The Pecha Kucha Payoff

Pecha Kucha is a presentation-style invented by architects in 2003, designed to promote clarity and concision amongst public speakers.

The Pecha Kucha format requires presenters to build a slide show containing exactly 20 slides. As the images roll, the speaker provides commentary on each one.

The catch?

Each of these 20 projections is only shown for 20 seconds; then it is automatically replaced by the next.

Pecha Kucha nights, in which about 10 speakers gather in front of a crowd, have become popular throughout the world. There have been at least three such events in Whitehorse, and I participated in the last one, speaking on the life and times of Ludwig Wittgenstein.

One virtue of the Pecha Kucha guidelines is that they force even the worst, most un-engaging performers to complete their slideshows in six minutes, 40 seconds — the same length as Led Zeppelin’s classic, “Babe I’m Going to Leave You.”

Another virtue is that they subtly discourage dud presentations. By condensing vast amounts of information into 6:40, a person must use heaps of editorial rigour, resulting in polished-gems.

One criticism is that Pecha Kucha continues the trend of distilling complex topics into exaggerated sound bytes. But this complaint arises out of misapplication.

As a presentation technique, Pecha Kucha is not equipped to provide in-depth budget analysis or exhaustive foreign policy wherewithal, so it shouldn’t be used thusly. But it can make people think seriously about poetic economy.

Roughly put, poetic economy is the ratio of a statement’s meaning to the number of words it takes to convey that meaning.

As an editor, nothing makes me happier than finding four words within a sentence that don’t add anything. By deleting them, the poetic economy of the passage (and the world) is increased.

I think Ernest Hemmingway would have enjoyed Pecha Kucha nights.

Apparently Hemmingway once made a bet that he could write a 10-word story that had the power to make people cry. In the end, he only needed six:

For sale: Baby shoes, never worn.

Consider the sea of melancholy he creates; it’s a masterpiece of poetic economy.

Now consider what Hemmingway could have done with six minutes, 40 seconds.

Peter Jickling is a Whitehorse playwright and the assistant editor of What’s Up Yukon

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