Wednesday, April 2, 2008

Pecha Kucha: 9 Beginner Mistakes

I gave my first Pecha Kucha today; I've wanted to do one ever since I learned about it. For those unfamiliar, it is a presentation in a 20x20 format: 20 slides, 20 seconds each, no exceptions. The intent of this strict 6 minute 40 second format is to focus your message, only give the necessary information, and end the monotony of typical PowerPoint sessions.

It seemed well received, I had everyone's full attention despite the post-lunch time slot. But all-in-all it was a nerve-wracking experience and I'm not sure I'll be doing it again anytime soon. Here's a few lessons learned in case you're feeling up to this somewhat odd challenge.

1. Don't underestimate the time commitment
I've given a lot of trainings in my life. I spent more time preparing for this 6 minute presentation than I have for full day sessions in the past. Part of the problem was that I wasn't familiar with the subject matter. But I'm also accustomed and comfortable with extemporary speaking, so rehearsing a script was completely foreign to me. The point is that rehearsing, timing, and practicing took way more time than I expected.

2. Lessig style slide synchronization is cool but doesn't mix
The Lawrence Lessig style of presentation is way cool. I love when the speaker's words synchronize perfectly with minimalist slides. And how quickly he whips through words and pictures is fun. I tried to do this and found it doesn't mix with a timed, scripted presentation. I spent a lot of time synchronizing animations with my script only to find myself getting out of sync with the timer or varying my script slightly. Either do a timed and scripted event, or do an untimed Lessig style event with an in-hand slide clicker. Mixing both was too difficult and didn't get delivered as nicely as I would have liked.

3. 20 seconds a slide needs to include breathing time
Budget for breathing time or your slides will move too fast: you'll get stuck playing a frantic game of catch up. 20 seconds a slide needs to include breathing time, don't short yourself. Practicing in front of someone would help.

4. Build in catch up spots
Build a sentence into each slide that can be dropped if you start running out of time. If you don't, you'll end up dropping the first sentence of the next slide, which is probably an important sentence. Just plan to screw up often and throw a few away.

5. Pre-record, it'll just be better
Who memorizes things anymore? I wish I'd just recorded my session instead. An alternative would be to stand to the side and read the script. The important parts are the visuals and the audio. Your nervous fidgets and uncomfortable stage presence will probably just distract the audience anyway.

6. Not all presentations make good pecha kuchas
My subject was actually 4 unrelated subjects globbed into one by the event organizer. This wasn't a coherent topic to begin with, so it made a somewhat confusing pecha kucha. It just didn't flow. Before doing this, ask yourself, "Would this really make a good pecha kucha?"

7. Don't forget slide transitions
In normal presentations I create my own slide transitions as needed. A presenter mostly just fills in the context between slides and relates them to one another. This is the "hidden" content that often makes or breaks a presentation. Well, at 20 seconds a slide, you have to explicitly make time for transitions. I'd guess 5 or 6 slides at least need to be light on content and simply explain the links between the other slides.

8. Intro and conclusion? Don't bother
Someone once told me to start a presentation by saying what will be covered and end it by giving a recap. This is questionable advice for a long presentation and almost certainly untrue for a pecha kucha. It's 6 minutes long. If your audience can't remember what was covered then they're on their own. Don't try to take responsibility for their attention deficit disorder.

9. Pick something you know and care about
Saved the best for last. Creating a pecha kucha was fun for the first two hours. Great, you only have about 6 more hours to go. I didn't care about my subject matter, so by the end I was wishing I hadn't spent so much time on it. It'd been way more fun if it was a topic of personal interest. Got a sales presentation coming up? Probably not a good choice for this. Presenting about your favorite language at their next user group? Go for it.

So maybe it was fun. It was challenging, that's for sure. And when was the last time you were challenged by a presentation? Maybe my second attempt will go smoother than my first... whowants to make a Groovy pecha kucha with me?


Peter Pascale said...

As a member of the audience - it was pretty impressive. But there are easier ways to impress... I think you are spot on about a 'clicker'-driven lessig minimalist approach as the way to go.

I find that it really takes effort to pare a presentation down - this PK method could be one technique for a person struggling to shift their style in this direction. Would you recommend it for that purpose?

Sure its painful, and perhaps the return on investment diminishes with the effort, but it seems like the style really forces you to think about the discipline in a different way (like writing a class with 100% unit test coverage).

Unknown said...

Sounds like a great concept for a presentation style. If you'd like to create an online version of the presentation you gave (audio with synchronized slides), I could help put it together for you.

I created a software tool (called Presio) that allows you to record or import audio/video and synch it up with images or PowerPoint slides.

Here's an example of what Presio allows you to create:
Video with Slides

Let me know if you'd be interested. If you provided the mp3 and slides I could synch it up for you, or you could use Presio yourself.



pepper said...

Hamlet - you might be interested to know that we're doing a Pecha Kucha event this Friday at Intermedia Arts - would love to have you come. More details here: