Tagged: presenting

Pecha Kucha Night, a lifetime in six minutes

Some time last year, I first learned about Pecha Kucha from the estimable Presentation Zen blog, but it wasn’t until last night that I experienced it.  Pecha Kucha, in a nutshell, is when people get together and share 20-slide presentations in which the slides advance automatically every 20 seconds, for a crisp 6:40 each.  The content of the presentations isn’t specified, only how they are delivered.

It’s generally done as a forum to practice the skill of making and delivering presentations, of focusing ideas and images into a predetermined format.  It’s become a world-wide movement, and the Boston chapter’s sixth Pecha Kucha night was last night at Mantra on Temple Place.  I dragged former colleague and fellow design geek J to the festivities.

The evening was co-sponsored by AIGA, “the professional association for design,” and many AIGA members were in attendance and some presented.

I love the idea of Pecha Kucha.  Creative people getting together and playing a sort of party game.  People getting serious about the craft of presentation.  Using arbitrary constraints to flex your brain and create something, like writing haiku or sonnets.  I didn’t fully know what to expect, and I was surprised on a few counts.

First, 20 seconds can be a long time, and so can 6:40.  At work, I used to budget about a minute per slide.  I now budget less because I’ve gotten better about reducing the amount of information on each slide, but now I have more slides.  At Pecha Kucha, I often found myself impatient for the slide to advance.  Similarly, at work, I’d be thrilled if any presentation lasted only six or seven minutes, but again, some Pecha Kucha presos seemed to drag on.

Second, having every slide up for the same amount of time is strange.  Imagine a film in which every cut or scene was the same length, or a book with every chapter exactly the same size.  I hadn’t given much conscious thought to the rhythm of a presentation, but it’s a powerful thing.

Third, these design types don’t just use fewer words per slide, they use none.  I’m a big fan of words and also of typography, so this threw me for a loop.  Sure, eveybody spoke to their slides, some at great length, but in most cases I felt a little lost when there was no verbal matter on screen.

It was too dark to take notes or decent photos, but some of the presentations that stood out where those by Chris Pullman of WGBH, Denise Korn of Korn Design, and Lisa Williams of Placeblogger.

Pullman was the lead off presenter and his talk was a capsule history of WGBH’s new building and the giant video screen thereon. His timing on the 20-second transitions was impressive, and as you migth expect of somebody working in TV or radio, he told a story with a beginning, a middle and an end.

Denise Korn presented another story, this one about a summer intership program she launched called Youth Design Boston.  Showing images almost entirely of the teens in the program and their work, Korn played perfectly to the audience of design professionals, most of whom were probably told as youths, as J put it, “you’ll never make any money drawing!”

She mentioned that one YDB project is a redesign of the MBTA’s Charlie Card being pitched to the mayor’s office.  I’m glad I’m not the only one who finds that Charlie character a bit creepy and maybe not the only who who feels some nostalgia for the colorful and ever-changing oldstyle magnetic strip MBTA fare cards.

Finally, I have to mention Lisa Williams’ presentation, a pitch of sorts for her company placeblogger.  Honestly, I was expecting more like this – a mix of text and image in the service of pitching a company.  But around the third slide, Williams declared that the slides had been rearranged out of order and the rest of the presentation was a bit of live improv or a game of battledecks.

Some of the other presentations were more like narrated slideshows of the presenter’s work or work he liked, and a couple were downright bad, with bad timing, monotone script-reading and overfull slides. On the other hand, the better presenters told engaging or even inspiring stories despite the restrictions of the format.

I’m very glad I went.  I think I learned a couple of things that might be useful in my own presenting, and oddly, I find myself itching to try for a slot in a future Pecha Kucha night.  Presentation topic ideas, anybody?

No parrots were harmed in the making of this post

I used to work with a guy who was an excellent public speaker, as sales guys often are. Although I cannot remember any part of any presentation he ever gave, I remember very the time when he started off a talk with a joke that began, “A brunette, a redhead and a blonde…” After I got over the initial shock at the political incorrectness and the generally awful quality of the joke (it included the question, “how many ‘d’s are there in ‘Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom”), I realized two important things:

  1. He had used up almost five minutes of his presentation time
  2. He had the audience completely and utterly in the palm of his hand

I resolved then and there to find or manufacture a joke that would do those two things and more: my presentation-starting ice-breaking audience-owning joke would be funny, and it would also be politically correct and vaguely related to the techy subject matter of most of my presentations.

It took a couple of years. Well, it took a couple of years to finally execute the google search that found me the raw material for the joke I needed. I practiced it, I tested it, and then I deployed it in the field, and it delivered for me. It even worked in France through a translator. It got a laugh in Germany – in English. In Asia, it also helped me figure out how fluent in English my audience was before getting to the meat of the presentation. This joke was almost as valuable as my wireless presentation remote.

Recently, my friend L successfully adapted the joke to her industry and bravely used it in front of a client on the first try. Brava!

And so, dear limereaders, in honor of the occasion of not having a better topic about which to write, I will share with you not only the joke, but also some important tips on how to deliver it and integrate it with your own presentations. I would be very interested to know if any of you have a joke or two that you use to open your talks.

