Lightning Talks at Avvo: where you learn anything and everything

by Diane Geurts

It’s a random Wednesday in February, and about 25 members of Avvo are packed into a conference room, standing a bit willy-nilly so that when we throw a punch, we won’t hit a colleague. Nika Kabiri, Director of Strategic Insights – and martial artist who currently trains in self defense –  is teaching us how to throw a proper punch. She starts with stance, describes how the power comes from the hips not from your arm, and has us practice each move separately. Five minutes later, we can all at least mime a good punch, if not land one.

Before we learned to throw a punch, we learned how to pour a beer with a perfect head. And next, we’re going to learn some tips and tricks to make backpacking amazing. Welcome to Lightning Talks.

Once a month, Puja Parakh, Senior User Experience Designer at Avvo, hosts hour-long “How To” events, with topics ranging from…well, anything. We’ve learned how to fold a fitted sheet, how to hunt for geoducks, how to be a beekeeper, how to come up with creative insults, how to meditate, and how to drum in 4/4 time. The only parameter: keep your topic within five to eight minutes. Everybody who is there to learn grabs a beverage, whether it’s water, beer or wine, and meets in the Alki conference room on the 14th floor.

Puja’s goal is hosting Lightning Talks is to build relationships. “I strongly believe that to have a professional relationship you need to have a great working relationship,” she said. “It gives people a common base.”

In one of the very first Lighting Talks that took place over a year ago, Puja taught people how to play roller derby. “I had everyone run around and learn to play the game that way,” she said.

Another goal of the talks is to encourage people to practice public speaking. Puja intentionally keeps the space small and intimate – technically the conference room seats 20 people – so that folks who wouldn’t normally be comfortable speaking to a group feel like they have an opportunity to do so in a friendly environment. It’s casual, with colleagues sprawled on the floor or in the window seats, basically wherever there’s room. And for now, Lightning Talks are limited to the product engineering and marketing teams, but only to keep the group from getting too large.

“I love the Lightning Talks because it breaks down the organizational silos and lets people see the awesome diversity of their fellow Avvo-ites,” said Kevin Goldsmith, Chief Technology Officer at Avvo. “I did a talk on my favorite Swedish phrases in my second month at Avvo and I think it was an awesome experience. It allowed people to see a side of me that they might never have seen otherwise.”

I’m actually up next to talk about backpacking. I don’t mind public speaking but I don’t love it, and I’m a little nervous about my topic: everyone in Seattle backpacks, or at least it seems that way. But a few minutes in, I’m not thinking about any of that. It’s just pure fun to share what I love with colleagues, and afterwards several of us hang out to talk some more.

Thanks Puja, for giving us Lightning Talks. We can’t wait for the next one.

To learn more about a career at Avvo, visit

Diane Geurts is on the Communications team and manages Inside Avvo.