Pecha Kucha: Can I Say What I Need to Say in 400 Seconds?

pechakucha2nobannerOK, I know I’m a geezer but why have I not heard about Pecha Kucha until today? Pecha Kucha is japanese, literally means “chit chat” and I gather it’s the antidote to those death by powerpoint talks we’ve all sat through at educational conferences. Speakers get through 20 slides, 20 seconds per slide  in 400 seconds, say what they gotta say and sit the hell down. I guess it’s been around for about 12 years now.

Hung up on pronunciation like I was? Well, here you go. I have no idea if he’s right or not:

TimeI have never used the transition feature in powerpoint to set the time for each slide to stay on screen!

I learned about this originally from one of our emergency department (ED) doctors who’s looking for psychiatrists to give talks on psychiatry topics to ED trainees. I happened to notice that the time slot for “Munchausen’s/Munchausen’s by Proxy” was only 15 minutes long. I’ve given talks on Factitious Disorder (the name Munchausen’s has been called now for years) and got through it in less than 14 minutes.

But that’s just for my blog; I never get through it that fast in a regular didactic session at the hospital with live trainees sitting in the room who have questions and comments.

I thought it was a mistake and I asked if that was a typo in the schedule. Imagine my surprise when I found out it was legit–really–only 15 minutes, bud. And some talks are scheduled only in Pecha Kucha style, 6 minutes and 40 seconds. It turns out a whole 15 minutes is a luxury.

The ED staff are always pressed for time and they use the 400 second Pecha Kucha time format for some of the lectures to squeeze educational content into their busy schedules. That’s lightening fast lifelong learning.

I’m intrigued and I’m considering volunteering for this speed dating form of didactic teaching. After all, I’ve done a lot of Dirty Dozen talks, in which I use only 12 powerpoint slides although I take way more than 400 seconds to deliver them live. Further, I usually ask my trainees to give their Clinical Problems in Consultation Psychiatry (CPCP) presentations using about a dozen slides.

I get the impression that a lot of Pecha Kucha use slides not for text but to flash graphic images, art and whatnot while the speaker talks, not necessarily at breakneck speed:

I’m not sure I could get by with images only but that makes me wonder why I put a lot of text on a slide anyway. When I sit in the audience at a traditional powerpoint presentation, I often find myself trying to read the text content on the slide rather than listen to what the speaker is saying. And sometimes what the speaker is saying is printed on the slide anyway. So what should I do, listen or read? And if I read, why did I show up for the presentation in the first place?

Pecha Kucha would be something new I’ve never done before. So I wonder, can I really say what I need to say to an audience in 400 seconds?

3 thoughts on “Pecha Kucha: Can I Say What I Need to Say in 400 Seconds?

  1. It sounds like an interesting challenge-high impact slides with quick comments. You could do a study. You determine the content that needs to be taught, then someone does a Pecha Kucha talk, and someone else does a regular powerpoint, and then you figure out a way to determine which audience learned more. A study at MIT demonstrated that the level of boredom in an audience increases the moment a power point begins.

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    1. I’ve sat through many boring powerpoint talks–and I’ve perpetrated many myself. The following link is to an article sharing a view almost everyone would accept, i.e., powerpoint is a tool, neither good nor bad in itself, but it’s often misused:

      The comments were as interesting as the article. One mentions Pecha Kucha. A few specific take-aways sound good like use no more than 25-30 words/slide, no font smaller than 24 pt, use images that drive a point home.


      1. I’ve used it, too, hopefully to good effect. It was fairly new when I was in med school, and one of the reasons I stopped going to lectures. I figured, if the instructor was simply going to recite what was on the slide, and I already had printouts of all the slides in the syllabus, my time would be better spent studying on my own.
        I think people sometimes forget that it’s not a substitute for teaching. In that respect, it’s no different from any other teaching aid, and good teachers will use it well.


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