Saturday, November 13, 2010

Pecha Kucha: My brief take on this presentation format

This is a long overdue post that I have been writing in fits and starts and never got around to completing. This often happens with me...especially when I am on a learning spree. I tend to start on multiple things, create chaos in my mind, keep adding to that chaos till my mind somehow sorts them out, and helps me to see an emerging pattern. Till then, I don't try to write anything--hence my long absence from my blog.

Among the multiple new experiences and learning of the past one month, i.e., since I joined ThoughtWorks (a wonderfully chaotic place with a method underneath the madness that is as stimulating as strong black coffee and excellent conversation, and I love both!), I got to see Pecha Kucha in action. I have read about it, seen You Tube videos describing the form, and read posts waxing eloquent about its power, but have never experienced it first hand. Thanks to my friend Sumeet Moghe who has introduced Pecha Kucha nights as a part of the ThoughtWorks grads training program, I not only got to see it but also to participate.

What did I think about Pecha Kucha?
First impression: It reminded me of Bento meals made famous by Garr Reynold's in his Presentation Zen (and not surprising since both come from the same country)--just enough, not more nor less, and filling you just 80%. Therein lies the power of this form. It stimulates you, provides you with just the right amount of scintillating informaiton that leaves you craving for more if the topic is of interest to you.

In it's almost Zen-like simplicity of 20 slides of 20 seconds each, it is an extremely powerful vehicle.
  1. Pecha Kucha as a presentation tool
  2. Pecha Kucha as a learning tool

Pecha Kucha as a presentation tool
As a presentation format, it is the next best thing to slice bread (not my line but I liked it...)! The rigour of the format pushes one to be innovative, to keep asking the question "so what", allows for no flab in the content and no slackness in the storyline. Does it hinder creativity? Not at all if one is willing to put in passion and hard work into the creation of one of these presentations. And I have seen some cool ones coming from the ThoughtWorks grads and will share the links at the end of the post. It is almost impossible to get away with dumping 5 bullet points on each slide and present that as a Pecha Kucha presentation. The form cannot be taken for granted. It is finicky to the extreme and demands perfection. The restraints force innovation.
I personally found it useful to create a storyline offline using paper and pencil, weed out the weak links in the story asking the question "so what" as I moved along. Once I had the story down to 20 slides, I looked for images, data and quotes that would support what I wanted to say. Finally, it is about practice...and delivering with passion. And I have miles to go and tons to learn when it comes to delivery. But I would recommend Pecha Kucha to all those who are seeking to learn how to present effectively.

Pecha Kucha as a learning tool
Since I saw Pecha Kucha used as a part of the ThoughtWorks grads training program and being at heart still a teacher, I thought of the values of Pecha Kucha as a learning tool. And realized that there are plenty. And here, I draw from my observations and conversation overheard of the grads who prepared for their first ever Pecha Kuchas. 
  1. It taught them to think hard and identify the one true passion that they wanted to talk about (and mind you this is not easy for 22-year olds who have varying interests)
  2. They learned to identify and hone their topics to retain only the key points of interest (and the topics ranged from cricket to cars, from Bollywood movies to extreme sports, from programming languages to conserving India's tigers).
  3. They learned to stand up in front of a crowd and speak with confidence and ease (no mean fit)
  4. It taught them the power of articulating their passion through words, images, videos, music...
  5. It brought to the forefront hidden talents and revealed facets of personalities that make for a strong, vibrant community
I went through the same learning curve altho' I write here in the third person. And there is more to learn...a great deal more...

You can see some of the presentations here just for the diversity in passions that drives each one of us...

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