Pecha Kucha

A few months ago I was invited to take part in an evening of Pecha Kucha in a hotel in Geneva. I’ll try anything once, so I agreed. I have to admit, though, that I wasn’t actually very good at it. Neither were any of the other scientists present.

No idea what a Pecha Kucha is? Well then you’re probably not an architect or an artist or a designer. Then again, you’re reading this blog so that’s pretty much a given anyway. Pecha Kucha is a style of presentation at which arty types display their portfolios in a strictly disciplined format. The standard form is twenty slides with twenty seconds allowed for each one, i.e. a total time of 6 minutes and 40 seconds. The timing is ruthlessly regulated.

Those of us scientists used to taking at least a few  minutes per slide find this format very challenging, but then that’s because we tend to have text and equations on our slides and they take some explaining. Designers and the like tend to just show pictures, and these should – if they’re any good – be pretty self-explanatory. I guess this is why the Pecha Kucha format is de rigeur in such disciplines while it has yet to catch on in physics.

I only just survived my initiation into the strange world of Pecha Kucha. Before being told what it was I thought it was a mountain in the Andes. I was reminded about it this morning by a tweet from John Butterworth (a particle physicist who, incidentally, has a nice blog of his own) confessing similar trepidation to what I experienced before I lost my Pecha Kucha virginity. The first time can be disappointing, but I hope he survived his inauguration.

Looking back on it though I think this might be an interesting idea to try in a physics context. We’re trying increasingly hard these to teach our physics and astronomy students transferable skills, but when it comes to presentations we’re fixated by the traditional presentation format. Why not get undergraduate students to do a Pecha Kucha about their project, instead of a 20-minute lecture? Why not include a Pecha Kucha in the PhD viva?

The more I think about it, the more attractive the idea seems. Has anyone out there tried a physics Pecha Kucha?

5 Responses to “Pecha Kucha”

  1. I survived and I enjoyed it actually. I was talking about “Public Engagement”, not physics itself. I think to explain physics you might want less slides, but the same overall time and the rigid structure is the main thing.

    So I agree with you – I would like to see a Pecha Kucha physics session. I may propose one in UCL Physics & Astronomy. Seems like a good way to get a flavour of work in other areas.

  2. Bryn Jones Says:

    I have to express my puzzlement over the way researchers give talks in science. The standard format that researchers almost always adopt is to have most of the material written on the visual display (a computer presentation projected on a screen) and then they reproduce that material verbally. They come close to reading out what is written on the screen.

    When this is done, I tend to try to read the written material while also trying to listen to what is being said. The trouble is that it is difficult to take in information via two routes simultaneously, particularly when the exact words used differ, and I often miss some material.

    My personal inclination would be to put pictures, equations and tables on the screen and then verbally explain the material, with little in the way of words written on the screen. This would have some similarities with the Pecha Kucha mode that Peter described. However, I have often lacked the courage to do this in formal talks, for fear of being too nonconformist.

  3. Vicky Willett Says:

    I have just stumbled on your blog whilst doing some research for a conference workshop. My workshop is on the use of Pecha Kucha as an alternative presentation format.

    I ran my first pecha kucha competition back in April in Newcastle for some PhD students and it was really good and all the students who took part seemed to get loads out of it.

    We were using it as a public engagement medium and we did have a couple of physics presentations. I definitly think they struggled more with the concept. However, it was also a learning process, and I like to think they would have gone back with a better idea of how to put one together and engage a non subject specific audience.

    I’m not a physisist and have always had a bit of a fear of the subject due to the equations and numbers, but can recognise its importance and think it can only be a good thing to get physics more into the public domain.

    So I would encourage anyone physisist or not to get involved in one, especially if you’re in research and or science, it can be great fun and its only 6 mins 40 secs of your life 🙂

  4. I fully agree scientist should reflect a bit more on the way they present their work and this Pecha Kucha format is a way to get them to think. We are taking up the challenge of a scientific colloquium on interntational health where presenters are supposed to follow the PK format. That migth turn out an interesting experience. Look out.

  5. Paul Wright Says:

    Just stumbled on you whilst trying to establish waht this thing called Pecha Kucha is….before signing up to give one to a group of people I’ve never met!!

    I am intrigued by the format, and, having watched a few examples, I am clearly going to have rethink my presentation (on how to get students to consider the thorny issue of sustainability). That’s no bad thing, though.

    I think I WILL sign up, in the usre knowledge that I am probably in a fair majority of people who have neither heard of or done this before. We can all be rubbish together!

    Fully support using this in class……anything to avoid slide after dreary slide of ‘stuff what I have read’, with no context, no interpretation…. I think you’ll find that’s MY job! But the brevity requires a degree of reflection that students don’t need to show in a presentation, and that can only be good!

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