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What I Learned About Presentations From My PechaKucha Talk

When Anna Schwab, the Baton Rouge PechaKucha Night (PKN) Organizer, first approached me about giving a PechaKucha talk, I was immediately interested. But the more I thought about it, the more I wondered exactly what in the world I had to say that anyone would want to hear. The more I pondered this, the closer I came to backing out. I actually say this in my Pechakucha talk.

Okay. Pause. PechaKucha. If you’re anything like me, you’re probably fumbling over the pronunciation of it. My take is that sounds something like: Petch-aa Koo-chaa. That may not be at all correct, so I won’t judge if you decide to just call it “Pikachu” … which you get two points for trying, but one deducted in the event you didn’t know Pikachu are a species of Pokémon. Let’s move on.

Ultimately, I decided to push through with a talk about two of the things I know the best: myself and my childhood in the 80s. My talk — titled “Pardon Me, Do You Have Any Gray Poupon” — was an examination of how we can appreciate our inner child as adults, a personal story I told through a rapid-fire look back at the 80s cultural references that still bounce around my head today.

PechaKucha 20×20 is a presentation format in which a speaker shows 20 images, each for 20 seconds. The images advance automatically and the speaker delivers the talk in sync with the visuals. Sounds pretty simple, right? Well, as I found out, it’s not.

The format (meaning “chit chat” in Japanese) was devised in Tokyo in 2003 as an event for young designers to meet, network and show their work in public and to challenge typical presentation formats that can become dull and drawn out. Now in over 1,000 cities, PechaKucha Nights are informal and fun gatherings where creative people get together and share their ideas, works, thoughts or personal stories — all in this fun but challenging format.

Though I have spent my entire life presenting and performing on a variety (big and small) stages, giving this talk was a great learning experience for me. In fact, while I was waiting for my turn, I was extremely nervous. Sweaty palms, tapping feet, you name it. This was new for me — to experience nervousness — and at this level. It served as a reminder that for some of us public speaking may seem second nature and for others it is most certainly not. I had to find ways to calm my nerves and my thoughts and channel that energy into a meaningful presentation.

Below are three takeaways from my PechaKucha talk that I will try to hold on to in my work presentations.

Connect To The Audience As A Human

The most recent Baton Rouge event featured a wide range of speakers and topics, from a poetic meditation on aging, to a dedication to the value of diversity in the art we consume, to a reassessment of a long-past celebrity encounter. The event’s relaxed and supportive atmosphere and welcoming attitude toward both seasoned presenters and novice public speakers made for a very positive overall vibe.

I believe each of these talks was successful because the speakers really made an effort to connect with the audience on a personal level. That means being humble, using self-deprecating humor on occasion and even opening yourself up to being vulnerable.

For example, I could have simply run through a series of 80s references to make my point, but by sharing personal stories about my childhood tied to those references, my goal was to connect more deeply and leave a lasting impression. I feel the personal story is really what connects the dots in a presentation like this. When people are able to put themselves in someone else’s shoes, a narrative resonates so much more.

Humor is Powerful

When I was debating whether to go through with this talk, several friends said they couldn’t really understand my reluctance given that I do this regularly in and out of the office. Of course, they were right. Telling (funny — this can be debated) stories to others comes naturally to me, and my friends helped nudge me in that direction for my PechaKucha talk. I was able to craft a successful talk by concentrating on having fun, making jokes and telling my story.

In business presentations, jokes should of course be used carefully and appropriately, but this talk was a reminder for me that humor has a way of humanizing a speaker and opening up an audience to making a more personal and meaningful connection with the material.

Images & Slides Are No Substitute For Story or Presentation

Even though I’ve given talks my entire life, and am generally unphased by public speaking, giving this talk with 20 slides that automatically advanced over precisely 6 minutes and 40 seconds proved to be much more daunting than I expected.

One key, I found, was that the slides (or images in this case) should only support and complement the content — not take away or try to tell the story on their own. In developing my talk, I realized I had to make sure the story was evolving as the slides behind me transitioned — not the other way around.

With that in mind, I had to give specific thought to which images were more filler and which images I would actually reference in my narrative. Trying to talk about each image would have been nearly impossible. I think this is good advice for a work presentation as well: concentrate on writing an effective talk that flows in a logical manner and allows you to connect with your audience. Only then should you start plugging in the visuals.

Despite my initial reservations, I’m very happy I decided to go through the PechaKucha process. It served as an important reminder of the difficulty we can all have with presentations and pushed me to look at my own public speaking with a more creative eye. I feel re-energized and excited to take on my work presentations from a new perspective moving forward — even if I’m still not sure if I’m pronouncing PechaKucha correctly.

Success Labs is a full-service, strategic organizational and leadership development company located in Baton Rouge, Louisiana. For more than 25 years our expert team of consultants has worked with hundreds of companies to explore their business potential and improve their company and cultural performance. Contact us to get proactive about your people strategy.

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