Here’s what I learned from trying Pecha Kucha

I’ve written about Pecha Kucha-style presentations before (Pecha Kucha: PowerPoint presentations as performance art! and Want to be creative in your next presentation? Try Pecha Kucha-style!), but I’d never actually put one together until last week.

What is Pecha Kucha?

Pecha Kucha-style presentations are tightly structured presentations that require you to present on your topic using exactly 20 slides, each slide lasting only 20 seconds. The slides are generally set to auto-advance. The entire presentation is six minutes and forty seconds.

Pecha Kucha Lessons Learned

I had an opportunity to serve as the emcee at this year’s ATD Puget Sound Chapter annual workplace learning conference. One of the breakout presentations was on the topic of Pecha Kucha-style presentations and, in the spirit of showing participants one potential way to apply what was learned during the day, I thought it would be fun to issue a closing call-to-action using the Pecha Kucha format.

Here is a video of my presentation, and a few lessons learned:

Lesson #1: Pecha Kucha seems simple… but it’s not a simple presentation to put together.

At first, I was excited that I only needed to come up with 20 slides for my presentation. As I looked at my message, I realized it might be a struggle to try to come up with a whole deck of 20 slides. Putting together a tight narrative within the 20 slides/20 seconds per slide structure is definitely a challenge.

Lesson #2: This requires a lot of practice.

When I first suggested the idea to conference planners, I thought it would be fun. And then I set about preparing the presentation and not only did it take a lot of work to design the slides and sync the timing of animations, it took a ton of practice. I probably rehearsed five or six times the night before and another ten times on the day of the presentation in order to refine my messaging and to keep the timing tight.

Lesson #3: High risk, high reward means high risk!

I love getting the audience involved in my presentations, even if it’s only six minutes and forty seconds long. I thought it would be fun to use a PollEverywhere poll at one point in my presentation. You don’t see it on the video, but prior to the start of this presentation I prepared the audience and had them ready to submit an answer to a poll question that would come toward the end of my presentation. They were warned, they were ready, and when it came to the slide that was supposed to have my poll question… nothing happened. It was a blank white slide. I had mentally prepared for this possibility and in the moment I just asked people to shout out some answers. It would have been much cooler to get everyone in the hall involved, but high risk means I needed a backup plan and I was glad I had one.

Lesson #4: Be Ruthless.

At the end of last year, I made a one-word resolution: ruthless. (It’s not as Machiavellian as it sounds). As I was rehearsing this presentation, I realized that not all of my stories or examples could fit within a 20-second window before my slide advanced and I needed to get to a new topic. As I calibrated my stories and examples, I realized it was a tighter narrative, a better story, a better experience for the audience. I may have missed out on telling some of my favorite stories, but my audience didn’t miss those stories. While it may be a while before I prepare another Pecha Kucha-style presentation, I think this lesson – how to ruthlessly prioritize content in order to keep the presentation tight and relevant – will live on in future presentation design.

Have you ever been daring enough to try a Pecha Kucha-style presentation? Would you ever give it a whirl? Why (or why not)? I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comment section below.

10 thoughts on “Here’s what I learned from trying Pecha Kucha

  1. Hi I am an avid follower of yours in fact it is the only blog that I subscribe to

    I am just back from delivering a Train the Trainer programme in Kenya to field workers working for a large NGO delivering vital aid across East Africa. It never occurred to me that training could actually save lives.. until now.
    Sure it can improve management, help us to manage our time or stress more effectively, but save lives?
    One of my delegates was charged with delivering Cholera prevention training – and this was my light bulb moment.. if he is able to deliver effective ‘sticky’ training then less people will die possibly 100’s maybe 1000s . Now that’s worth getting out of bed for!
    Diane Conway
    Humanitarian Academy For Development
    Birmingham
    UK

    • Hi Diane – thank you so much for your kind words, and for your important work. You’re spot on – training (when done correctly) can be life changing/life saving, especially in the context in which you’re working.

      I’ve worked in the NGO sector and nowhere is it more clear – the importance of effective training – than in some of the work I did there. More effective training for me meant more people could see (curing blindness) and more families had access to opportunity (microfinance). Even in the world where the consequences are quite life and death, when people can do things new or differently or better in their day job, it just makes life a little better.

      Thanks for reading… I hope to hear more about your work and how any of the thoughts from this blog might be helpful!

  2. Well done Brian – you make it look easy. I think I would have frozen when the pollev slide didn’t come up. Finding adequate prep time is what would keep me from attempting this method.

    • Thanks Casey!

      The prep was definitely needed, and intense… and totally worth it. It was fun and it’s a bit magical to have it all come together.

      If you have a chance, find the time… I dare you! 🙂

  3. I just attended a Pacha Kucha event in Charleston, part of the international P-K evening. This was my first experience although I have read a lot about it. My observation was it was not important to talk fast to get your message across in 20 seconds. Instead if you had a compelling and emotional message to go along with a compelling and emotional image the impact was greater. Humor and showing a real part of your self was also important. These happened to all be artists and some who were more esoteric tended to lose me in their ramblings.

    • I think that’s spot on… the goal isn’t to jam everything into a 20 second slide, but rather find the story that can be told.

      Unless of course you have technical difficulties and need a few seconds to think of Plan B and still want crowd participation… then you may need to talk fast!

  4. I love going to Pecha Kucha events and seeing what others are showcasing! I haven’t done one myself yet, but may get there eventually. I did use some of this concept in a 2-day training I hosted this summer for all of our state staff. I used mostly, probably 80-90% picture-only slides, and talked about the content from my notes and my brain 🙂 I believed it helped the audience focus on me, my words, and the ideas without having anything to read to distract them from my message. I know that’s just how to give a better presentation overall, but P-K is what inspired me to do it b/c P-K is very strict about having no words. That being said, you’re right – it took WAY MORE PREP to have my messages, stories, questions, notes and talking points prepared when there isn’t anything cue-ing me on any slides. I liked this much better than my traditional presentation style that I’ve been trying to perfect, but now I know I’ll have to leave myself a lot of time to be prepared. But it’ll be worth it!

    • That’s exactly it – while the 20×20 structure is a challenge and it was pretty fun to finally work on one and deliver one, the more important thing here is what transfers over into my day-to-day presentation design.

      The work it takes to simplify a presentation is hard… and sooooo important. Who wants to stare at a deck of 250 text-heavy slides? The principles of P-K are extremely transferable to any presentation!

  5. Well done Brian. I had to watch this twice since I was watching that gorgeous jacket the first time through. 😉 I love how you continue to challenge yourself to explore and learn new things.

    Hollah!

    • Thanks Scott!

      The jacket was just to try a little misdirection of attention in those times that I wasn’t quite on with the 20 seconds per slide.

      It was a lot of fun… even more fun when wearing the jacket!

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