Preparing a pecha kucha

Analogue stopwatch
20 slides advancing every 20 seconds

I spend a lot of time delivering workshops to researchers on a diverse set of topics – most of the time I will be waxing lyrical about the need to communicate research well. By that I mean in an accessible way. So inevitably I spend time trying to convince researchers of why they need to practice their presentation skills – to commit to taking risks in finding different ways to engage folks about the important work researchers do.

I’m obviously not the only one because there are others who want folks to challenge the conception that powerpoint presentations are inherently dull and boring affairs. Probably the best known example of this is a presentation format known as Pecha Kucha.

This is a fast paced format where the speaker is given 20 slides that automatically advance every 20 seconds that creates a maximum presentation length of 6 minutes and 40 seconds. Originally devised by architects Astrid Klein and Mark Dytham as a way of encouraging architects to stick to the point, it has become a global sensation. It has spawned a number of other similar formats, e.g. Ignite, all of which put a focus on telling an interesting story but just quickly.

I have never prepared and delivered a Pecha Kucha before so when asked recently to deliver one at the South West & Wales Vitae Good Practice Event, I thought I had better practice what I preached. I survived and wanted to share my experience of the challenges involved in preparing a pecha kucha.

Challenge #1. Pronunciation

One of the first things I learned is that I have been saying pecha kucha incorrectly! Looking at the spelling, my Western brain interprets the two words as having four syllables of equal length leading to one to pronounce it:

Peh – Cha; Koo- cha
 
However it is a Japanese term for “chit chat” and native speakers pronounce it rather differently; more like three syllables with an emphasis on the middle syllable.
 
Pe – Chak – cha 
 

Have a listen here to see what I mean.

Challenge #2. Storytelling

The best presentations are stories that get folks emotionally involved. This statement doesn’t often sit well with researchers with their caveats and verbose explanations of detailed investigation but really it is. I even spotted an article in a blog of the well respected academic journal Nature talking about this very point. So regardless of the topic, you have to think “what’s the story?” and regale it with some enthusiasm.

If we have a look at an example Ignite talk (20 slides advancing every 15 seconds!) by Scott Berkun, he says everything I want to about storytelling…

Challenge #3. Storyboarding

If you look at a few examples of pecha kucha, you’ll notice that the slides are mostly pictures. But before you go off hunting for gorgeous photos from around the internet…stop…and think. What are my key points I want to make? How am I going to turn that into a story?

Plan it out using a good ol’ pencil and paper – think about the ebb and flow of your story. Only then will you be in the right place to go looking for the pictures that act as an aid to your story. Remember, storytelling is everything.

Challenge #4. Timing

The slides automatically advance. This is scary because you feel a loss of control and that tends to make people speed up. So, remember you will probably lose your first and last slides to a variety of things – so condense down the message to its absolute key points. Why are you passionate, why should I care, how will this change things. There is also a temptation to keep looking at the slides to see when they change to the next one, often resulting in you pausing as it transitions. I think one should try to keep your story flowing and let the slides carry on – it’ll work out just fine!

Challenge #5. Imagery

It takes longer than you think to track down photo images that are the right fit. Things you need to consider are:-

  • don’t rip off someone else’s copyrighted material – sure go to Flickr and browse but use the advanced search to find images that allow for re-use (a creative commons licence)
  • You can buy royalty-free photos from a number of websites (e.g. iStockPhoto – this is where I buy many of mine from) – A little trick here is that these sites often offer a free photo of the week (worth knowing if you are building up a collection)
  • Use your own photos! Get out your camera and snap away – then there is no issue with copyright
  • Draw your own pictures either using software and importing it into your powerpoint or on paper then photographing as above. This can be a brilliant way of creating a story. See this example by Matt Harding (Where the Hell is Matt?)

Challenge #6. Rehearse. No really!

You do have to rehearse to check that you can tell your story in the time available – really you do!

So there are some hints and tips to be going on with. Have you had to give a pecha kucha? Can you share any tips?

General Researcher Development Folks Researcher Skills

Paul Spencer View All →

I'm a former researcher into the microbiology of the mouth who now runs a skills development programme for other researchers.

7 Comments Leave a comment

  1. Hello,

    I would like permission to use this post and embedded videos in a course that I am developing for Defense Acquisition University. The course in focused on engineering leadership and management. We are requiring students to deliver at least one presentation using the Pecha Kucha technique. Defense Acquisition University is the Department of Defense’s corporate training university for all the scientists, engineers, program managers, contract specialist, and others that support developing, producing, and acquiring systems for the U.S. military. Thank you for your consideration.

    Regards,

    Chris Robinson
    Professor of Systems Engineering
    Defense Acquisition University
    Christopher.Robinson@dau.mil

  2. Both the videos are on youtube – you’ll have to contact the owners of the videos for the source files as those videos don’t belong to me. I’ve merely embedded them into the blog post.

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