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Thursday, April 22, 2010

IgniteSD #1: Building Community Around the Storytelling Fire

Would you believe that on a gorgeous spring evening—60 degrees, no South Dakota wind to blow bikes slantwise, trees blooming, new green everywhere declaring anything possible—62 people came to a diner to watch visual aid speeches?

The inaugural IgniteSD event at Cottonwood Bistro in Brookings last night had nine speakers on the schedule. I drove up after supper, practicing madly behind the wheel, visualizing the merciless flip of my slides, and wondering if I was overdoing it. Nine speakers... we might outnumber the people who come to listen. There were no famous names on the program—heck, what program? Just a start time and a list of speakers. I could easily envision getting all worked up just to talk to my eight fellow speakers, Scott and John Meyer's mom, and a few confused late diners who just wanted a sandwich and a beer.

Mrs. Meyer was there. So was a pretty big crowd. A young crowd. People who wanted to learn something new. People who wanted to try something new. People who wanted to be enriched by the ideas and experiences of their neighbors.

And more than a few people who, like me, define neighbor as pretty much anyone living in South Dakota.

Yes, I had fun giving my speech (even as Megan's Mac ate my fonts!). Yes, I will occasionally brag that, if nothing can go down in history as the first person to give an Ignite talk in South Dakota. (Why yes, I think I will add that to my résumé. ;-) )

But even if I hadn't taken my turn at the mic, I'd have still come away charged up by the Ignite experience. Without any coordination of topics, nine neighbors from Brookings, Sioux Falls, and Madison put together an MTV-Chautauqua, a whirlwind of speeches and images about their passions. Blogging, astronomy, wedding officiation, journalists and interviews, family stories, tea, customer service, Norway, and intuition. We gathered like a tribal council around an electronic fire stoked with our visions and metaphors, taking in stories declared worth sharing not by some chief or shaman, but by our equals, by people just like us. We told each other, even the good folks not on the roster, Your story matters. Tell it. With passion.

I suspect more people will come do exactly that at IgniteSD #2. Less than 24 hours later, I'm still dialing down the adrenaline from #1, and folks in Vermillion, Sioux Falls, and Madison are already angling to host #2 (and I'm not the only Madison angler).

Ignite talks are a great way to build community. We see in each other's eyes not just good ideas and valuable experiences, but a passion behind them. We see we don't have to be quiet Midwesterners and aw-shucks-t'ain't-nothin' our interests. We see our neighbors doing interesting things, and we inspire each other to do more, to live more. We learn, as John Taylor Gatto might say, that good ideas and passions are like dirt: they're everywhere, right here, in our neighborhood. We just have to get up and share them with our neighbors, our fellow South Dakotans... who really are this darned cool.

Update 2010.04.23 07:50 CDT: The Displaced Plainsman reminds us Ignite talks beat the snot out of prom: less planning, more enriching. Ignite talks may also intersect with Richard Florida's thinking... discuss!

Heather had fun, too. :-)


  1. Yes, we're got an angle to make Madison #2, hate to have Brookings get all the attention, and we want it more too! (I kid Brookings)

    MTV Chautauqua? Maybe the igniteSD Madison could be sponsored in part by the Madison Area Arts Council Chautauqua Series, now's that's a start to bringing things back around!

    Let's steal #2 away from those cities to the Southeast and that other one to the south too, we've got all the energy you'd ever need in the new fresh ideas and faces of the new Madison!

  2. Thanks for participating! It was a delight to get the Ignition started.


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