Mastering lightning talks

Short and succinct presentations conveying a message crafted with flawless precision. Accompanied by a set number of slides shown for a limited time. Presenters pacing their speech to line up with perfection as the next slide appears. Lightning talks are like regular talks. Only on steroids.

3 min read


By Håvard Hvassing


December 4, 2020

Ripe with constraints, mastering lightning-talks requires focus and keeping out distractions. They should spark curiosity and even a sense of wonder and interest. Leaving your audience eager to find out more about this in their own.

Stay clear of the woods

Time is an obvious factor when it comes to lightning-talks, which means you will have to skip the deep dive into the nitty-gritty of things. That is not to say that lightning talks should be superficial. The presentation should still be substantive and worthy of the audiences time.


Limit yourself to a single idea or concept that you want to discuss and share with the audience. This will allow you to form a coherent argument about why this is important and engage your audience.

Sticking to a single idea or concept will make it easier to get to the point early on in your talk. Present your idea or concept, providing just enough background or context so that the audience will be able to follow you on your journey. The audience does not need to become experts on the topic, the allotted time does not allow for that.

"This talk is about [insert topic here], and how this will make the world a better place for [us/them/everyone]"

Designing for brevity and clarity

With limited time, and maybe a fixed number of slides, each of them must be designed with intent and focus. The slides should always support the story you are telling and enhance your message.

Consider what is the one thing you want your audience to take away from each slide. If you are using images, consider what connotations the audience will make of the imagery, or what feeling they will be left with.

Filling the slides with text is never a good idea, and even more so when it comes to lightning talks. You are running the risk of having the audience only reaching half-way down the slide before it changes. Be precise and terse when using text.

Some events will ask you to have slides change automatically after a given number of seconds. Prepare for it and use it to your advantage. When designing your slide deck, and in particular if you are using timed slide changes, the slides should allow for smooth transitions of your talk. Meaning that you should not have to stop talking mid-sentence because the slide changed.

On delivering the talk

Beware of the temptation to speed-talk. This is particularly true if you are still talking about the point made on the previous slide. If you start upping your pace, the audience will start stressing with you. The audience’s attention will shift from your message and to whether you will be able to get through everything before the next slide.

While it is tempting to think that “it’s just a few minutes”, rehearsing your lightning talk is key. Tuning your message and presentation to a perfect fit. The beauty of having a short amount of time is that you can rehearse several times.

Above all, enjoy the experience! The audience is rooting for you and are on your side.

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