While preparing to emcee my Pecha Kucha session at EventCamp East Coast next week, I thought it would be useful to collect together in one place my scattered posts about the Pecha Kucha format, as well a video of one of the Pecha Kucha presentations I’ve made. Enjoy!
Last week, at Event Camp Twin Cities 2011, I emceed my third Pecha Kucha session. So I’m sharing what I’ve learned about organizing events with multiple consecutive Pecha Kucha (or Ignite) presentations. (If you’re thinking—What’s Pecha Kucha and why is it cool?—read this post first.) I’m going to gloss over information about venue selection and marketing, since these are pretty well covered on the global Pecha Kucha site. Instead, I’ll concentrate on some of the lesser-known but important issues that arise when you use this popular format to educate and entertain.
PowerPoint or Keynote or both?
The first logistical question any Pecha Kucha organizer faces is: What presentation software to use? The Wintel/Apple debate may have lost some of its fervor over the last few years, but in the world of presentation software it’s alive and well in the popularity of both PowerPoint and Keynote. Unless you’re running a session at a school or organization where all the presenters have access to the same software, it’s unfair in my view to restrict presenters to only one of these products. While PowerPoint has greater market-share, Keynote is more likely to be used by the creative types who tend to populate Pecha Kucha presentations.
This means, of course, that you’ll need access to both software packages yourself. So you’ll have to use a Macintosh, since that’s the only platform that runs Keynote. If that’s the case, I recommend you build the single multi-presenter presentation in Keynote, which I consider the superior software for Pecha Kucha-style presentations.
Selection criteria for presenters
If your presentations are to reflect the interests and variety of a community, I suggest you provide relaxed criteria for selecting presenters. Creating and practicing a Pecha Kucha presentation is a significant amount of work. I am reluctant to impose my selection criteria on what people offer to do. If you receive many more offers of presentations than you can accommodate, then schedule multiple sessions and populate each one with a somewhat consistent set of presenters.
Pecha Kucha templates
To create a uniform look, it’s important to provide all presenters with templates for your session. These typically will include twenty two slides in all:
An opening slide containing event logo and presenter and/or topic information;
Twenty “blank” slides; and
A closing slide with presenter contact information.
I like to provide a visual indicator of time passing on each of the twenty slides, and use a translucent circle that moves from left to right in twenty seconds along the bottom of the screen. I do not remember whom I stole this technique from, but it works well and is appreciated by presenters. Here’s a link to sample Keynote and PowerPoint templates that use this technique.
Make these templates available several weeks before the event. Creating a good Pecha Kucha takes time. The quality of your session will suffer if presenters have to rush to create and practice their presentations. Since the templates are large, upload them, together with a set of instructions, to a file-sharing site and send your presenter the link.
A word about fonts
Tell your presenters not to use obscure fonts in their presentations. Why? This may cause ugly font substitution effects if the computer on which the master presentation file is created does not have a font the presenter used.
Before the session
Before the Pecha Kucha session, you must round up all the individual presentations, convert them (if necessary) into the chosen software format, check them, and merge them into a single large presentation. Don’t underestimate the time required to perform these steps. It’s easy to be stymied by a late presenter, omit a slide component when converting, or delete one of the many slide auto-transitions. For a set of six presenters, I’d allow several hours to do a careful, accurate job. I tell presenters that their presentation is due ten days before the session. Send reminders a few days before the due date, and follow up immediately if any are not received on time. Invariably, one or two presentations will be late, but at least the rest can be converted, checked and merged into the master file while inveigling the tardy.
How to merge multiple Pecha Kucha presentations into one master
Here’s the procedure I use to merge multiple Pecha Kucha presentations into one master file. Start with an appropriately renamed master copy of your Keynote template. Next, decide on the order that the individual sessions will be run. How you merge each individual presentation into the master Keynote file depends on whether it’s Keynote or PowerPoint.
It’s easy to merge an individual Keynote presentation into the master file.
Switch to Navigator View of the individual presentation, and click on one of the slides in the slide view
Select all (Command-A) the slides and copy (Command-C) them.
Switch to the master presentation and click on the slide right before where you want to insert.
Paste (Command-V) to insert the entire individual presentation into the master file.
As you might expect, merging a PowerPoint presentation into the master Keynote file is more complicated, and there are more opportunities to make mistakes.
