Five Presentation Tips for a Pecha Kucha or Ignite Presentation

Photo by Olly Barrett

Photo by Olly Barrett

This week I went to my first Pecha Kucha night in Wellington, New Zealand.

Pecha Kucha and Ignite are two time-limited and slide-limited presentation formats. Pecha Kucha was developed as a presentation format to allow design and creative types to share their passions and show off their work. The format is very tight. You have to present with 20 slides and each slide is shown for 20 seconds. Ignite is the equivalent for geeks (20 slides in 5 minutes, 15 seconds per slide). Both these format have the great advantage of keeping presentations short and concise – perhaps accounting for it’s popularity around the world. However, it’s challenging to prepare a good Pecha Kucha or Ignite presentation and even more so to deliver it well.

From my observations of the Pecha Kucha night I went to, here are my tips :

1. Have a theme


Photo by Meena Kadri

I get that this is not a standard business presentation where you would have a key message supported by three points. But nevertheless I think there should be a theme which ties it all together. The presentations that I saw which had a theme were far more effective. One in particular stands out. It was by Meena Kadri and was an exploration of the creativity of what she called “lo-fi” folk in India. We saw a series of stunning photographs but all tied together by the theme of the creativity and artistic flair of poor people.

Those that didn’t have a theme seemed like an unorganized slideshow “Oh here’s this piece I made…[waffle about it for 20 secs] and here’s something else I made”. If you’re an artist presenting at Pecha Kucha think of yourself as the curator of your slides – explain to us the ideas that bind them together or show us how your ideas developed from one piece to the next.

2. Plan your outline before the slides

Pecha Kucha does tend to revolve around the imagery, but that doesn’t mean the images should come first in your planning. Here’s my suggestion as to how to go about planning a Pecha Kucha or Ignite presentation.

1. Plan your rough outline first focused on your theme

2. Storyboard the slides to fit with the outline

3. Plan and carefully time what you’ll say for each slide.

Because of the tight timing constraints I think you have to plan what you want to say more carefully than other presentations – there is no room for waffle. Here’s an amazing example of a tightly scripted Pecha Kucha presentation (warning – it’s both tragic and funny at the same time):

Unless you’re speaking in limericks, though, I would generally avoid a script, as you’re likely to come across as stiff an unnatural.

Felix Jung has put together a most amazing and detailed guide How to make a Pecha Kucha presentation. This is a must-read if you’re doing a Pecha Kucha presentation. Mike Rohde has a great post on using an excel spreadsheet to prepare your Pecha Kucha presentation

And here’s a video of Scott Berkun delivering an Ignite presentation on how to give an Ignite presentation:

3. Spend more than 20 seconds on a point

Garr Reynolds has commented that the format makes it difficult to go deep. I agree. Many of the presenters the night I went felt they could only spend 20 seconds on each “point” or “image”. That meant there was never enough time to fully develop a point. By contrast, Meena Kadri  sometimes developed a point over two to threes slides. The set of slides would show different perspectives of the same thing. For example:

  • First slide – picture of two Indian brothers – she told us about two brothers who had a thriving business as artists. People came from far and wide to buy their art.
  • Second slide – image of their art – they paint scenes from Bollywood movies – name them a scene and they can paint it.
  • Third slide – zoom out to show that painting is on a mud flap of a truck!

4. It’s better to finish earlier than later

Many presenters found themselves overrunning the 20 seconds that they had for each slide. That meant they were still talking about a slide after it had left the screen.  The classic was a picture of a rather ordinary step ladder that had been used for painting. We learn that it’s in a gallery and that it’s considered a great work of art … that’s when the slide transitioned. She then tells us “Those paint spatters are actually inlaid crystals.”  Wow – do we want to see it again!

As you can imagine, once you’ve gone overtime on one slide, the problem compounds itself and you tend to go over on the others. The presentation becomes a confusing out-of-sync race.

A couple of times some presenters did finish talking about a slide a few seconds short of the 20 seconds. They were impatient to move on. But we, the audience were fine – it gave us more time to look without having to process words at the same time.

So prepare your narrative so that you’re a little bit short of 20 seconds rather than a bit over.

5. Rehearse

The value of rehearsal applies to any presentation, but it doubly applies to a Pecha Kucha or Ignite presentation. It’s a dance with a partner who you have no control over. You need to have your side of the choreography – the narrative – down pat.

If you’ve done a Pecha Kucha presentation do add your tips in the comments.

And if you’ve found this post because you’re preparing for one – go well!

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  1. Hi Olivia,

    Excellent observations all, just one question: you say that there is no room for waffle, but that you should avoid a script. What’s your thinking there?

    I haven no direct experience with PK, but I’ve helped many clients put together 5, 8 and 10 minute presentations and, given the relatively low wordcount that’s going to be involved in something that short, why not work to a script?

    • Hi Rowan

      You’ve zeroed in on the point that I haven’t developed very well :-). The reason is I’m in two minds on this. You can see Pecha Kucha as twenty 20-second presentations strung together. If you had 20 seconds to make your point – you would script it to make sure you were able to make your point in the best possible way in that time. On the other hand, if you script it, you tend to read your script (and a number of presenters did that at the Pecha Kucha night I attended). Not many people are good at reading a script in an engaging way.

      I think it also depends so much on your personal style. If I was doing it, I would prepare a rough script but then reduce that to notes. I know that I can stay succinct and I have a pretty good short term memory. But it were my husband Tony – well he’s a great speaker and has the gift of the gab (gets inspiration while he’s on his feet) – but that would get him into trouble with this format – I’d suggest to him that he stick pretty closely to a script.

      Final answer – it depends!


  2. Personally, I don’t like reading from a script. To me it doesn’t seem engaging (it seems robotic). Granted this presentation style might make using a script suitable but then again, why not just practice? Practice to the point that you don’t require a script… This way your presentation flows much more naturally.

    • I totally agree Ricardo – I really don’t like people reading from scripts.

      But the Pecha Kucha format is incredibly constraining. It requires a huge amount of work just to put together. I’m not happy saying it, but having observed people struggling, in this situation reading from a script may be the best option.

    • we are not all good orators, some of us are shy and can’t stay focused in front of an audience. in this case, it’s better to read than to mumble.
      anyway, 20 images are enough and if you want people to learn more, you can always offer hand-outs or send e-mails to those interested.

  3. Olivia – another great post. I look forward to trying to find some more examples of this online. It reminds me of when I found the Lessig method via Garr Reynolds’ site (a method I would promote only to anyone who was prepared to learn the thoughts and timings so well that they didn’t need to stare at the slides for help as they went past; or read from a script that was synchronised with the slideshow.)

    This is a great exercise in discipline, and must be very effective if done well.

    I suggest people deliver thoughts rather than a script. If you know that 20 secs means around 60 words, and that you can express a thought in 20 words, then three thoughts per slide should fit.

    It certainly would help keep things concise – rather like a poet “constrained” by metre actually expresses themselves better as a result.

    If you are reading, then read from an autocue; that can work. Otherwise, if you learn the ideas, and their order, the words should come naturally.

    Think Short Thoughts is my advice!


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