Challenging the Presentation Paradigm (in 6 minutes, 40 seconds): Pecha Kucha

A couple of years ago, I found myself teaching a section of a class that mandated a PowerPoint presentation. (That is, to keep my section aligned with the others, I had to require such a presentation.) Such presentations have some common problems: they’re too long; the student doesn’t seem interested in the topic; there’s too much information on each slide; and they’re under-rehearsed–the last two problems join forces and encourage the student to simply read aloud from the slides.  Plus, you know, PowerPoint is evil. So, I was looking around for an alternative.

At about the same time, the presentation style known as “pecha kucha” emerged.  Pecha kucha solves the death-by-Powerpoint problem by introducing constraints: 20 slides, set to auto-advance every 20 seconds.  You wouldn’t want to make up your mind about, say, the viability of the public option in US healthcare via such a method, but it’s a fun and lightweight way to manage presentations.

Here’s an example of pecha kucha in action (made to accompany this article):

And here’s what I asked students to do…

Pecha Kucha Presentations

This assignment asks you to present to the class your topic of research.  This should be something that’s interesting to you, and so the presentation should make clear the reason for that interest.  To help that along, here are rules for your presentations.  You will have exactly 6 minutes and 40 seconds.  Think SHORT, INFORMAL, and CREATIVE. You’re not trying to present the details of your thesis; you’re telling a story about why it’s interesting. You don’t have to have conceived of a full outline yet . . . but you should be able to talk about the kinds of things you expect to do, and what you might expect to find. Don’t be afraid to play around: The idea here is that the form’s restriction promotes creativity.

In PowerPoint or a comparable program, set up a presentation with 20 slides.  Each slide should feature ONE image / phrase.

You can find images by searching Flickr for Creative-Commons licensed pictures.

You really should think in terms of phrases, not sentences. You will need to think through what goes on each slide.  Guy Kawasaki suggests no font smaller than 30 points on a slide. His reasons are pretty compelling: You want the slides to complement your presentation, not dominate it.

Set the program so that your slideshow advances every 20 seconds, without any input from you.  Here’s how this looks in PowerPoint (well, on a Mac, anyway):

Step 1: Click on “Slide Show”

Screenshot 1 of the PowerPoint menu.

Step 2: Click on “Options”

Screenshot 2 of the PowerPoint menu.

Steps 3 & 4: Clear the “On mouse click” box, and set the slides to advance automatically after 20 seconds.

Screenshot 3 of the PowerPoint menu.

Please note the following

  • The result is that you have 6 minutes, 40 seconds to tell your story. You now need to rehearse your presentation so that your commentary is linked to the slides, and to revise your slides, especially the text, to make it compelling to your audience.
  • You should have a works cited list, which can be on the class wiki, for the presentation.
  • You might consider these two web pages on improving presentations: Merlin Mann’s “How I Made My Presentations a Little Better” and AQ’s “Guide to Better Pecha Kucha Night Presentations” (Here’s an alternate link for the AQ guide.) (In particular, note AQ’s recommendation that one spend about 6 hours on making the slides.)

What’s useful about the form is that speed (OMG! 20 sec / slide!) becomes a proxy for enthusiasm, and so students perk up a bit.  Also, it’s somewhat harder for undergrads to BS their way through one of these–it turns out you actually have to know something to make the presentation simple and clear!

How do you help students make better presentations?  Let us know in comments!

[By request, this is a revised version of a post I wrote a couple of years back.]

Image by flickr user [sic] / CC licensed

Return to Top