For most companies, presentations are a regular part of meetings. Unfortunately most presentations are poorly designed and even more poorly delivered. Slides that are filled with text in 10-point font and presenters who monotonously read through what's on the screen make what should be 10-minute presentations hour-long ordeals.
When I teach presentation skill in my leadership programs, we use a technique that forces presenters to be sharp, focused, succinct, and to tell a story with purpose. It's something I picked up as a Lean/Agile coach years ago during my study of Japanese management approaches.
It's called PechaKucha and it's a simple structure of twenty slides that are timed at twenty seconds each. Developed by architects Astrid Klein and Mark Dytham as a experimental event format, the style quickly spread especially in the artistic world. The entire presentation is just under seven minutes long.
But here is the trick: the slides automatically advance, regardless of whether the presenter is ready, or not.
There are several benefits and learning takeaways from this approach. And while I've used it in real business meetings, it's usually applied as a learning tool or as a learning event where several people give these style of talks in a row, or even in parallel.
1. Focused presentations
With only 20 slides to work with, it's critical to keep your story short and to the point. One of the downsides of modern presentation tools is that it's easy and free to create additional slides. This results in 'slide bloat' and presentations with far too many slides than necessary. I've seen slide decks with over 200 slides for a meeting that was schedule for one hour. That's over three slide per minute.
2. Simplified ideas
I've seen many presentations where a horribly complicated slide goes up and then the presenter proceeds to rattle of a series of points about what is presented. As a result, the audience is left dazed and confused. The problem is that the presenter knew the content cold and tried to pack all the points they could into each visual. PechaKucha will force you to make one simple point per slide and a point that the audience can easily grasp.
3. Less text
With just 20 seconds on the screen, you can't use a lot of text. In fact, the best PechaKuchausually have very few, if any, words. Many are just just stunning visuals which compliment what the speaker is vocalizing. Even graphs and charts are simplified to highlight key points and takeaways to support the arguments being made.
4. Better content
Presentation tools are so powerful now and have so many bells and whistles that many presenters get more caught up in trying to animate diagrams and designing slick transitions than working on good content. By limiting it to 20 slides and not allowing animations or transitions (general rules in PechaKucha) it forces people to focus on the points being made than fancy designs.
5. Practiced delivery
Too many presenters spend hours creating slides and no time practicing what they are going to say. The limited timing and automatic advance means that presenters are forced to practice what they are going to say and how. If they don't practice, they will either ramble and get cut off, or speed through to be left with awkward silences while waiting for the slide to advance. This also helps people be aware of the natural tendency to speak too quickly when presenting in front of a group. Good presenters know to pace themselves in every situation to hit the advancing slides naturally.
6. Focused learning
The format makes it easy for many people to participate. When I run team off-sites and workshops, I often have each team member do a PechaKucha. Typically I schedule them for right after lunch to keep people engaged and we run them quickly. It's a chance to share learning and practice presentations in a fun and safe way. I use a simple worksheet and presentation template that make it easy for anyone to quickly create a presentation.
While not your typical presentation, and maybe not one I would use with your board of directors, PechaKucha is a fun and easy way to improve your presentation skills and help people focus on the content they are trying to deliver and making their points stick.
This article first appeared in Inc. Magazine