Well, seems that the Pecha Kucha (pronounced peh-chak-cha) 20 x 20 format for slide-based presentations is really catching on! Pecha Kucha restricts you to exactly 20 graphic slides for exactly 20 seconds each, which amounts to a total of six minutes and 40 seconds.
I received a lot of responses from all over the world about my most recent posting on this topic "Power of 20/20 PowerPoint", and after my most recent PK presentation in Chicago, USA on Tuesday night. I've also been contacted by an author in Japan who is putting together a book on Pecha Kucha, so stay tuned for more.
Interestingly, this topic exemplifies some of the other topics we've been discussing at Off Course - On Target, such as hype cycles and decision support. So in response to several of the questions I received and with some concern for other trends I'm seeing surrounding the adoption of this Pecha Kucha 20x20 model, I thought I'd provide the following additional thoughts and suggestions.
Life is a giant Boolean add function!
As with most formats, Pecha Kucha (PK) is best used as a new way to present ideas, assist with communication, etc. We need be aware of the hype aspect surrounding PK. I've found it quite common for people to fall in love with a new "thing" and start to insist that it be used in all circumstances. I've even seen whole companies or groups make it a policy that PK be the only format allowed! Of course, in due time, they will change back to a more balanced approach, following the natural flow of the "hype cycle" I described in an earlier post.
We humans seem to have this built-in tendency that whenever some new big thing comes along, we immediately react by focusing on all the "old" things that are now "dead", eliminating or subtracting them from our lives. Wasn't TV supposed to kill radio? Wasn't e-Learning going to "kill" the need for teachers, books, etc.? If we can learn from history though (let's hope!), we'll find that we rarely completely eliminate anything. Life is like a giant Boolean add function!
For me, PK is a fabulous new choice that we have in our arsenal of tools for expression. Just as we are beginning to learn (well some of us are) how to make a good decision about when to use e-mail, when to use a phone call, when to use Instant Message or Twitter, when to meet in person or send a handwritten note (remember those?), we need to be better at knowing WHEN PK is the best choice for a given situation and skilled at using the PK format well.
New and innovative ideas and technology are often very disruptive, so there is no question that they cause change and upheaval, but they rarely eliminate what has gone before. Television has certainly changed the role of radio, but when I checked as recently as this morning, radio was a VERY viable medium, and one that is in fact enjoying a great amount of innovation and growth. Consider, for example, HD radio, satellite radio such as XM radio and Sirius and Internet-based radio, such as Pandora, Last.FM, and Public Radio International (PRI).
Therefore, just as instant messaging (IM) didn't eliminate e-mail or phone calls, neither will PK eliminate more "traditional" forms of presentations. Instead, PK will help us improve one of the most powerful and requisite skills we have and need—the ability to communicate effectively, and to share our ideas. And if we can really learn from history, we will skip right over the early phases of the hype cycle and get right onto the "slope of enlightenment" and "plateau of productivity stages!
Getting Started with Pecha Kucha
I suggest following these guidelines for those getting started:
- Stick to the PK model of exactly 20 slides, automatically timed (not in control of presenter) for exactly 20 seconds each. PowerPoint has a built-in timer function that can manage this.
- Limit the preamble or explanation to an absolute minimum (30 seconds?) before the 20 second count begins and before the first slide comes up. If you need more than that, you've missed the point of the PK model!
- Only use great graphics for the slides. No bullet points, no text, no cheesy clip art. I recommend photographs that can either be created by the PK presenter or are increasingly easy to find on the web at photo services such as Flickr (mind the copyrights and licenses, please). Providing the assistance of people who have a good eye can be a big help. As with many things, putting a PK presentation together is a big part of the fun and the challenge.
- Go after a range of presenters from those who are experts or at least prolific presenters to those who you never hear from or who dread having to give a presentation. My experience is that everyone benefits tremendously from tapping into the spectrum between these two extremes.
- Put as much thought as possible into creating a conducive environment for this style. While a standard audience/presenter format with stages, podiums, and seats can certainly still work, the nature of PK is that it is very mentally stimulating, so having a venue that puts people closer together and encourages discussions before, during, and after the individual presentations is very helpful.
- Consider turning your PK gathering into a very social event such as with a club or pub type of atmosphere—casual chairs, floor seating, and drinks provided. At some of our Autodesk events, we even created a version of martinis we call "Pecha-katini" to help lubricate the conversation! If you check out the PK web site you'll also see that this very social form of PK is happening in cities all over the world, and you may want to attend one. Lots of variations possible, be creative!
- Use standard, though often ignored, good practices for writing or speaking. Talk about what you know. Even more so, talk about something you are passionate about. This can still include "serious" or business topics, but can also include more personal interests such as hobbies, life experiences, former careers, or things that drive you.
