Thought Leadership

Pecha Kucha

By Colin Walls

I was at a committee meeting the other evening, where we were planning the first night of the season at my camera club. The chairman said that he would need to talk about the program for the coming year and would show a few PowerPoint slides. There was much groaning and comments including the phrase “death by PowerPoint”.

I take exception to this attitude. I am very happy to blame Microsoft for many evils [let’s quietly forget Windows Vista, shall we?], but PowerPoint is not one of them. Anyone, who can remember how inconvenient acetate slides were and how clunky and generally horrible the early attempts at making presentation software turned out, tends to be very happy with PowerPoint when they are made to think about it. It is a classic case of a bad workman blaming his tools …

The problem with many presentations is not with the software, it is with the presenter. Some people think that a presentation is a set of slides and anyone can deliver the material. This is completely back to front. A presentation is a session in which one person endeavors to to deposit ideas and concepts into the brains of a number of other people. If slides – PowerPoint or otherwise – help the presenter to achieve this goal, that is fine. The slides are not an intrinsic requirement and can easily be a distraction or impediment to clear communication.

Some time ago I was asked to make a brief presentation to a room full of businessmen to explain them what embedded systems were and what our business was all about. That was fine, except that I was only told this during the drive to their office. So, I had no slides and about 10 minutes thinking time in which to prepare. It went very well. I simply emptied my briefcase, item by item – laptop, camera, cell phone, etc. – discussing which were embedded systems and why and how our software enabled their design. Who needs slides?

I make a lot of presentations and receive much positive feedback, which is very pleasing, as, for me, this is a great way to earn a living. I have also given classes and coached people on presentation techniques. It always amazes me that otherwise confident, articulate individuals can so easily be floored by the prospect of standing up in front of an audience. Hopefully, I have been able to help some of them.

There are lots of guidelines to making good slides and utilizing them effectively in a presentation. I may discuss that one day. But I recently came across a fundamentally different way to approach presentations, about which I have given some thought. The technique is called Pecha Kucha. The idea is that a session includes a number of presenters, each of whom gets a fixed slot, with a fixed format. They can show exactly 20 slides – no more, no less – and talk about each one for exactly 20 seconds. So they have a total of 6 minutes and 40 seconds to put over their ideas. The numbers are arbitrary, but the intention is to get the presenter to really focus on their key message and communicate it succinctly.

Pecha Kucha started out in the creative field in Japan. It is still mainly employed in artistic contexts, but has spread around the world over the last decade. The originators of the idea run “Pecha Kucha Nights” with a diverse range of speakers and topics. I was wondering whether the concept could be adapted/applied to technical presentations. Could you run a seminar with, say, 8-10 presentation slots [maybe less people, some with more slots], each with a brief to convey a key product/technology concept. It might just work …

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This article first appeared on the Siemens Digital Industries Software blog at