It’s good to be here in [wherever you are, if you can remember - say something nice about the place and segue to...] The other day, I was walking around near the hotel and I passed a pet shop with a big sign, “we have talking parrots!” so I figured I’d check it out. Inside there was a huge cage with three parrots in it. I asked the shopkeeper, “so, how much do talking parrots go for these days?” [for some reason, I find this works better when you tell the story in the first person, perhaps because then its not immediately apparent that you're telling a joke]

The keeper pointed out a beautiful green parrot preening itself on the bottom perch, and said, “that one’s $895″ “Wow,” I said, “that seems like a lot.” “Well, that parrot can do telephone tech support” [pause here for a laugh, there should be one because this is the first sure sign that this is a joke. This is also where you might need to customize to your chosen industry and audience. If there's no laugh here, its going to be a long, dark 5 minutes]

OK, I say, how about that one, pointing to the yellow and orange parrot sitting above the green one and chewing on some leaves. “that guy’s $2,095″” Two thousand bucks? What can that parrot do?” Apparently, the yellow parrot is Cisco certified for both voice and data networks. [this is the tough part of the joke, if you get a laugh here, you're home free - it helps to ham up your confusion and skepticism about the talented parrots]

I can tell that I’m not in an ordinary pet shop, but I persevere and ask about the last parrot, the grey parrot on the top perch. [if you can stretch it out with a long-winded description of the parrot, it'll help.] “Ah, the grey,” says the keeper, “he’s a very special parrot. I hate to see him go, but you can take him for $4,995″ Now I’m starting to wonder about this guy, but I ask anyway, “what could this parrot possibly do to be worth that much?” [make sure you up the ante on your utter disbelief that the parrot costs $5k]

The guys says, “well, I’ve never actually seen him do anything, but the other two call him ‘boss’”

At this point, you are free to segue to whatever your real presentation was, with five minutes gone and a swelling of audience goodwill to carry you along. I usually make some pandering comment about how the people who do stuff in technology are not always the ones who get the big paychecks and credit, and use that as a springboard to talking about my company’s no-nonsense friend of the common network administrator positioning.

I’m sure you can see how this works almost anywhere except perhaps for an audience entirely composed of senior executives, the grey parrots as it were.  Pretty much everybody thinks that they know more then their manager.  Just fill in some technical details your audience relates to for the first two parrots. For extra credit, make some reference to “the third parrot” at some point in your presentation or closing.

Obviously this joke – or any other – won’t save you if your main presentation is lousy or if your delivery is bad or if your audience is hostile, or comprised of zombies, or both. Also, be aware that you may be heckled or confronted by people who actually know something about parrots and who want to correct any technical parrot details you might have used or abused. It’s from one of these folks that I learned that the prices in the original joke were actually quite low for parrots of any kind.

Giving credit not quiet where it’s due, you can find two variants of this joke here: http://www.plannedparrothood.com/jokes.html (gotta love that domain name) one for the legal industry and another closer to my high-tech version. This isn’t where I first found the joke, but I can’t find that link anymore. Sorry.

Disclaimers and credits completed, I just want to say that a joke is one of many ways to establish audience rapport, and that’s something that not enough presenters even attempt to do. So, take my parrots. Please.

Radically Minimal Slides

How many slides must a man present before he must stop and vent?

Lately, I’ve become bored with creating and giving presentations. (I know, you’re thinking, “what took you so long?”) People in the office say I’m good at it, and I’ve certainly done enough to feel comfortable and competent, but after a while, it just gets old. So I decided to try a different approach.

I’ve been reading Presentation Zen for a while, and I’ve been interested in typography for a long while. After fumbling around with some ideas myself, I found this 18-month old post on PZ about the Takahashi Method and the Lessing Style of presentation, which led me to this inspiring (in form if not in content) preso by Dick Hardt, which led me to try some radically minimal slides in a recent presentation to one of the product teams on the theme of “What is Corporate Communication?” Here are some samples:

It was a rush job and certainly not my best work in sides or in delivery,

but I got my message across and was at least as interesting and engaging as the other presenters

I used 55 slides for a 15-minute time slot, and I think there was time to spare.

As the number of slides goes up and the time you spend on each goes down, the slides almost merge into a flip-book or a film. I wonder if in the future, more and more presentations will be more like movies or flash animations that run while the presenter talks?

It makes you think of D.A. Pennebaker’s Bob Dylan proto-music-video for Subterranean Homesick Blues from his film Don’t Look Back. Maybe I’ll do a preso like that some day.

Presentation? Bring It On!

So I’m working on the slides for my upcoming appearance at Baptie’s Direct Focus marketing conference in San Diego. It’s hard going of course, this will be a tough audience. And you know what happens when the going gets tough… the tough geek out on some unrelated topic to procrastinate.

Over the past month I’ve traveled thousands of miles and given hours of presentations. My constant companion has been an excellent gadget that I’m going to take a moment to recognize: the Mobile Edge Slim Line Wireless Presentation Remote, pictured here a bit larger than life-size.

I was shopping for a different remote, one recommended at Presentation Zen, when I found this one by chance. I can’t say enough good things about this device. It’s small (stores in your laptop’s PC card slot!), it’s simple (only six buttons), it works anywhere, anytime (with a usb thingie built in), and it has a “laser!” What more could you want? Check out the engagingly cheesy flash demo on Mobile Edge’s site.

My only critique would be that the buttons make an audible click when you press them. It’s likely that this is audible only to the presenter, but you never know. I guess the slogan “bring it on” printed on the device is also a bit creepy, but I can forgive that bluster because the whole kit is so nicely engineered. What really makes this device sing for me is the form factor – the USB dongle stores inside the remote itself, and the whole thing stores in your laptop’s PC card slot, making it nearly impossible to lose.

Unless, like me, you forget that you put it in your computer’s PC card slot in the first place. Funny how things are always in the last place you look for them.