Pecha Kucha: Speed Dating for Presenters

The purpose of speed dating is to get as many “good” phone numbers as possible in a short time. Little time is wasted, and potential suitors have to sell their best qualities quickly. If the bell rings before you told her that you liked romantic walks on the beach and kittens, you’re out of luck.

There is a trend in presentation delivery that places a presenter in a similar situation. Unlike speed dating, however, your success rate is determined by more than your rugged good looks. It’s called Pecha Kucha (pronouncedPecha Kucha not Pickachu peh-chach-ka, not to be confused with Pikachu). Originating in Tokyo and created by two architects, this presentation style has officially gone viral and has swept across the globe. Regular “PechaKucha Nights” now happen monthly in (at last count) 527 cities across the globe… including San Francisco! Pecha Kucha is named for the Japanese sound of conversation, or “chit chat” when translated.

When the two creators were asked why they started this whole thing in the first place, they replied, “Because architects talk too much! Give a microphone and some images to an architect – or most creative people for that matter – and they’ll go on forever! Give PowerPoint to anyone else and they have the same problem.” Amen to that!

This is how it works: Each presenter talks through 20 slides, each of which is auto-timed to appear for exactly 20 seconds. The format is also referred to as 20×20. And so, each presentation is exactly 6 minutes and 40 seconds long. And that’s pretty much it. Simple.

But is it effective?

Why would a presenter want to relinquish control of the pace of their presentation? This seems like a terrible idea, and just plain bad practice. No sane presenter would set their slides to auto-advance, would they? How do you answer questions, or pause to explain a topic in more detail if the slides are timed?

The short answer to these questions is that you don’t pause. This format makes presentations concise, and keeps things moving at a rapid pace. What you will find, strange as though it may seem, is a renewed ability to be creative within the seemingly rigid structure. Here a few reasons why Pecha Kucha is a popular and powerful method for presenting:

  1. Getting to the point. You only have 6 mins and 40 seconds to get your message across to the audience, so there’s no room for fluff or extemporaneous data. To create a successful Pecha Kucha presentation, you must first have a clear and concise message.
  2. You will be juiced. Once you start the presentation, the slides will advance whether you’re ready or not, so you have to rehearse and then hit the ground running. That energy is infectious, and the audience will want to be a part of it.
  3. No clutter. You won’t use those awful bullet points on your slides, because no one will have time to read them! Images will be prominent, and text will be minimal. If you use diagrams or charts, they will be simple and bold, and absent of any extras that distract from your main point.
  4. The pressure’s off. You may think the imposed time limit creates a stressful situation for the presenter, but it often has the opposite effect. You know it will be over quickly, and you don’t have much time to think about it, you just have to do it! Adrenaline is a wonderful thing.
  5. Captive audience. The audience knows they have to pay attention from the starting gun or else they’ll miss it. This creates an air of anticipation, especially since most Pecha Kucha presenters are very passionate about their topic.

If you want to create one of your own, here’s how:
—  PowerPoint: Click on the Transitions tab, and look on the far-right of the Ribbon for the “Advance Slide” group. Check the box labeled “After:” and enter 00:20:00. Then click the “Apply to All” button.
—  Keynote
: Click in the Slides pane (left column) and press Ctrl-A or Cmd-A to select all of your slides. In the Inspector box, click on the second tab to open the Transition options. Change the “Start Transition” to “Automatically” and dial in 20 seconds.

Now, hold on. I know what you’re thinking. Pecha Kuch is for fun, it’s a social experiment, and only artists do it. You’re thinking, this has no place in academia or the professional world. I say you’re wrong. I say, don’t knock it ’till you try it. I say every technique that has the potential to engage an audience has a place in the presenter’s tool belt. Besides, if you can’t get your message across in 6 mins, and without bullet points, then you have other bigger issues to deal with, first. Give it a try, and let us know what you think in the comments section below!

PechaKucha Night San Francisco blog.
Pecha Kucha in the classroom.
Muni Manners presentation.
Science Inspired Design presentation.

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