Pecha Kucha was invented as a presentation method for architects.  It involves speaking for exactly six minutes and forty seconds to twenty images, each shown for precisely twenty seconds.  In other words, it’s an image-driven presentation method.  The crucial thing is to match the words precisely to the image, as there are only twenty seconds for the audience to process the image as well as the words.  When I discovered I was to be compelled to give a Pecha Kucha presentation on my dissertation topic, I was dumbfounded.  Entering a room of fellow MA students rehearsing their speeches to the cry of, ‘Too many words!’, I wondered if I’d stumbled onto the set of some academic-themed Japanese game show.  The sadistic kind.

The internet can provide all sorts of descriptions, explanations and justifications for the Pecha Kucha formula.  Here’s an entertaining one, in that the speaker falls into the very ‘boring speaker’ trap from which this brave new method sets out to save us:

Looking back at the conference, which featured twenty-three Pecha Kucha speeches, I’m amazed at how heroically everyone struggled with the formula and how much of interest was expressed.  I was able to peep through a window into each of the dissertation topics, and each glimpse was something of an insight into the speaker.  I won’t try your patience with accounts of all the presentations, but my live tweets give a flavour of the variety and originality of subjects and approaches:

One aspect of the Pecha Kucha approach is the emphasis on greater time for questions than for presentation – something I hadn’t heard about in advance.  In an academic context, question time often becomes an opportunity for members of the audience to showcase their own wares, but though there was an element of that on this occasion, there was also the sense that everything offered was a potential contribution to the researcher’s material.

The North Council Room is one of the nicest venues I’ve ever spoken in.  The acoustics are wonderful.  Although the ceilings are high, the wood panelling and all those bound Parliamentary Papers on the bookshelves seem to absorb the sound in such a gentle way that even the electronic amplification doesn’t make the human voice jar.  It felt comfortable and homey.

As so often happens when a group is asked to do something uncomfortable, a sense of camaraderie had grown up among the participants, and on the day the emotional support from colleagues was an almost palpable energy in the room.  It reminded me of the first time I had to give a speech at a rather glamorous wedding.  I was the ‘best woman’ of the bride and groom, and during supper, I found myself explaining to my neighbour that the reason I could barely eat and dared not drink was because my nerves were in shreds in case the speech would fall flat.  He told me that wedding guests are the best possible audience, as they are willing you on, eager to laugh at your jokes.  It was excellent advice.  Since then, in fifteen years of teaching, I’ve felt that supportive energy among groups of students performing for oral exams.

Crossing the UCC campus in the near-dark, after a public lecture, I once passed a huddle of academics, dissing the speaker’s slides.  They had a point, and their words were not unfriendly.  But it strikes me that the good will among this MA group would have made any post-traumatic carping unthinkable.  Support each other?  You pecha kucha we can.

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