Deepening the Conversation

thinking about questions of authority, technology, learning, and 2.0 in academic libraries

Pecha Kucha, not so mucha


I may be getting myself in trouble with my twitterstream here, or possibly get my acceptance to speak at Internet Librarian revoked, but I will out myself anyway:  I am not a fan of pecha kucha.

For those who have not yet been exposed to this little wave taking over library land, it’s a presentation, or series of presentations. Speakers go 20 by 20, twenty slides twenty seconds each. The slides are supposed to be artistic and metaphorical, and the content is supposed to hit the high notes. (Computers in Libraries 2008 pecha kucha video is available over at Open Stacks)

I get that bad powerpoint is painful. I get that speakers reading their presentation, word for word, is enervating. And I also get that pecha kucha is really entertaining to sit through.

But I think, at it’s core, pecha kucha is anti-intellectual.  It’s ideas without content, all in broad strokes and generalizations. It feels more about the pretty slides than the meat of the matter. And while I like big ideas, and I like being entertained, I also really like the stuff of the stuff. I’m a details gal. I want the details. Conferences without the details? are twinkies. and ho hos. I like my conference sessions to be … a little more. Heirloom tomatoes sliced over fresh buffalo mozzarella and drizzled with EVOO, balsamic vinegar and chiffonade of basil, with just a touch of grey salt. Simple ingredients simple presented, savory, worth sitting down and taking your time with. The details have been lovingly chosen and carefully crafted into the whole dish, and good people have been invited to sit down around the table and luxuriate in the bounty before them.

Doesn’t that sound like a conference session worth attending?

Pecha kucha supporters — what am I missing? I’ve watched two, I’ve made one, and I just don’t get it. Is it more than an entertaining trend? tell me what you love about the rapid chatter, either as speaker or audience.


9 thoughts on “Pecha Kucha, not so mucha

  1. Half of me wants to vigorously disagree, but the other half is in complete agreement.

    I suspect that a certain measure of the problems you identify derive from the presenter(s), rather than the format. But I also agree that the format doesn’t lend itself to details. So if that’s your thing, then this is not the format for you.

    I, on the other hand, find that most presentations only give me, at most, one really profound takeaway. So I appreciate when someone is forced to deliver that profound takeaway in a very tightly-constructed fashion, rather than stretching it over 30-45 minutes. Our problem is that this format is totally foreign to us and people haven’t learned how to use it yet. Give it time.

    You kinda lost me with the food metaphors anyway. I love HoHos.

    I was never really happy with the screencast that you linked to, so while I’m here, I may as well point folks in the direction of the much more satisfying video of the entire live Pecha Kucha at Computers in Libraries, which you can find here:

  2. Hey Greg! Thanks for the better link!

    You make some really good points, and have convinced to revisit my opinion in a little while. I’ll probably remain skeptical in the meanwhile, though 🙂

    That food metaphor did go a wee bit off track, didn’t it? (I like hoho’s too, but I’d never consider them substantive food.) I’m just going to blame it on the fact that summer has come here very late (even later than usual), and my frustrated craving for fresh garden stuff might be getting out of control.

    I’m curious though — the pecha kucha format is foreign to everyone, isn’t it? I thought it was a brand new thang…

  3. Like every other conference format – done well they are great; done poorly they are poor (though with the distinct advantage of being over quickly).

  4. I think the point of Pecha Kucha is to save the audience from awful .ppt ‘readers.’ I wouldn’t choose it as a way to impart useful and detailed information, but it’s good for overview and vagueries. (Is that a word?)

    And given that the Pecha Kucha proposal has turned into a half-day preconference workshop (if you’re talking about the acceptance I think you are), I think Pecha Kucha is out the window anyway, because it’s no longer appropriate, so we don’t have to worry about that – we can do something with substance. 🙂

    Also, the CDC has warned us against tomatoes, so I’ll take my intellectual presentation sans heirloom tomahtoes, s’il vous plait 🙂

  5. Personally, I’ll take Caprese (tomatoes, buffalo mozz, and everything else) any day. Leave it Schwartz to prefer hohos. 🙂

    I really appreciate your push for details, though personally, I prefer conferences where we are in the kitchen together. I like presentations that are smaller, that allow for questions, discussions, collaboration.

    CiL was my first experience with Pecha Kucha and I think it works well as a reminder to use the things we already know about. It’s a refresher in a refreshing way. But for new content or contentious ideas, it might come off as unsatisfying. Like a ho ho.

  6. Pecha Kucha (“Chit chat” in Japanese T_T) is another presentation format, much like poster sessions, elevator speeches, or un-conferences. Its not meant to be a replacement for the traditional conference program that is 45~60 minutes long. You also have to remember that the format comes form the design/art profession where they are used to using an image to convey much more information.

    There are a few lessons to be learned from the Pecha Kucha format.
    – It is possible to make a good point in 6 minutes 40 seconds. That also means that 45min session could have at least 6 good points 😉
    – You can have a Pecha Kucha presentation run automatically, which means it can be running on a loop at a poster session or display.
    – YouTube has a limit of 10 minute videos, so the Pecha Kucha format is ideal.
    – It would make a great exercise for student presentations.

    There’s probably more but this is what I can think of at the moment.

  7. The real point being that we live in a world where we are blessed with the ability to have both the lovingly-prepared organic produce AND the mass-produced “chocolate-style” dessert product and each has its appropriate context in which to shine. So too presentation formats.

    Similar to Sarah’s take on it, I find active audience engagement is much better than any one-way presentation format, no matter the length. But if it is going to be a one-way affair, the shorter the better for me.

  8. Hmm… I get that you don’t like Pecha Kucha. I get that it’s not a good technique for delivering lots of detailed information. But anti-intellectual? Book burning is anti-intellectual. Censorship is anti-intellectual. Pecha Kucha is not anti-intellectual, it’s a different way of engaging the intellect. In the right context it can be a wonderful tool for learning.

    But calling it anti-intellectual is like saying that sampling a few new foods at a buffet isn’t eating (to use your comestibles metaphor.) A buffet may not be the gourmet meal you prefer, but the nibbles still have nutritional value, and can be a nice way to learn about new foods that you’ve never tried before. You might even see how you to integrate those foods into your gourmet meal somewhere down the line.

    My 2 truffles. I mean cents. Damn, now I’m hungry…

  9. Pingback: IFLA Day 3 « Epist

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