Begin by adding a blank copy of your presentation Keynote template into the master Keynote file, using the technique described in the previous section.
Copy the presenter supplied text on the opening title slide and paste it into the corresponding slide in the master Keynote presentation.
Click on the first of the twenty PowerPoint presenter slides and carefully select all the elements on the slide, except the animated timing circle.
Copy your selection, switch to Keynote and paste into the corresponding Keynote slide in the master file.
Click on the animated Keynote circle and choose Bring to Front from the Arrange menu. If you omit this step, the moving circle may not be visible when showing the slide.
Repeat the above three steps for each of the twenty presentation slides.
Finally, copy the presenter supplied text on the closing title slide and paste it into the corresponding closing slide in the master Keynote presentation.
Final steps Since the above processes may take several hours, be sure to frequently save your work!
Add a title slide for the entire Pecha Kucha session to the front of the completed master file. Also add a black slide at the end for the production crew to display when the final presentation is over.
Testing the master presentation
Once you’ve created the master presentation it’s time to test it. To avoid font and hardware problems, use the computer that you will be using at the event.
Testing the master presentation requires constant attention for the entire duration of the presentation. Check that:
The presentation pauses on each presenter’s opening and closing slides.
You’ve copied all slide elements correctly from each of the twenty slides in the individual presentations.
The presentation auto-advances every twenty seconds on each of the twenty presentation slides.
You have only one animated circle moving on each slide.
The animated moving circle is visible on each of the twenty slides.
In your instructions, emphasize that practicing the session is important. Even if the presenter knows their content well, discovering what can be said in the twenty seconds before the current slide advances takes time. Multiple run-throughs will help presenters learn to recover from the inevitable minor slips that occur.
It’s an art to match what you say with the twenty seconds each slide is on the screen. Like most art, one’s skill improves with practice.
As with every presentation, poor sound can severely impact your Pecha Kucha session. If any of your presenters have included sound in their presentations (yes, it happens) you will need to arrange to mix the sound output of the presentation computer into the sound system for the event. Presenters should use a wireless lavalier (preferred) or wireless handheld mike so they are free to move about during their presentation. Ideally, use three microphones (for the emcee, the current presenter, and upcoming presenter). But you can get away with a single handheld microphone if that’s all that’s available.
Think about how you will introduce each presenter. The approach I like, much appreciated by audiences, is to ask each presenter to write a short poem about themself. So far I’ve employed the haiku (4 line) or cinquain (5 line) forms—you can obtain a description of these online. I encourage presenters to be creative and/or amusing with their poems. Tell them not to worry about following the precise formal poem structure. At the event, the emcee slowly reads each presenter’s poem out loud before she starts.
Other miscellaneous tips
Budgeting Pecha Kucha sessions is not complicated. Unless you’re holding a for-profit event (which requires, incidentally, a minimum donation of $200 to the PechaKucha organization) you are normally aiming to cover your expenses. These are chiefly venue rental and A/V services. If you are serving drinks I suggest you employ a cash bar. Your income can come from an event sponsor or a modest door charge.
If you’re holding a Pecha Kucha session at a conference, consider reserving time right after the presentations are over for the presenters to lead small group discussions of their content. Allow about thirty minutes for this, and suggest that audience members can move between groups as desired. We did this at Event Camp Twin Cities 2011, and it was very well received.
Finally, if at all possible, video the entire session and have someone take photographs too. Upload the movie to a video-sharing site. And photographs provide a great memento for presenters and good content for advertising your next event.
Other Pecha Kucha organizers out there: what tips do you have for organizing a Pecha Kucha event? Please share your experiences and advice in the comments.
Think back on all the conference presentations you’ve attended. How much of what happened there do you remember?
Be honest now. I’m not going to check.
Nearly all the people to whom I’ve asked this question reply, in effect, “not much”. This is depressing news for speakers in general, and me in particular as, since the publication of Conferences That Work: Creating Events That People Love, I have been receiving an increasing number of requests to speak at conferences.
When I ask about the most memorable presentations, people (after adjusting for the reality that memories fade as time passes) tend to mention sessions where there was a lot of interaction with the presenter and/or amidst the audience: in other words, sessions where they weren’t passive attendees but actively participated.
