to use the templates, we’d always recommend reminding participants to jot down things they find of interest. As by design lightning talks are rapid and should cover a broad range of relevant topics. So, it’s easy to forget things, unless you log them.

It’s all about the planning

To conclude, lightning talks can be incredibly useful! But to make sure they are, you need to invest time in the planning process. Done right they’ll enhance your sprint and ensure you and your participants deliver more informed, and better outputs.

Need assistance planning a sprint process?

Contact us to discuss your desired outcomes with one of our senior consultants.

François Roshdy

François is director of user experience at Border Crossing UX. He specialises in helping clients continuously improve the experiences they deliver.