Thursday, June 26, 2014

I Love Pecha Kucha

Hi, folks,

I want to talk this week about my favorite technical/non-technical presentation format - PechaKucha™ **

This week, I want to talk about what Pecha Kucha is, why I like it so much, how to use the format effectively, and close with a Pecha Kucha I gave on how to do a good Pecha Kucha.

What's a Pecha Kucha, anyways?

Simply put, a Pecha Kucha is a type of lightning talk with a very specific format.  I'm using "lightning talk" in the general sense to refer to "any short presentation" here.  All Pecha Kucha's are lightning talks, but not all lightning talks are Pecha Kucha's.

A Pecha Kucha is sometimes referred to as a 20x20, because the specific restriction of the format is "Exactly 20 slides, with each slide timed to auto-advance to the next slide after exactly 20 second."  This means a Pecha Kucha is exactly 6 minutes and 40 seconds long.  By design, the presenter has no active control during the presentation - the slides neither wait for the presenter to be finished nor advance whenever the presenter is ready.  It's up to the presenter to find the right rhythm.

Where did Pecha Kucha come from?

Pecha Kucha was invented in 2003 by Astrid Klein and Mark Dytham, two architects who lived in Tokyo and also owned a bar/experimental space called SuperDeluxe, as a way to get people excited to come to their venue.  They were inspired by a simple idea - architects (like most people) tend to talk too much.  60 minutes of PowerPoint is a lot to listen to.  So, they devise a format to force presenters to boil their presentations down to their essence.

And the first PechaKucha™night was born. 

There are now regular open Pecha Kucha nights in (as of this writing) 700 cities world wide, with people speaking on all kinds of topics.  You can learn more about them at  I highly recommend checking out their "Presentation of the Day" archive for some truly mind-blowing stuff. 

What's so cool about Pecha Kucha's?

The big thing I love about the format is that technologists suffer from the same problem as architects - they talk too much, and if you ask the average technologist to write a presentation, it's likely to be long and dry. 

But we're also a learning culture - the state of the art in technology changes rapidly, and it's hard to keep up.  Learning what our peers are up to, what they're experimenting with, what's worked for them -- all of this is vital to keeping on the cutting edge.

Pecha Kucha, with it's short, focused format that forces presenters to get to the point, is ideal for technologists to give each other a peak at what's new in the world, without taking too long or getting into too much detail.  It's just enough content for me to know if I'm interested in learning more about a topic, and get me excited about new ideas.  

It's also an accessible presentation format for people who haven't necessarily had experience giving public presentations before.  The format does have some challenges, but 6 minutes and 40 seconds of engaging content is considerably easier to generate then 60 minutes of content.  (At ThoughtWorks internal training program for new college grads, we require every participant to write and present a Pecha Kucha).  

I host a semi-regular Pecha Kucha night at ThoughtWorks' New York office, where our consultants (and some special guests) get the opportunity to let the rest of ThoughtWorks know what they're working on, looking into, or doing in their spare time to make the world a better place.

Sounds interesting - how do I get started?

Glad you asked!  I actually put together a Pecha Kucha on why you should do a Pecha Kucha, that also contains how to put together a good Pecha Kucha, that was presented at one of our ThoughtWorks Pecha Kucha nights! 

** PechaKucha™ is trademarked to protect the term and the network of open PechaKucha nights around the world. You can read more about the trademark at I very much support their right to trademark their work. However, to avoid crazy overuse of the ™ symbol all over this post, I will be omitting the trademark symbol when I'm talking about the concept (as opposed to the organization).

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