PowerPoint Tip: Three lessons learned from Pecha Kucha

At the recent Presentation Summit, Ric Bretschneider did a session on Pecha Kucha, a presentation format that has gained a lot of followers in recent years. As part of his session, he asked a few people to volunteer in advance to demonstrate this technique. I was one of the volunteers and today I'd like to share three lessons I learned from the experience.

First of all, I should explain what Pecha Kucha is. A Pecha Kucha is a twenty slide presentation that lasts six minutes and forty seconds because each slide is on the screen for only twenty seconds. The slides automatically advance, so the presenter has to time their remarks to coincide with the changing of the slides. There are evening events held in a number of cities where presenters prepare and deliver these types of presentations (find out more about the organization behind Pecha Kucha at www.pecha-kucha.org).

The goal of a Pecha Kucha is to focus your message into a short presentation that still gets the point across. When I was approached with the idea, I immediately said Yes because I wanted to see how I could grow from the challenge of using a new approach.

Most Pecha Kucha presentations are on topics that are the personal passion of the presenter, such as a hobby or a business idea. I wanted to see how this format would apply to a hard business topic, so I chose to present Microsoft’s fourth quarter financial results to an imaginary internal company audience in six minutes and forty seconds. This is public information, so I wasn’t revealing any secrets. My presentation was very well received and a number of the attendees commented that they now saw that the ideas behind Pecha Kucha could apply to business oriented presentations.

The first lesson I learned from my experience with Pecha Kucha was the importance of the structure of the presentation. Financial results can be a lot of complex information and you have to decide what the focus should really be. I looked at the extensive press release that Microsoft published and selected my topics related to the revenue, income and expenses in each business unit. The lesson for all presenters is to first decide on what your message needs to be (that's why I did a webinar two weeks ago on planning a successful presentation).

The second lesson was that when you only have twenty slides that will be on the screen for twenty seconds each, you have to dramatically cut down the information on each slide. The format forces you to make hard decisions about what should stay and what should be cut out. You can’t have a spreadsheet on the slide because it is way too much information. You can only make one point per slide, which is a good approach for all presentations.

The third lesson was the importance of rehearsing. I got many compliments on how well my presentation flowed and how I transitioned from one slide to the next. When you have a clear structure and have limited your points to the most important ones only, it makes it easier to speak to those points. But it is critical to rehearse so that you know what you want to say for each slide and you can tie the current point to the next point. Make sure you schedule time to rehearse your presentations, it makes a big difference.

While I don't think most organizations will adopt Pecha Kucha as the way to present all of their presentations, I think that many presentations could benefit from using the lessons it teaches us: Create a clear structure, one point per slide only, and rehearse so it flows well. Thanks Ric for asking me to take part in the session.