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A Primer on Pecha Kucha for Learning

Janet Clarey and I are preparing for a session at the Brandon Hall Innovations in Learning conference where we intend to use the pecha kucha presentation style to share several social media tools. This got me to thinking about how pecha kucha is an excellent (and fun) tool for learning, so in this post I'm pulling together a quick little primer on pecha kucha for learning.

What is Pecha Kucha?
Pecha Kucha (pronounced peh-chak-cha) is a presentation format originally devised by Astrid Klein and Mark Dytham of Klein-Dytham Architecture. Think of it as presentation haiku--a highly structured environment for expressing ideas concisely and clearly.

A pecha kucha presentation consists of 20 PowerPoint slides, 20 seconds per slide, for a total presentation time of 6 minutes, 40 seconds. In a live pecha kucha event, you give the tech person your 20 slides, already pre-timed to transition every 20 seconds, so you're forced to keep moving whether you're ready or not. If you do a pecha kucha screencast, it's a little less nerve-wracking.

Probably the most frequently-seen example of pecha kucha in action is Dan Pink's presentation, Get to the PowerPoint in 20 Slides:


Ways to Learn with Pecha Kucha
The most obvious way to use pecha kucha for learning is as an instructional technique. A trainer can use it to present learning content, either in a live session, or through a screencast delivered as an e-learning module. But that's leaving out a big part of what makes pecha kucha fun--having multiple presenters and the energy that comes from that. I also think that one of the benefits of pecha kucha from a learner perspective is that it forces people to get at the essence of a topic or problem. Although it can be a decent instructional tool, I think there's even greater value in having learners use it themselves.

Some of the ways pecha kucha could be used for learning:

  • For learning assessment--At the conclusion of a training session, have each learner present a pecha kucha-style summary of what they learned. This could be done either in a live setting or even in an online course. Learners could  record their pecha kuchas as screencasts or deliver them live via webinar. Most online conferencing systems allow you to change presenters, so you could just switch between the different participants. Could be a lot more fun and interesting than a test or other assessment format.
  • To support reflective practice--As part of creating the culture of reflective practice, consider setting up regular pecha kucha events (lunch time, a Friday morning meeting) where staff are encouraged to share something they've learned related to a particular theme or to share a problem they're experiencing. This could also be used to de-construct a completed project or to reflect on an experience the team has shared.
  • As a form of virtual teambuilding--If you have team members working in various locations, do an online pecha kucha session. This could either be done in real time (through a webinar) or you could have people record their sessions and put them into a wiki. Staff could use the format to introduce themselves to their teammates or to discuss what their department does and how it fits into the larger organization. They can then learn more about the organization and the people they're working with. This could also be a fun way to do Employee Orientation sessions.
  • For an online conference--Invite people to submit pecha-kucha style pieces related to a conference theme or covering a specific tool or topic. These could be embedded into a blog or wiki during the conference, available for viewing once the conference is over. The comments section could be used to invite further discussion and feedback.
  • To share conference learnings--Previously I suggested that the price of admission to a conference should be to share what was learned. Pecha kucha would be a perfect format for this, as in this example on Learning at Learning 2007

If you use pecha kucha for learning, you may want to consider interspersing Q&A sessions in between the presentations. This allows people to dig a little deeper into the topic if necessary.

The advantage of pecha kucha as a learning technique is that it's fun and fast-paced. It's very visual and lends itself well to a multitude of learning situations and audiences--it can be appealing to both the geeks and the salespeople.  It also forces learners to get to the heart of a topic--the "need to know," rather than the "nice to know." And it limits the "talkers," while taking the pressure off the more quiet people in your organization.

Creating a Basic Pecha Kucha Presentation
Pecha kucha is one of those deceptively simple formats that on the surface seems incredibly easy--20 slides, 20 seconds per slide, how hard is that? The challenge lies in taking your topic and making it tell a story within those parameters.

Start by firing up PowerPoint, going to Slide Sorter view and inserting 20 slides. That way you have immediately set up your constraints--you have exactly these 20 slides to use.

Then begin plotting out your "story line." What do you want to say and in what order do you want to say it?  Think of your slides  as a sort of story-board. Put a few words or concepts on each slide to help you set up the "plot." Consider the order in which you're presenting them, too--are they telling the story the way you want them to?

