Pecha Kucha in Classrooms

The Pecha Kucha presentation style is gaining interest in education. It requires that a speaker use 20 images, each lasting 20 seconds, to deliver a presentation. This makes the presentation closer to a TedTalk than the usual Death by PowerPoint. The speaker is forced to move out of the “covering content” mentality to the communicating mentality that makes TedTalks so interesting. This is done not just by shortening the length of the talk, but also by timing the images. With only 20 seconds per image, students are less likely to turn their backs on the audience to read bullet points and more likely to speak directly to the audience while using imagery to amplify the message, which is the true use of visuals.

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The Pecha Kucha presentation style is gaining interest in education. It requires that a speaker use 20 images, each lasting 20 seconds, to deliver a presentation. This makes the presentation closer to a TedTalk than the usual Death by PowerPoint. The speaker is forced to move out of the “covering content” mentality to the communicating mentality that makes TedTalks so interesting. This is done not just by shortening the length of the talk, but also by timing the images. With only 20 seconds per image, students are less likely to turn their backs on the audience to read bullet points and more likely to speak directly to the audience while using imagery to amplify the message, which is the true use of visuals.

For instance, a speaker discussing the Eiffel Tower might talk about its height. But instead of just listing its height with a bullet point, the speaker might show an image of it next to other structures at the time, such as the pyramids, to make the point that it was the tallest structure in the world when built. The speaker might then note that it has since been eclipsed by numerous other structures and illustrate how much taller buildings are now with a graphic showing the tower next to more recent structures. Now, instead of regurgitating a number that will not be remembered one minute after it is spoken, the speaker is focusing on the relevance of the tower and its place in history. Thus, the image and transition requirements force the speaker to consider what is important in the information and how to communicate that to the audience in a way that will be understood and remembered.

The technique is primarily used in education for student presentations, but there is no reason an instructor cannot use it for his or her own presentations as well. The Pecha Kucha method is ideal for an introductory video in an online class that motivates participation in a module by explaining why the topic is important and what students should get out of class material. The instructor will be forced to focus on relevance just as students are when doing a presentation.

Pecha Kucha in an online class uses the “digital storytelling” video method I have discussed previously (Online Classroom, June 2017), where the creator records the audio first and then adds images to match the spoken words. See that article for guidance on making these types of videos. Students in online classes can then post their creations to the learning management system if it has that capability or to an outside hosting site such as Google Drive, Dropbox, YouTube, Vimeo, or others and provide the class with a link to it.  

Instructors should provide some coaching to students on the technique when assigning a Pecha Kucha presentation. As noted, one important guideline is that visuals are not for projecting your notes—they are not public 3 × 5 cards—they are for illustrating your points with images. The instructor should also remind students to focus on relevance, not simply list facts. Why is the height of the Eiffel Tower relevant? Maybe civilizations built tall monuments to display their power, which is why the tallest structures were once in Egypt—the greatest civilization at the time—then in Europe and then the United States. Now the tallest buildings are in the Middle East and East Asia; what might that represent?

Most importantly, communication begins with capturing your listener's attention, be it a friend, class, or auditorium, so students need to consider how to grab and hold their audience's attention. What opening will pique the listener's interest? This skill will serve them well in the future.

Finally, students will need to be coached on how to deal with the 20-second image limit. While the format helps cut out the clutter and get straight to the point of a presentation, Pecha Kucha should not artificially restrain or elongate points to match the visuals. It is a mistake to make each point exactly 20 seconds long, no matter how important. Instead, if a point needs 60 seconds to make, the presenter should simply choose three images in sequence to illustrate how it develops. A point about human diversity might start with an image of a crowd, then of distinct individuals, then of a small number of individuals from different cultures. In this way, the time restriction can aid cognition by generating new insights. We generally think that our ideas should not be influenced by delivery technique, but in reality the medium always influences thinking. Just as a page limit on an article influences its focus and direction, limits on presentation style will influence the thinking that goes into it, and this is a strength of the medium.

Take a look at these two good resources for more ideas on how to use Pecha Kucha in your classes.