My Philosophy on Pecha Kucha Talks
In my opinion, Pecha Kucha isn’t the same as any regular speech or reading. To me, it’s a different animal, and falls closer on the side of performance.
While I’ve seen presenters read their talks from a piece of paper, rarely do I feel that these “readings” hold the same energy as someone who’s speaking and looking directly at the audience. I think Pecha Kucha talks should be memorized, and that the goal should be to walk up on the stage with nothing but your voice and your slides.
Ultimately, Pecha Kucha provides a place where speakers can share their passions and attendees can become inspired. But I’ll also argue that an unspoken goal of Pecha Kucha is one of entertainment. If you’re taking the stage to read from a piece of paper or a predefined script, that takes some of the fire out, I feel. That to me seems more like mere recitation than presentation – my two cents.
Practicing and Refining Your Talk
While there are many ways to go about practicing, these here are the ones I found most useful. Your style may be quite different from mine, so use what makes sense to you. Use what you like.
The main mantra I hear when it comes to talks/speeches is: be comfortable/familiar with the material. So long as you’re familiar with what you’re going to say, you won’t be nervous.
I didn’t start practicing and doing dry runs until maybe 3 or 4 days before the event. In hindsight, I’d recommend starting to practice a full week before you hit the stage. I did pretty well, but feel confident that I’d have done a killer job had I only started practicing a little earlier.
If you don’t have a copy of Powerpoint or Keynote, consider downloading Open Office (which is free).
It’s essential that you practice your talk against an actual, timed version of your slides. In fact, I can’t imagine a scenario where you wouldn’t want to do this.
Practice standing up. While your initial test runs may be done sitting in front of your computer screen, as the event date nears… you’ll want to practice while actually standing up.
Position yourself next to the computer in the same way you’ll be presenting (either to the left or right of the monitor). Check with your event organizer to see whether you’ll be facing the screen, or if you’ll be facing the audience.
The closer your practice runs mirror the final event site, the more comfortable you’ll be when you take the stage.
If possible, hook up your computer/laptop to a projector or your television. Having your presentation on a larger screen also helps get you closer to the same setup as the actual event.
Look at various points in the room, when talking. A good speaker is able to make listeners feel included by making eye contact with audience members. While this may or may not be possible (depending on your comfort level), consider at least practice scanning the room as you talk.
Add in silence, remove “filler” noises. I say “uhm” all the time, particularly in everyday conversations. But I remember vividly how many of us (in high school speech class) would say “uh” or “uhm” or “like” as a silence filler, something that happened between sentences or thoughts.
Try to fight this tendency, as you practice. Making a sound like “uhm” is our way of signaling to others that we’re thinking, that we’re processing information. We do it so we don’t look like dumb-asses just staring off into space. It’s an audio cue to others that our brain is, in fact, working away.
But in a talk or speech, it’s disruptive and sounds a little clumsy. The more you can edit out these “uhms” and replace them with pauses or silence… the better your talk will sound. I promise you – they’ll make your transitions seem that much cleaner, that much more professional.
Let your slides do some of the work. One of the most important things I learned when practicing was that I didn’t need to fill in all the details. I didn’t need to give all the backstory – just enough to establish context, and enough to be able to make my point.
Remember that your slides can do a lot of your talking for you. As an example, let’s say you wanted to talk about your younger self, and your slide is a photo of you as a kid.
Instead of saying “This is a photograph of me when I was a child,” jump immediately to the point you want to make. When the image appears, assume that people will pick up much of what’s already in the photograph.
Compare a line like “This is a photo of me when I was younger” to something like:
“The third grade was the worst year of my life.”
“I fell in love for the first time when I was eight.”
“As a kid, I loved ice cream sandwiches more than my parents.”
Stronger, right? By letting your slides do some of the storytelling, you save a bit of time and can get to the heart of your topic/idea that much faster.
Leaping between slides. With only twenty seconds per slide, that’s not a lot of time to work with. One of the things I realized during my practice runs was that I spent a lot of time talking about how each slide related to the other. I felt compelled to fill in the space between slides, and felt like I needed to describe the transition from slide to slide.
Totally unnecessary. One of the greatest things here is that you’ve got the ability to make HUGE leaps, between slides. Realize that you actually have to do less work than you think. When you put two images next to one another, people will automatically connect them together.
A link will exist, without you having to outline why the two images are related. I encourage you to experiment with slide and image juxtapositions, to see what works and what you can get away with. Coupled with pauses, a big leap between slides can be very effective, and makes for a great transition.
Break your talk down into “sets.” If trying to do an entire practice run seems too daunting at first, try breaking down your slides into different sets. Instead of thinking of your presentation as a large chunk, you can likely see where there’s a start, middle and an end, and practice each segment separately until you’re ready to combine them.
Practice your talk while you have your iPod/headphones on. Ok, this suggestion is a little looney tunes. But if you want to really test how well you know your material and how ready you are… put in some headphones and play some music (very softly) as you try going through your talk.
With the music providing a bit of a distraction, you’ll be forced to concentrate even harder on your talk as you practice. If you can pull this off, and can go through your talk while having headphones on… you’re in great shape.
Run through your talk, first thing in the morning. If you want another really good test to see how prepared you are? Start up your computer or laptop right when you wake up. First thing in the morning, see if you can run through your talk, cold. If you can do that and are comfortable with how it turned out – you are definitely set.
Ultimately, how well you do with your presentation has everything to do with how much you practice beforehand. Many of you out there are way better at winging things than me, but I know that I need a lot of trial runs, a lot of rehearsals before I can get up on stage.
To me, practicing helps iron out all the technical things – the pacing, the delivery, the timing. And the more you practice, the closer you’ll get to just getting up on stage and talking with the audience. The more you practice, the less it becomes about mechanics… and the more it becomes about substance: your ideas, your passion, the things that inspire and energize you.
I’ll leave with this final thought: you can never practice too much. But you can definitely not practice enough. When in doubt, run through your presentation one more time.
Next: The Big Event