Presentation Skills I Learnt From Pecha Kucha


I was shocked how hard it was preparing for Pecha Kucha Night. Even after seven iterations, I was still not done! Despite being a seasoned presenter, Pecha Kucha was a brand new experience and a challenge indeed.
For those that don’t know, Pecha Kucha is a gathering of creative minds to share what they are passionate about. As creatives like to talk, Pecha Kucha runs its presentations in a unique format; 20 slides that stay up for 20 seconds each, no more, no less. Like an emotionless robot, it all runs on automatic leaving many presenters in mid-sentence when the slide changes.
People say that we should treat the creation a presentation like a design exercise. I agree. But being forced to work within the constraint of 20 X 20 slides you suddenly realize why Simplicity is hard and very few people do it well.
In the process of creating my slide deck for Pecha Kucha and then subsequently presenting it, I relearned a number of presentation techniques that could also apply to any normal presentation that has the luxury of time.

1) Consider your Presentation Style.
Are you a presenter that tells stories and uses slides as a visual backdrop? Do you need to prepare your presentation with detailed notes? Are you the type that bullet points everything you need to say on a slide? Whichever it is, you will need to be fully aware of your presentation style and keep to it.
I’m the type that likes to talk off the cuff, flowing and ebbing to the crowd’s response. However because of the format of Pecha Kucha, I wrote everything down for fear of overrunning the 20 second per slide format. This killed my flow, as my mind struggled to switch from my usual presentation technique. I ended up referring to my notes frequently and that cost me some audience engagement.

2) Keep it Light
I also realize almost immediately that a slide presentation should not be used as a training manual.
There are just some topics that don’t work at Pecha Kucha. Explaining complex theories or scientific problems is one. It goes so fast anyway, so the heavy stuff just goes over the head.
I think my presentation on Design Thinking almost crossed the no-go line. I believe the best topics for Pecha Kucha are anecdotal stories which works great for the portfolio stories it originally started with.
In the real world, your presentation format may be in the form or a class lecture, a cozy portfolio review, or staged performance etc., regardless of what it is, be aware of how much a presentation can do before it become too much.

3) The Power of One.
One thing to keep strictly to when designing a Pecha Kucha presentation is that your total presentation should only communicate 1 key topic. Furthermore, each slide should be restricted to 1 point only. The key to keeping things simple is to ask “What am I trying to communicate?” and “Do I really need make this point?”
While this restriction is a must for a 20 second pace, I have found that this should be also a key requirement for presentations in the real world. Even with the opportunity of having more time to read the content on each slide.
I have sat through so many presentations that meander badly, or have far to many confusing bullet points on a slide. There is something to be said on the efficiency and impact of keeping slide presentations simple.

4) The Tale of 2 Presenters.
There are actually two presenters at every presentation; you and your slide.
You really figure out the value of both “Presenters” at Pecha Kucha. You can use one to support the other, or even design the presentation in a way that when combined together they tell a much bigger story.
Therefore, it is a real pity to only repeat to the audience what the bullet points on each of your slide say. Furthermore, this also means that most slide decks can be reduced by 50%.

5) Keep the Presentation Sharp.
In Pecha Kucha we are advised to keep the verbal element to 2-3 sentences a slide.
This also makes sense in normal presentations as well. Focus on the points you are trying to communicate and that will prevent you from rambling on more than you need to.

6) Pick a Topic You are Familiar With.
At Pecha Kucha always pick a topic that you are familiar with, or willing to get familiar with. When you are familiar with a topic it just rolls off your tongue naturally, especially in presentations with time constraints. Oh, don’t underestimate the value of practice, it does make perfect.

7) Pause for Effect.
One thing that was really hard to create at Pecha Kucha was strategic pauses to let points sink in. With the rapid 20 second pace, even giving people time to laugh was almost impossible. This means you could come across like you are racing through your presentation.
This challenge made me realize and cherish the importance of strategic pauses in a presentation. When you are now designing a presentation that has the luxury of more time, you can now use this time efficiently to drive home key points, increase audience engagement, or even as a great icebreaker.

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I hope you enjoyed reading my learnings from presenting at Pecha Kucha. I love to hear your thoughts, and if you have experienced Pecha Kucha please do share your learnings as well?

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