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Meet Pecha Kucha, the Japanese presentations changing everything about PowerPoint

“Students, please remember to monotonously read every slide word-for-word when you present to the class.” Said no teacher ever.


powerpoint-pechaAs I prepare for my presentation this week at the Florida Educational Technology Conference (FETC) on “Presenting with Pecha Kucha,” my colleagues have repeatedly asked me, “What is Pecha Kucha?” The short answer is it’s a great presentation style that gets students thinking and learning, not reading slides. A longer one might be to explain that the term comes from the Japanese words for “chit chat,” so as you might guess this unique presentational style embraces a more conversational tone. But more importantly, it is transforming presentations as we know them.

My performance arts background as an actress, director, and theatre teacher gives me a great understanding of what it takes to be a dynamic performer, and an even greater appreciation of a great performance. Knowing this, it comes as no surprise that after several years of teaching high school theatre and English, I became utterly dejected by the quality of presentations my students gave.

It wasn’t their fault; my students simply had never been taught how to present information in a way that was engaging and interesting. In fact, many adults struggle with this same task. We have all seen so many bad presentations in our lives, we have come to think that’s what presentations are supposed to be like. My students honestly thought the act of giving a presentation meant looking something up on Google, copy/pasting some information into PowerPoint slides, and then getting in front of the class and timidly reading those slides verbatim to a disinterested and disengaged audience (myself included).

I had to stop the madness!

(Next page: 20 images; 20 seconds: the magic of Pecha Kucha)

Around this same time, a teacher colleague of mine introduced me to Pecha Kucha. I was very intrigued by this presentation style, as it relies on visual images instead of slides crammed with a thousand bullet points and so much information it will only fit on the screen in 6-point font. I also liked the fact that Pecha Kucha forces the presenter to actually know what they are talking about and puts a conversational (“chit-chat-y” if you will) tone in their presentation (you can watch sample presentations online).

I had to try it immediately with my sophomores. They of course hated me for this. “We can’t read from the slides?!” they exclaimed. I apologized for trying to ruin their lives and being the worst teacher ever.

This did, however, make me reconsider my initial plan. A presentation in the true style of Pecha Kucha is 20×20: 20 images displayed for 20 seconds each. The presentation is timed so that it advances on its own, and the speaker talks along with it, making the presentation six minutes and 40 seconds exactly. My students’ protests helped me realize that I needed to ease them into this, and help them break the bad presentation habits that they had developed over time gradually, instead of cold turkey.

I decided that for their first Pecha Kucha presentation, they would be allowed to have no more than three pieces of information on each slide, but they had to include a picture that encapsulated the gist of that slide’s information. I decided to keep the 20×20 format for a 6:40 presentation, but allowed my students to work with a partner this first time to share the responsibility of presenting.

I was pleasantly surprised at how well my students did with this first go-round of Pecha Kucha, and they were too! For the next presentation I assigned students, they were required to have only images on their slides, but they could use speaking notes during the presentation. Eventually, all of my students were presenting in true Pecha Kucha style. Some ran with it and excelled, others plugged along, and some begrudgingly suffered through it. In time, though, their presentations improved, and their learning also increased. I didn’t see anymore slides with information copied directly from a website; my students were finally researching their topic, synthesizing the information, and presenting it in a way that showed me they actually understood the subject matter.

Here are four tips to other educators wanting to try Pecha Kucha in their classrooms:

(Next page: 4 tips to get students hooked on Pecha Kucha)

1. Model the style for students and get their feedback. It will be easier for them to buy-in to this big change if they have a good example set before them and if they have discussed what makes a good presentation “good” (engaging, interesting, not monotone, not word for word from slides, etc.).

2. Don’t be too rigid at first. Explain what Pecha Kucha is to students, but feel free to alter the style for beginners. For example, you might want to allow minimal words on slides with images at first like I did, or you might consider allowing students to use notes. You could even tweak the format of 20×20 by beginning with 10 slides at 20 seconds each. Eventually, challenge students to use the true Pecha Kucha style. My experience has taught me that students will work to reach whatever expectations you have set, so don’t keep the bar low if you want them to achieve at a higher level.

3. Bad habits are hard to break. Students will need lots of opportunity to practice this skill in order to perfect it. With time, this will become the status quo in your classroom, and may even spill over into other teachers’ classes as well.

4. Don’t be discouraged. I joked earlier about being the “worst teacher ever” because I wanted to challenge my students to improve, and you probably will have students that will give you a hard time for pushing them. Stick with it. Celebrate the small successes you see and trust that, with time and practice, your students will only get better.

It wasn’t always easy when I was first implementing this into my classes; however, I am very happy that I did. When you first try Pecha Kucha with your students, you’ll get complaints, you’ll hear whining, and you may be tempted to take the easy way out because you are tired of being chastised for setting high expectations; however, that’s just a sign that you’re #winning at this whole teaching thing.

Ivy Nelson is the Technology Integration Specialist for the Harrisonville R-9 School District in Harrisonville, MO. She previously taught at Monett High School in Monett, MO.

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