What Is Pecha Kucha?

What Is Pecha Kucha?

A new presentation style captures the imagination.

By Sunny Marie Hackman, ACB, CL

Mesmerized, I wondered, “Is it the speaker, the unusual format he’s using...or both?” The speaker’s presentation consisted of 20 slides, and each slide lasted exactly 20 seconds. Something about this innovative presentation enthralled me. And I wasn’t the only one. The speech – with Twitter as the topic – drew a lot of attention at a speaker’s conference I was attending in Nashville, Tennessee.

I learned later what I had experienced was a presentation style, called Pecha Kucha. The name is difficult to pronounce, as attested to by the number of YouTube videos devoted entirely to its correct pronunciation. Phonetically, you should say: Paw-Chalk‘-Ahh-Cha.’ Say it quickly and confidently and chances are you’ll be almost right – though not quite.

Writer John Gendall calls Pecha Kucha “PowerPoint’s hip, younger cousin” and communication coach Andrew Thorp (Manchester, United Kingdom) says, “Pecha Kucha is a great antidote to bad PowerPoint.”

Some call it “Death by PowerPoint,” while others think of it as the death of PowerPoint. Yet Gendall says, “Few things – except, perhaps, Apple computer products and Moleskine notebooks – have been embraced by designers of all stripes so quickly and universally as Pecha Kucha has.”

There are only two rules for Pecha Kucha: An entire show consists of precisely 20 slides, and each slide is allotted exactly 20 seconds. The form is often referred to as 20x20.

Pecha Kucha originates from the word “chitchat,” a Japanese term describing the sound of conversation. The birth of this presentation style was as informal as its name implies. Yet despite a casual start, it has grown into a worldwide phenomenon. Two European architects, Mark Dytham and Astrid Klein, devised Pecha Kucha as a way to use multiple attention-grabbing presentations at their Tokyo architectural business to foster social networking and education, or in the words of Dytham, “a physical social network” – an adult show and tell. They didn’t expect it to expand beyond their initial plan. What began in 2003 as a happy accident in Tokyo has morphed exponentially into organized Pecha Kucha events now held in 251 cities across the globe. 

Growing in Global Popularity
Pecha Kucha migrated from Tokyo in 2004 to its first European locale in Bern, Switzerland, and then surfaced in London in the summer of 2005. It crossed the ocean in 2006 and turned up in San Francisco. Now it has seized the imagination of speakers around the globe, and some corporations, like Autodesk, the world’s largest 2D and 3D design software company with more than 9 million users worldwide, are adopting Pecha Kucha as their preferred method for presenting oral reports.

Back home in Denver, Colorado, I noticed a Pecha Kucha advertisement in the local newspaper and, of course, attended the event. It was held at a community theater and was packed to capacity. Many attendees sat on the floor or stood in the back to enjoy the variety of presentations. The 10 presenters spanned a range of professions: landscape designer, architect, world traveler, photographer, bicyclist, writer, sustainable-living enthusiast, fashion designer, foodie and urban chicken farmer.

It was a fascinating evening. The Pecha Kucha format worked for every topic and every presenter. The fast-paced, timed format prevented the speakers from hiding behind their slides, and any extemporaneous material had to be edited mercilessly. Because the format was so tightly structured, it required extensive preparation and practice. The audience was focused and engaged throughout. We all left wanting more.

Pecha Kucha looked challenging but resonated with the mission and values I embrace as a Toastmaster: effective public speaking, global communication and social networking. The length of a Pecha Kucha presentation is six minutes and 40 seconds – the perfect length for many 5-7-minute Toastmasters manual and contest speeches. I decided I would develop a Pecha Kucha for my Toastmasters club, the Thunderbolt Orators. 

Trying It Out For The Club
In addition to improving my speaking, presentation, editing and computer skills, I discovered the benefits of belonging to a Toastmasters club when experimenting with a new speaking technique. My fellow Toastmasters embraced the project and learned along with me. As I exchanged one slide for another, coordinating speech and slides, members guided me to a polished presentation through round robin and individual evaluations. One member lent me an LCD projector to help me practice. “The Hazard of Harvest,” my Pecha Kucha presentation, was a team effort, and it became a winning humorous speech at the club and area level last fall.

After the division contest, I delivered “The Hazard of Harvest” at a Pecha Kucha event in Denver.

Drew Bixby, author of Denver’s Best Dive Bars and fellow Pecha Kucha presenter, says, “Dynamic is the absolute best way to describe the type of communication that happens via Pecha Kucha.”

The best compliment I received was from a fellow Toastmaster who said, “You transcended the technique and used it to transport the message of your speech.” That comment reminded me that communicating a message, effectively and with skill, is the goal for every Toastmaster. Techniques and technology will always offer new tools for the speaker to use, but they should never overshadow the speaker or their message.

Pecha Kucha is a fun and engaging way to present ideas and interact with an audience. I will use it again. My experience with the form put me on a path of continued growth as a speaker, because it taught me that experimenting with different techniques and technologies increases my skill and enlarges my territory as an effective oral communicator. 

Sunny Marie Hackman, ACB, CL, is a member of the Thunderbolt Orators club in Lakewood, Colorado. To reach her and view her Pecha Kucha presentation, “The Hazard of Harvest,” visit www.sunnymariehackman.com.

Editor’s Note: To learn more about Pecha Kucha, visit http://www.pecha-kucha.org/.