Pecha Kucha: 5 Steps to excellence

Pecha Kucha.  Never heard of it?  It’s a simple presentation structure: 20 slides every 20 seconds (20 x 20).  The slides auto advance.  Once the first slide appears, the presentation does not end until the last slide leaves 6 minutes and 40 seconds later.  The presenter delivers a story that relates to the slides.  Below are 5 steps to Pecha Kucha excellence.

The format of Pecha Kucha was created in 2003 by Astrid Klein and Mark Dytham, two European architects who work in Japan.  They designed the structure as a method to condense and limit the presentations of their fellow architects.  Their colleagues, when presenting in front of an audience, tend to talk forever.  This scenario is not exclusive to architects; everyone who presents has this problem.  To meet this challenge they devised Pecha Kucha, Japanese for “Chit Chat.”

Can you Pecha Kucha?  Yes, you can.  Everyone can do it.  Any subject can be presented in Pecha Kucha format.  All you have to do is pick your subject, develop a story, and then select your images.  Choose a subject that you really like as you’re going to spend a lot of time with it.

To do an impressive Pecha Kucha, you’ll need to practice your presentation so that you can smoothly go through all 20 slides without notes.  You can use notes, but it’s only 20 slides.  You can do it – if you practice.  Not using notes will let you engage with your audience.  That’s what Pecha Kucha is all about, sharing your favorite subject with other people. 

Pecha Kucha Night Bemidji, Minnesota - Houdini Pecha KuchaAround the globe Pecha Kucha is performed as an entertainment forum, Pecha Kucha Nights.  Many corporations and associations use the Pecha Kucha framework as a way to “tame” long-winded presenters.  Everyone gets 6 minutes and 40 seconds to present his or her idea.  In business settings, the short presentations are generally followed with lengthy Q&A sessions that help flesh out details of the subject.

I’ve delivered a Pecha Kucha in a variety of places: a corporate workshop in Washington, DC; a PowerPoint conference in Scottsdale, AZ; and at an official Pecha Kucha Night in Bemidji, MN.  The subject of my Pecha Kucha is Houdini; it’s his life story in 6 minutes and 40 seconds.

Pecha Kucha, like the other formal structures, i.e. sonnets, haiku, and limericks, might seem limiting.  However, within the structure that restricts, numerous options are possible.  From the initial creation to the third public presentation of Houdini Pecha Kucha I’ve learned a many new things about the structure and how to work with it. Here are some suggestions from my experience that will assist you.

Video: 5 Steps to Pecha Kucha Excellence

5 Steps to Pecha Kucha excellence

Start in analog Use 3 inch x 5 inch note cards to capture your main ideas.  Each card will translate into a potential slide. For each idea, write out 3 short sentences that expound on that idea.  When spoken aloud in a conversational tone, your spoken words can quickly fill 20 seconds.  Houdini Pecha Kucha started out with an initial set of 30 cards. Some of the main ideas were Houdini’s birth, his name, his escapes, and his death.

Edit your story in analog Sort, shift, and remove cards until you get a final 20 cards that tell a cohesive story. Your story can be chronological or thematic.  One way to bend the Pecha Kucha structure to your advantage is to tell your story in a “Top 10” format.  Use 5 slides to introduce your subject.  Do the “Top 10” with 10 slides.  Conclude with 5 more slides.  If your subject is a trip, divide your story and slides into a “before, during, and after.” 

Select your images Find strong visual images to match each of your selected 20 cards.  Your images will be seen on a large screen.  Make sure that your image files are the right resolution.  Select the best images to go with each topic.

Houdini Pecha Kucha in Bemidji, Minnesota

Move to digital Create a set of slides based on your note cards and story. Go big with your images, as your slides should have little or no text.  Animation is allowed, but if choose to use it, keep it simple and limit it to just a couple of slides.  Houdini Pecha Kucha had three animations in 20 slides.

Practice a lot Practice as much as you can and more than you think you need to.  It’s the only way to get your presentation to flow.  You’ll probably discover that you’ve got too much information for each slide. Audience reaction will also change your timing.  My advice is that you go for less.  Give some “performance” to your Pecha Kucha.  Be dramatic.  Add your own personal flair.  Have fun.

Special Pecha Kucha technique #1: In Houdini Pecha Kucha, the final three slides cover one topic.  This provides 60 seconds of space, an eternity in Pecha Kucha, to “hover” on the topic.  This space lets you adjust your timing and flow.  “Hover” space in Pecha Kucha is invaluable.

Special Pecha Kucha technique #2: To assist in learning Houdini Pecha Kucha I recorded my PowerPoint slide presentation as a movie.  I then placed the movie on my IPhone.  Carrying Houdini Pecha Kucha presentation in my pocket let me practice the presentation anytime and anywhere that I had a spare 6 minutes and 40 seconds.

Take a look at each of the Houdini Pecha Kucha presentations.  The delivery of the story and the connection with the audience improve with time.  The latest one, Bemidji Pecha Kucha Night, reveals that some improvisation is possible. I was able to add a couple of “off the cuff” remarks, while still meeting the time restraint.  The added remarks made the rigid structure less formal.

FYI: There’s another slide presentation format called “Ignite.’  Like Pecha Kucha there are 20 slides, however with “Ignite” each slide auto advances after 15 seconds, making each “Ignite” presentation 5 minutes. 

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About Charles Greene III

Charles Greene III is a true Presentation Magician. Working with Fortune 500 companies, he’s a magical spokesperson who delivers product and marketing messages at conferences around the globe. Through his company Corporate Shuffle, Charles has presented at meetings in Bermuda, China, Egypt, France, Mexico, Monaco, Sweden, and, of course, the United States. His clients span a variety of industries and include 3M, Alcon, Coca-Cola, Clorox, Frito-Lay, Johnson & Johnson, Panasonic, and Wells Fargo. Charles’ public speaking and presentation workshops are engaging, educational, and empowering. With more than 25 years of experience as an international corporate spokesperson, Charles leads by example. He captivates attention as he delivers critical presentation skills. His workshops cover the core skills of public speaking as well as presentation techniques learned from decades of corporate presenting. Charles is a guest columnist for Presentation Magazine. He’s been featured in Discover, The Washington Post, The Wall Street Journal, and The Robb Report. When not for revealing the secrets of better public speaking, Charles spends time collecting vintage magic posters, stone lithographs of magicians from 1890 – 1930. To see some of his collection, visit He can also make a mean gumbo. Charles was born in Hackensack, NJ. He currently lives in the historic Columbia Heights neighborhood of Washington, DC.
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