Pecha Kucha - How to write the presentation

For those that haven't heard of it Pecha Kucha is a presentation format where you present 20 slides on a topic, with the twist that each slide is only displayed for 20 seconds. I'd first read about in on Presentation Zen, and last week I got the opportunity to experience it first hand.

It actually took me quite some time to put my slides together. This was for a couple of reasons. First of all, I wanted to use the opportunity to put together a more graphical set of slides than I normally do. I normally have to present a lot of textual information, and I really wanted to practice getting away from the bullet points. The second problem was that structuring the presentation was quite different.

When I present, I have a very clear idea of the points I want to make, and the material necessary to support each point. I also have a structure, which builds up the material in a suitable way. Now this works very well when I have no constraints on the slides or the material that I present on each slide. The problems are that some slides might have only a single point to make - so I don't need to talk for long; and most talks don't have exactly twenty points that I want to make.

So I needed an algorithm to come up with the talk and slides. The way I ended up doing it was to have a list of the twenty slides and write a script, allocating a couple of sentences to each slide. I timed how much text I generally could say in 20 seconds in order to come up with an estimate of how much text to assign to each slide. This was a bit of a shock as twenty seconds can feel a surprisingly long time (my initial estimate was one sentence per slide, when I actually deliver two).

Now, the presentation is bound not to fit onto twenty slides, so after the first pass, you probably need to either add a couple more ideas into the presentation, or remove some of the material.

Once I'd got the text down, I gathered up some material for the visuals. Although this was fun, it was actually easier than the step of drafting the flow.

On the evening, I noticed that there were several alternative approaches. The first was to put twenty slides of material up, and the talk without trying to connect to the material on every slide. Another approach was to basically produce a twenty slide (bullet point) presentation, and then talk through it.

My presentation went well enough, there was one point in the middle where I actually caught up with the slide show and paused for probably 10 seconds. The rest of the time I managed to pretty much be in step with the visuals as they changed.

The one caveat is that I did actually practice the talk a couple of times, which turned out to be very helpful. Since the slides change automatically, you don't have the option of staying longer on one slide to make a more complex point, or quickly skipping to the next slide if there's not much to say.

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About

Darryl Gove is a senior engineer in the Solaris Studio team, working on optimising applications and benchmarks for current and future processors. He is also the author of the books:
Multicore Application Programming
Solaris Application Programming
The Developer's Edge

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