Take a moment to see whether that’s your experience too.
Conference sessions that are designed to facilitate engagement between rather than broadcast content provide wonderful opportunities for social learning: the learning that occurs through connection, engagement, and conversations with our peers.
Social learning is important, and here’s why, courtesy of Harold Jarche:
There are additional reasons why supporting social learning during conference sessions makes a lot of sense:
Active participants almost always learn and retain learning better than passive attendees.
Participants meet and learn about each other, rather than sitting next to strangers who remain strangers during a session.
Participants influence the content and structure of the session towards what it is they want to learn, which is often different from what a presenter expects.
Being active during a session increases engagement, creating better learning outcomes.
Actively participating during a session is generally a lot more fun!
A mission for conference presenters: incorporate audience engagement
Conferences provide an ideal venue for social learning; they are potentially the purest form of social learning network because we are brought together face-to-face with our peers. And yet most conference sessions, invariably promoted as the heart of every conference, squander this opportunity by clinging to the old presenter-as-broadcaster-of-wisdom model.
Of course, there are conference sessions that routinely include significant participation. Amusingly, they have a special name so they won’t be confused with “regular” conference sessions: workshops!
In my opinion, every conference session longer than a few minutes should include significant participation that supports and encourages engagement. If you’re a conference presenter, make this part of your mission—to improve your effectiveness by incorporating participation techniques into your presentations. Your audiences will thank you!
An opportunity to learn how to add participation techniques into your presentations
I have been filling out quite a few conference presentation proposals recently, and began to notice a pattern in my behavior. My mood changed when I had to fill out the session’s learning objectives (which are statements of what attendees will be able to do by the end of the session.)
Specifically, every time I had to fill out the learning objectives for a proposal I got really, really annoyed.
Over the years I’ve found that paying attention to patterns like this is nearly always a learning experience for me. And I had just watched Chris Flink‘s TEDx talk on the gift of suckiness, where he makes a great case for exploring things that suck for you…
…so I reluctantly delved into why I started to feel mad when required to write things like “attendees will be able to list five barriers to implementing participant-driven events“.
At first I wondered whether my annoyance at having to come up with learning objectives (with active verbs, please, like these…)
was because I was a sloppy presenter who hadn’t really thought about what my attendees wanted or needed to learn. I imagined the conference program committee wagging their finger at me (or sighing because they’d seen this so many times before). Listing learning objectives was forcing me to face what I should have thought about before I even suggested the session, and I didn’t like being confronted with my lack of planning.
And then I thought, NO. I DO have goals for my sessions. But they’re much more ambitious goals than having participants being able to regurgitate lists, define terms, explain concepts, or discuss issues.
I want to blow attendees’ minds. And I want to change their lives.
OK, I admit that would be the supreme goal, one that I’m unlikely to achieve most of the time. But it’s a worthy goal. If I can make some attendees see or understand something important in a way that they’ve never seen or understood before, so that they will never see or understand it in the same way again—now that’s worth striving for.
Here’s an imaginary example (not taken from my fields of expertise). Suppose you are evaluating two proposed sessions on the subject of sexual harassment in the workplace. The first includes learning objectives like “define and understand the term sexual harassment”, “identify types of sexual harassment”, and “learn techniques to better deal with sexual harassment”. The second simply says, “People who actively participate in this session are very unlikely to sexually harass others or put up with sexual harassment ever again.”
Assuming the second presenter is credible, which proposal would you choose?
Learning objectives restrict outcomes to safe, measured changes to knowledge or competencies. They leave no place for passion, for changing worldviews, or for evoking action.
That’s why requiring learning objectives for great conference presentations sucks.
If you’ve registered for EventCamp Twin Cities as a remote attendee (it’s free!) you’ll be able to watch a live stream of a little piece of Conferences That Work streamed live. I’ll be running a personal introspective from the comfort and convenience of your web browser of choice on Thursday, September 9 at 4:15 p.m. EST. This will be the first time I’ve ever facilitated a personal introspective with a remote audience, and I’ve added an experimental way for remote attendees to share the results of their introspectives online.