Once you have your basic outline, it's time to start making it look good. Pecha kucha is very visual. Lots of words and bullets are severely frowned upon. You need photos and pictures that will support your points, so try checking out some of these sites to get the visuals you need.

You'll probably want to use PowerPoint's Notes view to write a script for your pecha kucha presentation, particularly if this is your first time doing one or if you plan to record your presentation. At a minimum, you'll need some way to script things out so that you can stay within your 20 second per slide parameter.

Once you have your slides in the order you want them and your script is written, be sure to practice. Out loud. Pecha kucha is about timing, so you need to be sure that your delivery is going to match your slides. Remember, it's 20 seconds per slide. That can either feel like no time at all or an eternity. You want it to feel just right.

Delivering a Pecha Kucha Presentation
Here are some basic guidelines for delivery.

  • Limit the introduction. Having a  30 minute introduction before you start your pecha kucha presentation is kind of cheating isn't it?
  • Create an environment that's conducive to the format. Pecha kucha is more informal and dynamic, so try to create a space and learning atmosphere that supports that. Think karaoke, not classroom.
  • Keep things moving--Ideally you have several people presenting, so keep things flowing and don't get bogged down in the transitions. If possible, have people get their presentations in ahead of time so that they can all be loaded onto a laptop and ready to roll.
  • Consider having Q&A--Again, if you're using pecha kucha as a learning tool, time for questions and answers might be very appropriate, particularly if you're assessing learning.
  • Have fun!

Pecha Kucha Resources
If you want to learn more, here are some additional resources to check out:

  • Pecha Kucha Global--This is the main site for finding pecha kucha sessions around the world.

Pecha kucha may not be right for every organization, but I'd suggest that it's definitely an idea worth considering if you're looking for another way to make learning experiences creative, fun and dynamic.

Anyone using pecha kucha for learning? Drop me a note or a comment--I'd love to hear more about it.

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This is a great Pecha Kucha resource! I'm looking forward to doing this session with you. I think it'll be effective for getting through a lot of information in a short time period while giving enough time for people to gain some hands-on experience using each of the tools. We've been doing these at Brandon Hall Research as part of our monthly meetings. Because we all work virtually from around the world, it's a good way to get to know something about your co-workers interests and hobbies. We've had some fun with it and it makes you an expert in your topic because it forces you to be succinct. Kind of the learning by teaching approach.

Thanks for this great post.

Thanks for the post Michele, you've enlightened me further as to the usefulness and application of Pecha Kucha. I've used it at a small symposium to experience what it's like to do, and to model another way of presenting. It was great fun and created a bit of buzz. Due to the constraints, some care and thought needs to applied in preparation, but there's still lot's of time to tell a story. The value comes in having to focus and the get to the point in under 7 minutes and then exploring further in talking others afterwards.

I agree with Janet comment that it's like learning by teaching.

Well, I have to admit I have been living life up until now oblivious to Pecha Kucha. Great stuff. I am definitely going to have to give this a try. Thanks for the post, Michele. - Jeff

I'm looking forward to doing the session with you, too, Janet--I have to admit that I put this together partly for myself, too. :-)

Colin, thanks for sharing your experiences, and for validating that it's good to have more in-depth discussion later.

And Jeff, glad that you enjoyed it. It's only fair given that I return the favor after reading so many of yours. :-)

I'd only seen the term a few weeks ago, in Janet's blog, but the concept reminds me of the 99-second presentations I've seen at ISPI conferences.

The core is the same: use an arbitrary form, like the number of slides or the time limit, to trigger different ways of thinking. (Moses Asch did something similar years ago to collect folk songs: he'd invite a bunch of musicians together and tell them they had to bring, say, a song with the name of a river in it.)

So is it cheating if I have a lot of reveals embedded in a single slide? I guess not, if I've only got 20 seconds.

Pecha Kucha (pronounced peh-chak-cha)-- I showed Daniel Pink's video to my class and the Japanese students had no idea what his pronuncation was. Please don't spread Daniel Pink's pronunciation should be 4 separate syllables, because they are 4 separate Japanese words.

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