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4 Lessons to Keep from Failing at Pecha Kucha

After my first attempt at a Pecha Kucha-style presentation, there were some lessons learned.
Pecha Kucha - Brian Washburn

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.

How to Practice Pecha Kucha

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:

After preparing for and delivering this Pecha Kucha I had the following 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.

practice pecha kucha

Lesson #2: Pecha Kucha 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 when designing a Pecha Kucha.

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.

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