Although all of us can appreciate the value that comes from reducing presentations from their typical 60 minutes or more down to six minutes and 40 seconds, I've found even greater value from the PK model in such things as:
- Essence. The PK style forces presenters to really put some deep thought into the absolute essential points they want to convey. With only 20 slides and only 20 seconds to spend on each one, you the presenter have to make what seems like difficult choices (every one of our ideas is great right?!). As a presenter, I find this reduction process very valuable because it tends to help me convert more of my tacit knowledge into explicit forms and helps me make tough but clarifying choices about what the true message really is. For audiences, this kind of critical thinking on the part of the presenter tends to produce much greater value, leaving only valuable "nuggets" of information. I've found, for example, that PK style presentations generate a LOT more discussion afterwards between the audience and the presenters. When used at conferences as an opening evening, PK presentations often become a constant follow-on reference for the remainder of the event... and long afterwards.
- Graphic communications. Here is a phrase we all know, but seem to practice very little. Most slides have WAY too much text, too many bulleted points, and rarely use effective graphics. Perhaps the PK 20x20 format uses the old adage that "a picture is worth a 1000 words" to pack so much into every 20 seconds? Forcing the issue to the extreme by requiring presenters to only use graphics necessitates the thoughtful selection or creation of an image that that effectively captures each of their 20 points. It's not always easy to accomplish, but when done, it is definitely effective.
- Pursuit of passion. As I mentioned in my getting started list above, PK seems to work best and seems to lead presenters to find and speak on topics they really know and really care about. Isn't that a common trait of just about every great presentation you've ever heard? Yet how often do we sit through presentations that are almost as uninspiring to the presenter as they are to the audience? I'm not sure I understand just why, but the PK format seems to have a natural affinity that brings out the passion in presenters. It seems to be especially effective for those who rarely make presentations or speak up or who don't think they have much to contribute. PK helps them find their "voice" and acts as a vehicle for transporting their message to others. Powerful stuff!
Serious Play = Serious Fun => Serious Performance Improvement
How might we get even more power out of this fun new format? Let's develop MANY more styles and formats for this very useful way of sharing and communicating using audio, graphics, slides, etc.
The point of PK is effective communication, converting tacit knowledge to explicit knowledge, as well as helping to transfer, share, and build upon our ideas and transforming them into reality. Don't we want and need as many choices as possible to accomplish this more effectively? So let's experiment more with the PK 20x20 format.
After some initial experience with the PK 20x20 format, start playing with the format. Try to find delightful deviations and innovative improvements—with the end goal of capturing, sharing and creating ideas faster and better. In addition to the obvious choices of trying even fewer slides or using less time per slide (2 slides 2 seconds anyone?), consider breaking outside our self-imposed cognitive boxes on presentations.
- Who says that there has to be any talking at all? Music perhaps?
- How could you incorporate video into this type of format?
- How about a "game" (serious fun) where 20 slides are chosen by the audience or someone other than the presenter who has to then say or do something in 20 seconds to add value to each slide?
- How about 20 people doing one PK presentation, where one person speaks per 20 second slide? Now THAT would be an improvement on the snoozer "panel presentations" we've all been through, wouldn't it?!
We had a great example of just this kind of serious play and serious fun on Tuesday at the Autodesk Leadership Summit I mentioned earlier. Pete Kelsey **, a good colleague at Autodesk, along with fellow Autodesker Andy Ramm, did a great job of this kind of out-of-the box thinking and experimenting with PK. They created and delivered a PK on the history of blues music (one of my favorites!), which was a particularly fitting and relevant topic since we were doing this in the current home of the blues—Chicago.
But not only did they do their PK as a duo, Andy did all his "talking" via his guitar, as is typical in blues music, while Pete provided the spoken explanations. They still followed the same 20x20 format with some great images of major blues artists and evocative images of the life and times that produced this musical genesis of one of the most popular music styles today. But they also added the power of music, not only to demonstrate the topic (blues music), but to communicate their message to the audience. It was very effective and a great example of the type of experimentation that we need to do more of.
I hope this posting encourages you to try out this format and have some serious fun playing with it. What ideas can you can come up with for ways to experiment, extend, and improve on this fun and effective presentation format? Share them with the rest of us so they can become arrows in our quiver of ideas that we can use to practice being on target, and help us make more effective use of our collective intelligence!
** Pete Kelsey has a blog that you should check out if you have any interest in civil engineering, roads, bridges, geography, mapping, etc. His blog goes by the great title of "The Dirt: Map it, Move it, Manage it, Roll in it". In addition to his GIS topics and technology, you might also find it valuable for the experimenting that Pete does in this blog with things like self-created video. Pete is a fellow world traveler, spending most of his time on the road going to some truly interesting locations (Easter Island, Guam, and Seoul in the past few weeks, for example) and packing a really unique point of view wherever he goes. Definitely worth checking out.