Lawyers and brevity. Two words that are not often used in the same sentence. Truth be told, this is probably for good reason. My beloved profession has a reputation for attracting individuals who like to talk. And why not? We’re good at it!
But there are limits. When it comes to speeches, lectures, and presentations, brevity is laudable. A speaker who keeps his remarks brief and to the point will be more memorable and more popular with his audience. Having an average span of approximately 12 seconds, I can say with enthusiasm that a concise message is a message I may actually remember. But let’s face it, the short-and-sweet presentation is more of a fantasy than a reality for many of us.
So, in an effort to keep our audience alive and interested, we tried something a bit different at our annual employment law seminar last week. Usually, we start the seminar with a “Year In Review” presentation—a look back at the various court decisions and pieces of key legislation from the last twelve months that most affect employers. We usually finish that segment with a quick look ahead, a prediction of the legislation and cases on the agenda.
This year, though, there have been so many changes and so many more that are on the table, it was just too much information to cram into a one-hour, two-speaker presentation. Instead, being the adventurous souls that we are, we presented our Year In Review in a Pecha Kucha format.
Pecha Kucha (pronounced peh-cha koo-cha), is Japanese for “conversation” or, loosely, “chitter chatter”. Two architects living and working in Japan created this style of presenting in 2003 and, since then, it’s been gaining popularity in large cities around the world.
The premise of the style is simple: the presenter is allowed only 20 slides and each slide is displayed for just 20 seconds. The resulting presentation is far from the norm. It is fast paced with a high energy level from both the audience and the speaker. Also, the speaker must make some important adjustments to the normal “death-by-PowerPoint” presentation style if he wants to “make it out alive.”
For one, the slides must be primarily graphic or image based. Words just won’t cut it. How many words (nevertheless lines of text) can you read in 20 seconds? Not many.
Second, the speaker is likely to be very prepared. The fear of the automatic 20-second transition is a great motivator to practice. I know that I tend to spend a lot of time preparing the materials and slides for my presentations but very rarely actually do a complete run-through in full. I suppose this is largely a result of having severely limited time and being pretty good on my feet. But there can be none of that laissez-faire approach when the slides switch themselves after 20 seconds. And it takes only 2 or 3 slides of practice to really appreciate how much more practice you need!
Third, Pecha Kucha presentations force speakers to be, dare I say, concise. Figure out what you’re going to say, pare it down and then pare it down again. The 20-second window is enough time for just 2 or 3 sentences at the most–if you speak quickly.
Six of us spoke on six different topics, each for 6 minutes and 40 seconds. Each of us survived. We even managed to get a few laughs. (To be specific, most of us got a few laughs. Mike Stafford got a LOT of laughs. He was the Pecha Kucha master and star of the show!) And we got a tremendous amount of positive feedback on the format, to boot. All in all, the experiment was a success and an excellent reminder that trying something new can be worth the nerves!
Want to know more about Pecha Kucha? Here’s a video of a presentation by author Dan Pink done in the Pecha Kucha format. It’s a great example of the impact the format can have when done well by a captivating speaker.