Tips for organizing Pecha Kucha sessions

Pecha Kucha presenters at Event Camp Twin Cities 2011

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.

Keynote merge

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.
PowerPoint merge

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.

Presenter tip

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.

Sound concerns

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.

Presenter introductions

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.

Photo by Ruud Janssen

9 thoughts on “Tips for organizing Pecha Kucha sessions

  1. Adrian, you rocked our world in the Philly Pod with this presentation format.  As virtual viewers we found it was very difficult for the long presentations to hold our attention.  Even if it was a great presenter and great topic…after about 10-15 minutes we just could not stay focused.  Pecha Kucha was great because of the fast pace and constantly changing visuals.  We were completely locked in. 

    A huge shoutout to your presenters who braved this new format.  They did such an excellent job, they all looked like Pecha Kucha pros. 

    As a conference producer I want to start incorporating this into my events.  Thank you so much for sharing this information.  Like your book for peer conferences, you don’t miss sharing even the slightest detail!

  2. How would you personally organize a conference where multiple sessions
    are held at the same time? Would you put all of them into a single
    conference room or would you use multiple rooms? What would be the

    1. If you’re asking about having multiple Pecha Kucha sessions running simultaneously, I wouldn’t recommend it. Each presentation is short enough for it to be the only thing happening at that moment.

      If you’re asking about conferences in general, the answer is…it depends. The biggest problem running multiple sessions in the same room is audio (and possibly visual) cross-over from one session to another. If you have several small group discussions going on, they can certainly be held in the same room provided there’s enough space between the groups to avoid distractions. If you have several larger sessions going on, however, the audiences will be irritated by the “noise” coming from the other sessions.

  3. 1. Assume that the conference room is properly
    fitted with audiovisual equipment to display large-size video and amplify the
    speaker’s voice. If a person wanted to attend a specific session, does it
    matter which seat will the person takes, or is it sufficient for the person to
    sit anywhere as long as it is in appropriate conference room?

  4. Adrian, great article, as always. A note on Keynote vs. PowerPoint… I’d suggest that you eliminate the conflict by asking presenters to submit their slides as PDF or images. Then you can import the slides into whatever format you as the organizer prefer. This also eliminates font challenges. The presentations will also move along faster because there is no need to switch technologies and break the flow of the conference.

    Of course, you might argue that presenters will lose the ability to use fancy presentation animations, but I’d counter with who wants to use those cheesy animations anyway?! 🙂

    1. That’s a good idea Michael. You’d still need to add the time passing visual indicator mention in the post. And, without a master template for every presenter to use, you’d also have to specify pdf/image slide dimensions resolutions, and make sure they’re actually used, or slides may be distorted during presentations.

      1. I’m sorry Adrian, I should’ve clarified a bit more. I meant this to be a supplement to the template method with a master presentation. The way I see the process going is like this: (1) The organizer sends a link to a speaker management portal (where speakers have a list of tasks they need to complete, and can download/upload documents), (2) The speakers download the template, review slide design requirements, create their presentations, then export it as a PDF or images, (3) The speakers upload the PDF or images to the speaker portal, (4) The organizer exports the speakers’ documents, then imports them into their master presentation. This eliminates merging presentations and allows the facilitator to use whichever program they prefer (PowerPoint or Keynote).

        1. Thanks, Michael, that makes sense to me. There would need to be two organizer-supplied templates, one for speakers using PowerPoint and one for speakers using Keynote. Having the speakers’ output be pdfs or images could make it easier for the organizer to put the master presentation together. The only downside might be that if a speaker ends up supplying slides in a different size or resolution from requested (and this happens more than you’d think) it could be more work to fix than extracting an original image from a PowerPoint or Keynote deck.

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