Technical Pecha Kucha

stop watchPecha Kucha is a fun presentation format, bound in both content and time (20 slides of 20 seconds each – about 7 minutes long). 

At NetApp we employed a similar format for “outrageous opinion” talks in engineering which I really enjoyed.  So I happily accepted a recent opportunity to perform a Pecha Kucha presentation at Zynga.

We used a slightly modified format (20 slides of 15 seconds each – 5 minutes total), but the principle is the same.  I chose to transform a longer presentation on scoping for 90% into the shortened format. 

For a technical presentation, that turned out to be a fun challenge. Here’s some things I learned from that experience.


metronomeThe timed format means that your presentation will be chugging along regularly, even if you are not.  If you haven’t mastered the cadence of your slides, the timing of your presentation will sound awkward to your audience.

To address this, you’ll need to know your slides end to end. 

That is, you have to have the sequence of your presentation in your head, so that for each slide you know which is coming next, to ensure a smooth transition.

You should be talking about the next slide in sequence before it shows up, otherwise your audience will wait through an uncomfortable silence.

Overall this is tricky to master.  I recommend several trial runs through your slide deck, with the last run ideally performed shortly prior to your presentation.

In other words, practice.  Watching some examples will help as well.

Visual Simplicity

zenShoot for visual simplicity.  Uncomplicated pictures, graphs, smallish text snippets and callouts trump paragraphs of text.  Avoid big gobs of text and long lists of bullet items.

Swap graphs and clip art in place of text, whenever you can meaningfully replace the content.

With any presentation, strong reinforcing visuals are important.  In Pecha Kucha, they are golden.  The format is more friendly to purely visual presentations (design, art, architecture, …), and this fact needs to be leveraged for technical content as well.

5 Seconds

clockYour slides should take around 5 seconds for the average viewer to read and understand.  Any longer, and they won’t be able to listen to you, or might still be reading as you transition to the next slide.

If your presentation includes a slide with 20 bullet items and lots of text, you’ve got a problem.

Cheat: Repeat

abcIf you’ve got a key point that requires more than the allotted time to present or reinforce, simply copy / paste the slide for a second repeated time slice.

In my talk, I used a slide in order to present a more complicated topic (for 15 seconds) and then repeated the slide with animated annotations to explain key points (for another 15 seconds).

Animate, Carefully

flimAnimations can effective but require careful planning due to the compressed time format.

Powerpoint does a nice job by default of spacing the animations out over the time interval, if your presentation is on an auto timer. 

If your presentation cadence is really on the mark, the animations can appear just in time to support the points you’re discussing with the audience.

Wash, Rinse, Spin

washerTo maximize impact, I arranged my talk in iambic pentameter.

Just kidding. I divided my talk into three sections

  • Introduction, introduce the problem (5 slides)
  • Concept and reinforcing content (14 slides)
  • Conclusion (1 slide)

I limited the reinforcing content to two primary examples and one shorter example.  That was a little too complicated – if I did the talk again, I would limit to 1-2 examples. 

Limit the number of key concepts so the audience can absorb them in the short time allotted.

And good luck.

This entry was posted in Communication, Pecha Kucha, Zynga. Bookmark the permalink.

3 Responses to Technical Pecha Kucha

  1. Steve Hindman says:

    This sounds like what I read about Steve Job’s presentations. Good advice, I’d say.

  2. Jeff Hester says:

    Great advice on presenting in the Pecha Kucha/Ignite format. I would add that it really helps to have a story to tell. Have something worth sharing — in fact — something that you are compelled to share.

    Any video of your scoping for 90% talk available?

    • stevek says:

      Sorry, I don’t have a video of the talk available. It employs a few slides with proprietary information. Those wouldn’t be too hard to clean up though, if I get a few spare moments. Thanks for the suggestion.

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