The idea is that the conference provides a series of sequential 5 minute presentation slots with only one strict requirement: the talk must be 5 minutes or less. This has some interesting effects . . .
For the speaker . . .
- It creates a sense of urgency because they must make their point(s) quickly
- It lowers the barrier to entry for seasoned and newbie speakers alike - most 5 minute talks can be prepared more easily than 1 hour talks. It's less intimidating to prepare for a 5 minute presentation.
- New types of talkes can be considered - A speaker can talk about some things that are more appropriately sized to a 5 minute presentation (a new idea you're just beginning to explore, a novel approach they need some feedback on, a quirky language behavior discovery or a rant on why they think something is a good/bad idea).
For the audience . . .
- The speaker must really focus on getting their point across quickly.
- If the speaker is boring or the subject is not as interesting as anticipated, there is an easy-out: just wait 5 minutes.
- It gives you quick exposure to variety of speakers and topics in a short time frame.
I suspect a portion of the popularity of this idea essentially a 'market reaction' (a) getting stuck in long, boring, [often slide-driven] presentations (see [here]) and (b) people wanting to stay aware of the shear abundance of interesting topics and techniques being discussed.
Supplementing a conference with a one or more sessions of 'Lightning Talks' seems to be a win-win for the speaker and the audience.
The open space-based conferences have also been gaining some traction in technical communities. This looks like a fun one to be sure. Now if I could just figure out how a half day of ski-ing will help improve my [software development] agility . . .