Actually, why restrict yourself to just my session? We have a great set of innovative sessions available to anyone who wants to join the remote audience. I’m also running a fast-paced Pecha Kucha session at 2 p.m. EST the same day, and the conference program is packed with other great content and formats. The organizers have bent over backwards to create a two-way experience for remote attendees; here’s an excerpt from the EventCamp Twin Cities remote audience page:
[You’ll be able…] to view the video stream and the slides from the main sessions, [and have] the ability to participate in the backchannel with on-site attendees and other remote attendees. The official Twitter hashtag is #ectc10. Also, there will be a hybrid moderator that will capture your questions and comments to share with the greater audience. And, we will be using PollEverywhere to allow ALL attendees (face-to-face and virtual) to vote via Twitter or their mobiles when speakers are asking questions.
In addition, Emilie Barta, the virtual emcee will guide you through the event and make sure that you are connected to the face-to-face audience. In between sessions, she will interview speakers, sponsors and attendees to add additional context to your event experience.
I may not see you at EventCamp Twin Cities (though I’ll be scanning and responding to messages via my Twitter feed throughout the event.) But I hope you’ll drop in and see me and the other wonderful people and sessions we’ve created, and interact with us too. Don’t miss this unique opportunity!
“Being architects and having been to countless lectures, we knew that once people start to talk about their work and have a mic in their hands they just go on about details forever…” —Mark and Astrid Klein, the inventors of Pecha Kucha
To recap, a typical Pecha Kucha session at an event consists of around an hour of back-to-back presentations, each 400 seconds long. There’s no time allocated for questions during the session, and (unless people start throwing stuff) no participation during each presenter’s time on stage.
My defense is brevity. Because all presentations are purposefully short, I like to describe Pecha Kucha as speed dating for ideas. The Pecha Kucha design purposely and explicitly excludes formal Q&A during the session, with the clear expectation that presentations will spark dialogue outside the session.
In other words, unlike the claims of many a traditional presentation with an obligatory Q&A session tacked on the end, a Pecha Kucha event doesn’t pretend to provide an interactive experience. Rather, a single Pecha Kucha provides a rapid introduction to a topic, an idea, or an experience that acts as a jumping off place for stimulated viewers to start learning more via engagement after the presentation. A single fifty minute session can expose attendees to multiple powerful, interesting, and entertaining ideas and viewpoints, and leave plenty of time during the rest of the event for captivated individuals to seek out presenters for further discussions.
Short, sweet, and to the point. That’s why PK (Pecha Kucha) is OK.
Want to experience Pecha Kucha as applied to the world of event professionals? Then you owe it yourself to attend EventCamp Twin Cities next month (September 8-9, Minneapolis, MN) for our Pecha Kucha session, moderated by yours truly. Here are the scheduled presentations from a variety of event professionals!
Instead of going after celebrities to present at your next conference, highlight some stars amongst your attendees with a Pecha Kucha session!
Pecha Kucha is a dynamic presentation format that has spread globally since its invention in Japan in 2003. Think of it as a haiku for presentations. Twenty slides automatically advance, each shown for twenty seconds, while the presenter shares his or her passion about a topic. Because each presentation lasts just 6 minutes and 40 seconds, presenters are challenged to be concise, targeted, and creative—and you can pack eight attendee presentations into an hour-long conference session.
So, you have a question? You want to know how to pronounce Pecha Kucha? Don’t be embarrassed, everybody asks. Just watch this short YouTube video:
O.K., glad to have cleared that up. You can also incorporate Pecha Kucha into a social event at your conference by scheduling your presentations during an evening social, with food and drink available while the presentations go on. This is the format used at Pecha Kucha Nights, held in hundreds of cities all over the world four or more times a year.
Pecha Kucha set up
It’s pretty easy to set up a Pecha Kucha session. Before the conference, you’ll need to:
explain the format to your attendees;
promote the session;
solicit presenters; and
send them a presentation template.
Have them send their presentations to you before the session. On the day, you’ll need an appropriately sized location with presentation-friendly lighting, a wireless mike and sound system, a schedule, and a screen, projector and laptop running PowerPoint or Keynote. Add an MC and a staffer for the laptop and you’re ready to go!
I’m a big fan of Pecha Kucha as a way for people to connect and learn in a fun, fast-paced environment. I’ve just signed a contract to run Brattleboro Pecha Kucha Night, and we’re working on holding a Pecha Kucha session at Event Camp Twin Cities this fall.