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.

28 comments
ayaz.haniffa
ayaz.haniffa

I have been able to "condition" my colleagues to shorten the presentations. They used to have these 50 slide PP decks. Now the whole gist of it covered in less than 10 slides and the audience seem to understand better. KISS is a wonderful theory.

AC3000
AC3000

great idea. Not to be a stickler for detail but with a 40 hour week and 50 weeks a year - there are only 2000 hrs of time in one man year.

ps2goat
ps2goat

You may cringe at "PowerPoint" in a work environment, but imagine those of us who had to learn from professors who used it to put students to sleep. Worse yet, try learning Spanish using PowerPoint only. That's what it was like for some of us in certain colleges who were going for a programming degree. I whole-heartedly agree that PowerPoint is relied on too heavily-- slides shouldn't exist as the speaker's cue cards, and the presentation surely shouldn't last more than 8-10 minutes. After that, you may as well have written an essay to hand out, summarize it in your presentation, and ask that the details be read later.

rogerhull
rogerhull

An effective variation to this approach is to develop and practice a script that is paced to the duration you want for each slide (e.g., 20 seconds), but rather than automating the transitions, insert "cue marks" into the script and have sonmeone other than the speaker advance the slides when each cue occurs. That allows the speaker to be a little short or long on a slide withoout having to adjust the pace or interupt the pace with slide mechanics. The speaker can also deliver the verbal message without ever glancing at or referring to the screen. The mechanics of advancing slides or adjusting the pace of verbal delivery to get back in sync with automatically advanced slides become a distraction which this approach avoids.

Stuck-In-Kentuck
Stuck-In-Kentuck

Most readers would recognize Jody Gilbert's "2,300 hours" a well-placed hyperbole.

N4AOF
N4AOF

Long winded presentations like ones that use "made up" and impossible statistics, such as: "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?" Do you even have a clue how many hours are in a normal business work year? The average, based on an 8 hour day and 5 day week is 2087 hours (most years have 261 weekdays, a few years have 260, rarely a year has 262 weekdays) From that 2087, subtract any holidays, vacation time, and other absences, and the average full time worker in the US is actually at work less than 2000 hours annually.

ogils
ogils

2300 hrs per year? That is longer than a working year!!

Gromit
Gromit

That might work for presenting simple concepts, but it will not if your slides require a lot of explanation. I do a lot of presentations, and I find that one minute per slide is about the average for business and technical presentations. No way would I have automatic transitions, and I always script the speaker's notes, right down to the clicks for animation.

Xephire
Xephire

I like the 10/20/30 rule myself a lot. - Maximum of 10 slides (more is boring, boil it down to the basics) - in 20 minutes (even if you have an hour, something will go wrong) with - font size 30 (easy to read, and focuses you on the main issues). For more info, http://blog.guykawasaki.com/2005/12/the_102030_rule.html

Regina55
Regina55

...Sorry, couldn't resist.

paulg9
paulg9

Who's Jody Gilbert?

AZ_IT
AZ_IT

I can't fathom why the "pulled-out-of-thin-air" statistic in the article seems to be the major talking point for this many people. Was it an arbitrary number yes but it says as much in the article so build a bridge and get over it. The purpose of the article was to introduce a format for PowerPoint presentations that would help people give better presentations. If we have to disagree with something it should probably be associated with one of the actual points in the article.

jtollack
jtollack

I don't know about you all, but I cannot stand a presentation in which the presenter has everything they are saying on the slide. If you cannot use the presentation to highlight the key elements, then just e-mail me the resentation and I'll read it for myself. And save the company travel expenses!

Gromit
Gromit

For the past couple of years it's been more than 4000 hours/year for me. It helps not to have any life outside of work - this is not conducive to a marriage and family.

cpycc
cpycc

I've worked 3000+ hrs. for years.

lodestone
lodestone

...script my presentations tightly, right down to the anims. I can still use help to reduce drag! Some variation on 20x20 or the aforementioned 10/20/30 may help even my better presentations. --Allen

Ron_007
Ron_007

Better powerpoint presentations would be a boon for all "victims" of bad presentations. Any presenter that has ALL of his content in PP points should be shot. Any PP handouts should have extensive presenter notes. Almost my first thought when I saw this article was Toastmasters. Toastmasters is a great organization for getting over stage fright. Most of their program is based on 7 minute +/- 30 second speeches. I could see this technique being perfect for practicing speeches. Set up your speech points, project it, step back and use it as a "prompter" while you practice. No paper notes to fiddle with or drop.

N4AOF
N4AOF

Some people just take twice as long to get the job done.

v r
v r

(grins) Sorry, I could not resist either.

PMPsicle
PMPsicle

And it would require more work too.

al
al

4000 hours is doable. Just shy of 11 hours a day (10.95890 to be almost exact) for all 365 days of the year. No holidays, weekends, days off, just 11 hours a day. (Sounds like a small business owner to me.) :-) 16 hours a day, 5 days a week (250 work days), 2 weeks of vacation, all weekends off, but no holidays. Another way of getting 4000 hours in. I only ask one thing.-> WHY?

Dr_Zinj
Dr_Zinj

I worked those hours each year for almost 22 years. MSgt, USAF (Ret.)

RoseJM1884
RoseJM1884

3000+ hours/yr = 58 hr work weeks with no holidays or vacations 4000+ hours/yr = 77 hr work weeks with no holidays or vacations Recommend you slow down and take an opportunity to smell the roses...

N4AOF
N4AOF

No, you were paid for those hours.

RoseJM1884
RoseJM1884

Come on - i too had 22 years in the military and had some pretty tough assignment (special operations) but NEVER worked those kind of hours

PMPsicle
PMPsicle

Even the military requires a) sleep and b)eating and c)vacation. You may have been on call for a goodly part of that time but you certainly weren't working.

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