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Pecha-kucha: Presentation as Performance Art

Pecha-kucha: Presentation as Performance Art

Written by Elyse Eidman-Aadahl
August 07, 2011

The spirit behind the pecha-kucha is what Guy Reyolds referred to as ‘restrictions as liberators’. People are often more creative when given limitations.”

Pecha-Kucha is a format where presenters give a talk in 400 seconds by speaking along with 20 slides, each presented for 20 seconds. This structure, imitated in Ignite (20 slides x 15 seconds) or Talk20, allows for focused sharing of ideas, designs, or information while avoiding the dreaded “death by PowerPoint.” The idea is now quite popular, and Pecha-Kucha started it all.

Pecha-Kucha, or PK for short, is named after the Japanese term for informal conversation (‘chit chat’), and was devised in 2003 in Tokyo by two architects. These architects hosted Pecha-Kucha nights in Tokyo where young designers could show-up and show-off their designs in a public setting. In order to keep the evenings moving and the presentations egalitarian and focused, Pecha-Kucha nights required presenters to adhere to the now common format: 20 images/slides x 20 seconds each, set to autoforward. Anyone could present as long as he or she adhered to the format, leading many to dub the Pecha-Kucha a democratic TED conference.

Many have adapted the Pecha-Kucha idea as a way to do focused presentations. But the ‘art’ of the Pecha-Kucha is a little different than the traditional presentation where speakers present slide after slide of bulleted content. Pecha-Kucha style emphasizes a strong story, performed well, accompanied by strong images. At 20 seconds per slide, no audience can read a set of bullet points, but we can be drawn in by an image. In Pecha-Kucha, the slides rarely feature text and are never ‘read’ by the speaker, who always faces the audience. The speaker needs to write well, practice, and perform to give a good talk. Pecha-Kucha is to presentations as slam poetry is to read poetry.

To me, the Pecha-Kucha is a presentation genre that can have real utility in the classroom. Because it is a ‘real’ format—increasingly used in business for pitches and showcases of all kinds—students are, in fact, learning a style of presentation that does exist outside of school.  The format requires good writing, writing with an ear for rhetorical effectiveness as well as emphasis and clarity. It also rewards preparation and practiced performance, much like a speech. Students will need to ‘know their stuff’ in order to present it because they can’t just read a set of hastily copied bullet points to the class. Educator Jeff Utecht, linked below, explains how he uses this format, slightly adapted, in his classroom for these very reasons.

The Pecha-Kucha site displays recordings of talks. You can find others on YouTube. Too few are by students though; so if you use this technique with your students please upload a few and link them as student exemplars!

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