Pecha Kucha helps make PowerPoint presentable

The resurrection of the slideshow is nigh. Designers worldwide are joining a new movement to elevate it to audio-visual haiku


Published: Friday, December 28 2007

The PowerPoint presentation, a mainstay of the workplace, is, by many accounts, a failure.

Born to spare co-workers from boring voice-only monologues, it now bores them with dry pie charts and dull bullet points.

So much so that the term "death by PowerPoint" has been ensconced in workplace lingo.

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But designers worldwide are resurrecting the slideshow and trying to elevate it to a form of poetry in a new movement called Pecha Kucha, an open-mic night for creative types to show off their projects.

And the business world is starting to pay attention.

Born in Japan, Pecha Kucha has two simple rules. First, a slideshow must consist of 20 slides that last 20 seconds each, for a total presentation time of six minutes and 40 seconds. No more, no less.

Then, the presenter sits down and lets the next person take the stage, resulting in an evening packed with audio-visual haikus.

In fact, "Pecha Kucha" is Japanese for the din of conversation, like chit-chat.

"It's a great format because it gets, in a sense, the presentation out if it," said Mitch Joel, president of local digital marketing agency Twist Image.

"It forces the person to talk from their heart, which is what people did before PowerPoint became a crutch."

In the third Pecha Kucha Night in Montreal, earlier this month, a Concordia University researcher talked about her clothing line embedded with computers. A video game developer showed how to use free software tools to create simple home-made games. An urban artist proposed ways to keep the giant rusting milk bottle on Lucien L'Allier St. alive.

And they had the attention of hundreds of designers curious to know what their neighbours were up to.

"I like the atmosphere. It's diverse, relaxed, and you get exposed to different design works," said Axel Morgenthaler, who told in 20 slides the story of the huge street-level marquee he designed for Place des Arts in the fall.

"It's like going on stage and presenting a song. It feels more like a rock concert than a dry lecture."

Montreal is among 80 cities worldwide to host Pecha Kucha nights since Mark Dytham and Astrid Klein, two Tokyo-based architects, threw the first one in 2003.

Word of its success among artists and designers reached business types longing to make presentations interesting again.

One of these is Sébastien Meilleur, a training co-ordinator for the pharmaceutical industry.

Every year, his colleagues are bored to tears by a barrage of slideshows to keep everyone abreast of the company's several projects.

Some of the presentations last an hour. As a result, most of his co-workers can't sit through them all.

"Most people don't have the knowledge to make something more interesting or interactive, so they go with death by PowerPoint," he said.

"The Pecha Kucha format is perfect. It basically tells: 'This is what I do and how I do it, and if you're interested, come see me.'

"I see it more as an advertisement to your subject. You don't say everything, but just stick to the essentials."

Of course, not everyone has a salesman's knack for a slick pitch. At Pecha Kucha Night, some presenters were clearly outmatched by the format, forced to rush information into one slide only to wait awkwardly for the next one to finish.


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