"Which monkey do you want to be?"
Scientist and health blogger Rhonda Perciavalle is onstage at Playhouse on the Square, speed-talking her way through a five-minute presentation on how lifestyle can impact a person's genetics.
The slide behind her shows two monkeys, both the same age. The one on the left, fed a typical diet, looks sickly and balding. The one on the right, hypothetically underfed, has a lush mane and looks years younger.
The answer is clear. Until maybe right around dinnertime.
Perciavalle was one of 15 presenters at the inaugural Ignite Memphis last week. With 20 slides and five minutes to tell their stories, the presenters were urged to enlighten or entertain the 200-person audience but to "make it quick."
Presentations ranged from I Memphis blogger Kerry Crawford-Trisler telling the audience how to make an "I like you, but ..." mix tape to Computable Genomix CEO Brad Silver talking about the future of personalized medicine.
Mark Hackett from Operation Broken Silence had me thinking seriously about the world's water supply. And Perciavalle had me searching for a multi-vitamin.
Already, the event's organizers are planning to do a second Ignite in the spring.
"When you look at entrepreneurial hotbeds and, even more generally, cities of choice, they run these programs," says LaunchMemphis' Eric Mathews. "We wanted to bring something new to Memphis."
Ignite began in Seattle in late 2006 with a popsicle-stick bridge-building competition and 25 locals giving five-minute talks. Sine then, Ignite nights have been held in 100 cities worldwide. Online videos of the presentations — such as one from 2007 on how to buy a new car without getting screwed — have been viewed by hundreds of thousands of people.
LaunchMemphis has been thinking about doing an Ignite night for a few years and recently partnered with MemphisConnect to organize the event.
"This was an absolutely perfect opportunity to highlight what a truly remarkable, innovative city we have," MemphisConnect's Elizabeh Lemmonds says. "We wanted a broad spectrum of topics but also things that might not be told elsewhere."
Would-be presenters submitted applications, and a small committee chose them based on some loose criteria. Organizers also reached out to people they thought could give interesting talks.
"It is possible that a presenter won't live up to the application, and the presentation is a flop," Mathews says. "Thankfully, a crap presentation will only last five minutes — enough time to grab a beer."
(Global Ignite suggests local organizers pick a space that, first, has a bar. A stage with lighting and sound equipment is second on the list.)
Consultant Cardell Orrin presented "Confessions of a Reformed Non-Voter," about why people don't vote and why they should.
"I thought the other presentations were good," he says. "They went from straight serious to straight fun to in-between. I think the format lends itself to that."
Web designer Zach Whitten talked about technology singularity, or "the nerd rapture," and quite possibly coined the term Jesi for the plural of Jesus.
"It's always fun to get up in front of a group of people and rant," he says.
Even so, Whitten did several run-throughs of his presentation the night before.
"I love the format. People think it's so simple: I'll just get up there with 20 slides and just riff on it," Whitten says. "You have a slide advancing every 15 seconds. It takes a lot of practice and concentration."
Orrin says the format was more difficult than he thought it would be before he started preparing his presentation.
"I was never concerned about talking for five minutes. That goes by quick," he says, "but how do you drill down what you have to say to 20 slides, 15 seconds each?
"I had said all I had to say in five minutes, but I was only on slide 12."
It turns out five minutes is enough. It's easily accessible for those in the audience and, with 15 presenters, the program takes about the same amount of time as a movie. For presenters, having to edit to five minutes means hitting the most important ideas.
But more importantly, creativity grows with collaboration. Having a space to share ideas, even ideas about Internet space Jesi, seems an important element to propelling Memphis and the city's cultural life forward.
And maybe that starts with a single spark. That or a picture of some aging monkeys.
To view presentations from Ignite Memphis One, visit http://ignitememphis.com/igniteone.htm. LaunchMemphis' next event, held in conjunction with the Memphis Music Foundation and the Music Resource Center, will be the 48 Hour Music Launch starting November 12th.
To read more about this and other topics, visit Mary Cashiola's In the Bluff blog at memphisflyer.com/blogs/