Software

Put an end to long-winded presentations with Pecha Kucha

When you hear 'PowerPoint,' do you think 'endless and boring'? Here's a format that will keep those presentations short and sweet.

The average business professional wastes approximately 2,300 hours a year sitting through interminable PowerPoint presentations. Okay, yeah, I made that up. But it sounds about right, doesn't it?

If your organization or department is plagued with presenters who just can't seem to rein themselves in — or if you yourself are a bit of a digresser — you might want to take advantage of the trendy Pecha Kucha approach to building and delivering a slide show.

Pecha Kucha is Japanese for the sound of chatter. It's pronounced sort of like puh-CHEKa-chaw. At least that's my best transcription of how it sounds to me. But you're likely to run across a million mangled variations.

Pecha Kucha was created several years ago by two Tokyo-based designers, Astrid Klein and Mark Dytham, who began hosting events featuring presenters who shared their ideas and projects using a simple format: 20 slides that appear for 20 seconds each. The slides are heavily visual, the presenter has only 20 seconds to natter on before the next slide appears, and the whole thing wraps up in six minutes and 40 seconds.

This format may not work in situations requiring a lot of discussion or ongoing Q&A. But if you have a bunch of presenters — say, a development team whose members each need to deliver a status report on their piece of a project — this is an excellent means of keeping things focused and concise.

Note: This article is also available as a PDF download.

Setting up your 20X20 presentation

To create a Pecha Kucha slide show, you need those 20 slides. Then, you set automatic transitions for each one so that you'll have to move on every 20 seconds. For this fast-paced format to work, you'll probably want to script what you need to say about each slide or at least develop an outline that will help you cover the key points without meandering. You can put that text into the Notes pane. It will also pay off for you to practice giving the presentation to make sure you can nail the timing for each slide.

To set the transitions, start by going to Slide Sorter view and pressing [Ctrl]A to select all the slides (Figure A).

Figure A

Then, choose Slide Transition from the Slide Show menu. Select the Automatically After check box and enter 20 seconds (Figure B). (In PowerPoint 2007, this setting is on the Animations tab under Advance Slide.) You can deselect On Mouse Click if you want. But leaving it selected will give you a way to advance to the next slide before your 20 seconds are up, which might be a useful option.

Figure B

If you want to add text or an outline to follow, just switch to Normal view and type it into the Notes pane for each slide (Figure C).

Figure C

You can (and should) practice synching your speech to the slides that are displayed by running through the presentation a few times. Twenty seconds goes by quickly, so you may need to adjust your narration to keep up (either speaking more quickly — hence the name "chatter" — or perhaps even better, saying less).

There's definitely an art to being able to express yourself effectively when the clock is running, but it's good discipline to have to strip your message down to the most significant details and deliver it in the most clear and succinct way.

Variations

It might be heresy to suggest this, but I don't see any reason why you shouldn't modify the format to suit a particular purpose. Maybe you have just 10 slides to cover but you need 30 seconds for each one. Or maybe you want to focus on five slides for a minute each and then have a 10 minute discussion afterward. The important thing is to structure the presentation so that it's brief and focused — and to stick to the limits you establish.

Does it work?

Have you ever tried this approach? If so, tell us the pros and cons and let us know how effective it was.


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About

Jody Gilbert has been writing and editing technical articles for the past 25 years. She was part of the team that launched TechRepublic and is now senior editor for Tech Pro Research.

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