A Dummy Guide to Creating and Giving a PechaKucha Presentation

20x20

You may have heard of the term “PechaKucha” and you are interested to learn more about the concept and how others have done it. Or, you might simply be required to do it in one of your classes or work meetings and you just want to get some tips. You’re in for a treat. In this blog entry, I intend to share with you my experience with PechaKucha presentations and some tips for planning and making one. I am also going to share with you an example of my own presentation.

I was first introduced to the idea of the PechaKucha (pronounced pe-charge-ka) presentation style in a classical rhetoric seminar at St. Cloud State University. The concept of PechaKucha is simple: 20 slides, 20 seconds per slide on auto-advancing mode. The idea was said to based off the Japanese “chit-chat” presentation format by shortening long presentations to 6 minutes and 40 seconds.

The presentation format was devised by Astrid Klein and Mark Dytham of Klein Dytham architecture. The first PechaKucha Night was held in Tokyo in their gallery/lounge/bar/club/creative kitchen, SuperDeluxe, in February, 2003. Klein Dytham architecture still organize and support the global PechaKucha Night network and organize PechaKucha Night Tokyo. (Excerpt from “Who Invented the Format?”)

Even though the idea was intriguing to me, I never really had the gut to do it, until last week. Along the final project in my visual rhetoric PhD seminar this semester, I was required to present my work to my classmates and instructor in the PechaKucha style. I have to say that the overall experience was rewarding, even though I was nervous from the time the assignment was given up to the second I stepped up to present. (Yes, teachers get butterfly stomach, too.)

Nonetheless, I documented my thinking and design process as I planned out my presentation, thinking that this would be a valuable resource for future students or people who are willing to experiment with this presentation style. So, here goes it:

  1. Think in perspective. It’s all going to end in 6 mins and 40 seconds, for better or for worse. If you miss a slide or an important note, you miss a slide or an important note! There’s not room to “make up” or try to “save” your presentation. A strong PechaKucha presentation is one that is well planned, organized, and edited. Think of it as writing down to a word count rather than writing up — you will need to pay close attention to cutting the fluff and getting straight to the point(s).
  2. Start by planning. Failing to plan is planning to fail, especially in a PechaKucha presentation. I have learnt that it takes great mental effort to outline one’s presentation — deciding what needs to be delivered (and what needs not), considering the “flow” of the presentation, choosing and putting together the content (text and images) of the presentation, and editing it. The following image shows my thinking steps: 1. Drawing the canvas. 2. Planning what content gets in the canvas. 3. Deciding which content comes first and where on the canvas.

PK planning

  1. Focus on the visual. But do so with an eye toward the overall consistency of the look and feel of presentation and how images can be used to support your claims, not to decorate your canvas. I came to realize, rather quickly, that it is tough for an audience to pay attention to a presenter going tutu-train speed (trying to finish his/her sentence before the next slide kicks in) while looking at the mind-boggling images on the slides. As you choose your visual, think like an audience, i.e.: Is this particular image related to my claim-at-point? How does this image work in relation to other images in my presentation? Does it take longer than a few seconds to understand or “decode” the image? Is the image going to distract my audience from my verbal presentation?
  2. It’s OK to add texts. I personally think that textual elements help an audience to “get it” faster than pure images. This is especially true when you have to share a jargon or technical language that your audience may not have access to. There’s more to say about signs and signifiers (how words and images work together to enhance cognition and memory), but I will let this web text here do the job. Yet again, remember that you and your audience only have 20 seconds to look at a slide – think for yourselves how many words can you read in that time frame.
  3. Practice. Practice and practice. I cannot emphasize enough the importance of rehearsal in delivering a tight, eloquent PechaKucha presentation. You will need to almost plan and write out the exact content — down to the actual sentences — that you will present. Twenty seconds aren’t a lot of time (technically, one can speak about 40 words on a tutu-train speed), but it only takes a few quiet seconds to make an awkward silence. Practice. That way you can train yourself into pacing your speech and mentally register the rough duration of a 20-second period. (It’s amazing how “muscle memory” works: I can now count to 20 and get it almost right on the dot.)

Now, in terms of the actual putting together of your slides, you will need some technical knowledge on how to program your slideware. Since I am a faithful user of PowerPoint, here’s a tutorial on how you can create a PechaKucha presentation format on PowerPoint.

There you have it. It is no rocket science, yet it takes time and energy to put together an excellent PechaKucha presentation. As promised, here is my example of a PechaKucha presentation. (Notice I stumbled a little in the beginning… my mind went blank for a second.)

The following is the feedback I received from my instructor:

  • You offered a great clear introduction, followed by a clear statement of methods.
  • I appreciated the care you put into developing a harmonious look and feel to your visuals.
  • I would appreciate screenshots reinforcing your argument about the “flag” color schemes if there be such.
  • Your pechakucha had a terrific structure overall. You offered a very clear argument.

I felt good after delivering the presentation, as well as watching others present. Overall, students seem to put more effort into this format given the need for practice and really knowing the content by heart.

As a compositionist, I have learnt so much from doing this. As such, I am assigning this presentation format to my University (first-year) Writing students next semester. Any comments and suggestions are most welcomed! Drop your two cents below, or tweet to me at @jasoncktham.

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