Prepping for a Smackdown

Our guest post this week is by Ritchie Boyd, Academic Technology Specialist at Montana State University, long-time WCETer and one of the best Smackdown’ers from our inaugural Smackdown powered by Pecha Kucha (learn how to pronounce it here) at the 2010 WCET conference in San Diego.  We asked Ritchie to share with those of you PK’ing at #WCET11, and those of you considering jumping into the mix another time, his tips for successful Pecha Kucha preparation and performance.

Imagine you have (or perhaps even want) to give a PowerPoint presentation, but are told you can only have 20 slides, and only take 20 seconds per slide.

If you do the math, that’s a whole talk in 6 minutes and 40 seconds.

Exactly.

No more, no less.

Your hosts put the slide show on autoplay, so you can’t beg for more time, and you’re not even allowed to touch the computer.

That was the idea that Astrid Klein and Mark Dytham, two architects working in Japan back in 2003, came up with to allow their architect and designer colleagues to gather for presentations without boring each other to tears. They called it Pecha Kucha, (Japanese for “chit-chat”), though it is sometimes also known as the 20×20 format. Apparently it works, as what started in Tokyo has now spread to over 230 cities around the world. It might also have something to do with the fact that it is often hosted in bars and nightclubs.

When’s the last time you sat through a presentation so brief that wasn’t provided by a game show host, telemarketer, or ex-con (or some combination thereof)?

Can you do it?

It turns out you can do it, but it takes practice, patience, and the ability to leave dozens of images, great ideas, and pithy remarks on the cutting room floor. And then, more practice.

For a hammy extrovert like me, the painful part is in having to leave those pithy remarks behind, since those gems appear in my brain so infrequently.

I have given plenty of presentations in my life, but I have to confess that these are the only times I have kept them to less than 10 minutes. (Okay, there was that time I was trying to teach a kindergarten class about beach fossils and they all went chasing a crab after the first minute, but that doesn’t count.)

Sure, I have often been asked to keep my remarks to a few minutes, but unless someone is coming after me with a lead pipe or a bucket of Gatorade, I am staying on till I’m done. It’s not that I like to hear myself talk, it’s that the content is just so damn interesting that I need to share it. ALL of it. With whoever will listen. And if they are sitting in a chair and the projector is on, they will listen! Or sleep. If it’s dark enough, that’s okay too – unless they snore.

But I digress.

I was asked by our friends at WCET if I have any advice for someone preparing their first Pecha Kucha style presentation. Or at least, I think I was asked that. Regardless, advice is what you will get – free and worth every penny.

Ritchie Boyd giving his PK 2010

If you saw last year’s smack down, you know that the range of presentations was from the technical to the humorous to the very personal. And all of them, in my estimation, were great – all unique and very much carrying an individual flavor.

So here are 5 things that will help make your presentation great:

1)      Start with a great topic, something that you feel passionate about in some way. Or at least something that you think would be a lot of fun to talk about. Avoid discussions of body parts and politicians. Unless they were combined on Twitter last year.

2)      Gather a large set of images to illustrate your story, but be prepared to throw most of them out. They will help you hone in on your key ideas. A side benefit is that you will get really good at formulating targeted keyword searches on Google.

3)      Focus on a very limited number of points (i.e., one) to make with each slide, or risk being grouped with auctioneers and those guys who read the fine print at the end of pharmaceutical commercials. Need I say more?

4)      Perform a lot (a LOT) of what I call “lather-rinse-repeat” – run the presentation on auto, and do the talk. And I mean DO the talk – say it out loud as if you had an audience. Not enough time for all the great stuff you had in mind? Eliminate the weak points (and this is sometimes akin to being asked to leave a family pet behind when you leave town), run the show on auto again, and prune some more. If you can do the presentation about 10 times in a row and stay within bounds, go to bed, get up and do it again, you’re ready for prime time!

5)      Be fearless. After your first presentation, you become a member of a very small club. You have left the 30, 40, 50 minute talks for the mere mortals. You can now squeeze coal into diamonds.

I was going to call this post “SmackDown Smack Talk”, but really, I have nothing but respect for the folks who have tried it. If you have done it, you know why. If you haven’t, you really should – you’re the one we’re talkin’ smack about!

Ritchie Boyd is the Academic Technology Specialist in the Office of the Provost at Montana State University, Bozeman

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