ABlogAbout: Pecha Kucha

Recently at the Learning 2007 Conference, I had the opportunity to try out the presentation style called Pecha Kucha. A few notes about it, courtesy of the fine contributors on Wikipedia:

Pecha Kucha (ペチャクチャ?) or Pecha Kucha Night is a presentation format in which (mostly creative) work can be easily and informally shown.

The name derives from a Japanese term for the sound of conversation (“chit-chat”).

The idea behind Pecha Kucha is to keep presentations concise, the interest level up and to have many presenters sharing their ideas within the course of one night. Therefore the 20×20 Pecha Kucha format was created: each presenter is allowed a slideshow of 20 images, each shown for 20 seconds each. This results in a total presentation time of 6 minutes 40 seconds on a stage before the next presenter is up.

The 20×20 format of Pecha Kucha is now also being adopted in the business world, with some company internal business presentations being run in a strict 6 minutes 40 seconds, with all discussion and questions held to the end of the presentation. This is primarily a device to help timebox presentations, force presenters to be more focused in their message, allow them to flow uninterrupted, and ultimately to avoid the “death by powerpoint” syndrome, of sitting through long and often tedious powerpoint presentations.

My experience was nerve-wracking. I don’t usually get terribly nervous doing presentations. I do them fairly often – some better than others, of course. But trying this new format out really shook me up. I did not have a “deep” topic to discuss, as did other participants. What I did, instead, was titled “20 random images by Allison Anderson.” I think the title pretty much sums it up. Each slide contained an image that I had available on my laptop. Things I liked, images I thought were compelling or worthy of 20 seconds individually. But meaningful? Not so much.

Other presenters were much more on top of things. Images that were touching (living through a natural disaster), topical images (learning for non-profits), images that were thought-provoking (three religions co-existing in Jerusalem). Mine? Well, I leave you to try to find the story line in my slides. I did come up with one, but it was a stretch.

 At any rate, the actual presentation went very well, due mostly in part to my experience as a performer. I was funny where I could not be deep. In the end, I was quite excited about the possibilities.

First-timers should know a few things:

  1. 20 seconds is longer than you think if you don’t know what you are talking about.
  2. 20 seconds is shorter than you think if you are very excited about the topic.
  3. images are powerful and memorable – choose wisely.
  4. you can tell a very detailed story in 20 slides with 20 images.
  5. at 6:40 you can keep the attention of your audience – again, use your time wisely, for they will be paying attention.
  6. remember to breathe
  7. the beer helps

Thinking about how to adapt it to the corporate environment, I’ve decided the best introductory use is the ever-popular ice-breaker/warm-up activity. In any given team, you are likely to have people that hate talking, and those that will talk for an hour if you’ll let them. Pecha Kucha levels the playing field. It takes some of the pressure off the shy ones and puts some pressure on the wind bags that like to hear themselves talk.

I’m usually a big fan of open presentations with lots of discussion. In fact, like to interrupt presentations for questions myself, and I expect the same when I present out. However, it’s very easy to get too wrapped up in slide 5, when the meat of the discussion needs to be on slide 15. PK is a great method for getting the whole message out, and then coming back around for discussion.

I also agree with the point on Wikipedia about the “death by powerpoint” syndrome. PK is lively, it moves along, AND, it is simple. 20 images. Images only. Tell the story. I don’t need another slide with 18 bullet points on it.

I can even imagine this working in a canned format, as a way to structure a short module, or as your first pass for a longer presentation. Put your 20 topics up there visually, and see where it is impossible to tell the story in 20 seconds. Is that because you are rambling? Is the messge not succinct? Or is this an area that truly needs a deeper dive?

If anyone out there has used PK in a corporate setting, leave a comment and tell me how you used it, and whether it worked!

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4 thoughts on “ABlogAbout: Pecha Kucha

  1. I recently organized a pecha kucha-style event called Ignite Portland (http://www.igniteportland.com). It was a smash success and tons of fun. We had 300 people attend. We’re planning on doing them quarterly. There have been Ignite events in other cities, too – Seattle, SF, and one coming up in Chicago. You should check them out, and come present at one! 🙂

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