Mark Stephens Mark Stephens has been working with Java and PDF since 1999 and has diversified into HTML5, SVG and JavaFX. He also enjoys speaking at conferences and has been a Speaker at user groups, Business of Software, Seybold and JavaOne conferences. He has a very dry sense of humor and an MA in Medieval History for which he has not yet found a practical use.

Pecha Kucha at Bos 2009

2 min read

One of the exciting parts of the Business of Software conference (for the audience if not the participants) is the Pecha Kucha competition. This approach to presentation is a reaction to the excesses of PowerPoint and aims to cut out the bloat and make presentations fun and interesting again. The rules of Pecha Kucha are very simple – you have 20 slides, you have 20 seconds on each slide and the slide will change every 20 seconds. It really makes you cut out the bloat and focus on what is critical. 

For the Business of Software competition, the conference organizers (Neil Davidson and Joel Spolsky) asked for submissions and choose the talks to be given in two sessions. It could be any title and any subject. I was lucky enough to be one of those involved this year and so here are some of the things I discovered from participating myself and talking to the others involved.

1. It needs a snappy title. If you look at the full list, some of them describe and some of them tease but they all grab your attention. 

2. It is a bit like the software business – you need a good product, you need to sell it well. A Pecha Kucha needs good content delivered in an entertaining way. It does not want to be boring but neither is the idea just to make the audience laugh.

3. A six minutes and 40 second presentation is much, much harder to write and do than an hour presentation.

4. Don’t try to condense a longer talk down – write it from scratch. 

5. Keep it simple – don’t try to do too much.

6. The first slide is critical. Just like a sprint race, if you get a good start, you slip into the flow. If you mess up the start it is very hard to recover.

7. Pictures (especially personal ones) trump words and graphs. We had some amazing slides of children, kittens, people leaping from airplanes – no graphs and no long bullet points.

8. Timing is very tough so you need to have rehearsed it over and over again. There is a counter but several of us were not quite clear on when the change happened.

9. It will never work as planned. Some slides might get a laugh so there are less than 20 seconds (and the ones you think are funny fail to get a laugh). Sometimes you speak faster or slower than planned or you say something spontaneous. Several of the speakers had ‘extra content’ prepared just incase. I practised my slides on 15 and 30 second intervals  to practise both scenarios.

10. It is a great way to get a lot out of the Business of Software conference. The organizers are very generous in giving a free ticket to all the participants (2,000 US dollars for less than 7 minutes work can’t be bad!) and there is a cool prize to the winner (it was a MacBook last year and a Kindle this time). It also means that you do not have to introduce yourself to people at the conference – they know who you are and will come up and ask you about design, marketing or whatever you speak about. 

So if you are suffering death by Powerpoint, do have a look at the Pecha Kucha method to put some life back into your presentations. And if you fancy a challenge, then there is Boston Business of Software Conference 2010…

Mark Stephens Mark Stephens has been working with Java and PDF since 1999 and has diversified into HTML5, SVG and JavaFX. He also enjoys speaking at conferences and has been a Speaker at user groups, Business of Software, Seybold and JavaOne conferences. He has a very dry sense of humor and an MA in Medieval History for which he has not yet found a practical use.

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