Photo by Olly Barrett

Photo by Olly Barrett

This week I went to my first Pecha Kucha night in Wellington, New Zealand.

Pecha Kucha and Ignite are two time-limited and slide-limited presentation formats. Pecha Kucha was developed as a presentation format to allow design and creative types to share their passions and show off their work. The format is very tight. You have to present with 20 slides and each slide is shown for 20 seconds. Ignite is the equivalent for geeks (20 slides in 5 minutes, 15 seconds per slide). Both these format have the great advantage of keeping presentations short and concise – perhaps accounting for it’s popularity around the world. However, it’s challenging to prepare a good Pecha Kucha or Ignite presentation and even more so to deliver it well.

From my observations of the Pecha Kucha night I went to, here are my tips :

1. Have a theme


Photo by Meena Kadri

I get that this is not a standard business presentation where you would have a key message supported by three points. But nevertheless I think there should be a theme which ties it all together. The presentations that I saw which had a theme were far more effective. One in particular stands out. It was by Meena Kadri and was an exploration of the creativity of what she called “lo-fi” folk in India. We saw a series of stunning photographs but all tied together by the theme of the creativity and artistic flair of poor people.

Those that didn’t have a theme seemed like an unorganized slideshow “Oh here’s this piece I made…[waffle about it for 20 secs] and here’s something else I made”. If you’re an artist presenting at Pecha Kucha think of yourself as the curator of your slides – explain to us the ideas that bind them together or show us how your ideas developed from one piece to the next.

2. Plan your outline before the slides

Pecha Kucha does tend to revolve around the imagery, but that doesn’t mean the images should come first in your planning. Here’s my suggestion as to how to go about planning a Pecha Kucha or Ignite presentation.

1. Plan your rough outline first focused on your theme

2. Storyboard the slides to fit with the outline

3. Plan and carefully time what you’ll say for each slide.

Because of the tight timing constraints I think you have to plan what you want to say more carefully than other presentations – there is no room for waffle. Here’s an amazing example of a tightly scripted Pecha Kucha presentation (warning – it’s both tragic and funny at the same time):

Unless you’re speaking in limericks, though, I would generally avoid a script, as you’re likely to come across as stiff an unnatural.

Felix Jung has put together a most amazing and detailed guide How to make a Pecha Kucha presentation. This is a must-read if you’re doing a Pecha Kucha presentation. Mike Rohde has a great post on using an excel spreadsheet to prepare your Pecha Kucha presentation

And here’s a video of Scott Berkun delivering an Ignite presentation on how to give an Ignite presentation:

3. Spend more than 20 seconds on a point

Garr Reynolds has commented that the format makes it difficult to go deep. I agree. Many of the presenters the night I went felt they could only spend 20 seconds on each “point” or “image”. That meant there was never enough time to fully develop a point. By contrast, Meena Kadri  sometimes developed a point over two to threes slides. The set of slides would show different perspectives of the same thing. For example:

  • First slide – picture of two Indian brothers – she told us about two brothers who had a thriving business as artists. People came from far and wide to buy their art.
  • Second slide – image of their art – they paint scenes from Bollywood movies – name them a scene and they can paint it.
  • Third slide – zoom out to show that painting is on a mud flap of a truck!

4. It’s better to finish earlier than later

Many presenters found themselves overrunning the 20 seconds that they had for each slide. That meant they were still talking about a slide after it had left the screen.  The classic was a picture of a rather ordinary step ladder that had been used for painting. We learn that it’s in a gallery and that it’s considered a great work of art … that’s when the slide transitioned. She then tells us “Those paint spatters are actually inlaid crystals.”  Wow – do we want to see it again!

As you can imagine, once you’ve gone overtime on one slide, the problem compounds itself and you tend to go over on the others. The presentation becomes a confusing out-of-sync race.

A couple of times some presenters did finish talking about a slide a few seconds short of the 20 seconds. They were impatient to move on. But we, the audience were fine – it gave us more time to look without having to process words at the same time.

So prepare your narrative so that you’re a little bit short of 20 seconds rather than a bit over.

5. Rehearse

The value of rehearsal applies to any presentation, but it doubly applies to a Pecha Kucha or Ignite presentation. It’s a dance with a partner who you have no control over. You need to have your side of the choreography – the narrative – down pat.

If you’ve done a Pecha Kucha presentation do add your tips in the comments.

And if you’ve found this post because you’re preparing for one – go well!

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