My Experience with Pecha Kucha Speech Preparation

Around mid-summer 2013, the St. Louis-based innovation think tank, Openly Disruptive, invited me to give a presentation based on the theme of sustainability and local food as part of their Disruptive Diner Series.  I decided to create a presentation entitled: “3 Ways Electricity Can Be of Benefit to Urban Agriculture“.  It’s not what you think!

I started off with planning my presentation using HaikuApp.  I thought that creating the baseline presentation in HaikuApp would be a great idea since it allows you to create beautiful-looking presentations with ease, using an iPad. If needed, I made modifications using powerpoint, creating custom headings with transparency enabled to match those of Haiku.  For some graphics, instead of using the CreativeCommons imagery they chose, I would create images on my laptop, upload them to Dropbox, and import them as needed.

Then I had to figure out what to say. Using the presentation app was an easy way of working though my thoughts on the subject.  Sometimes the pictures that came up from my searches helped with figuring out the best words to place on the slides.  I focused on a minimal presentation style, with mostly images and just a few words per slide.

Now came the hard part… (Figuring out what to actually say!)

I printed the slides, 3 to a page with note lines (after exporting to powerpoint) and took a walk.  Trying to figure out what to say is incredibly hard.  Even just getting the words to come out has been extremely difficult.  Every time I started to try to talk aloud and figure out on-the-fly what words to say, my words got caught up in my throat and I would stutter or just have nothing to say (Even though I was very knowledgeable on the subject).  BUT, I had a solution to that problem – EFT!  What’s that?

EFT, or Emotional Freedom Technique, is a form of energy medicine that’s been popular for more than 10 years now.  Based on the manipulation of acupuncture  meridians, the technique uses finger tapping over different points on our bodies to “Zap!” subtle energies that get stuck.  These stuck or stagnant energies can have an effect on us physically, emotionally, or even spiritually.  With regards to the problem at hand, I was having difficulty getting into a flow-state where my words could come out naturally.  You can learn more about EFT from

After tapping for awhile I started getting some physical symptoms like extended yawning, and tearing up.  I always take these as a sign that I’m breaking up the internal barriers that are preventing me from moving forward.

So as I continued on my walk, I tried different styles of beginning my speech and eventually came across a version that I liked.  While I don’t remember it completely now, I now know that next time I’m going to take out the audio recorder on my phone and start recording a 2nd draft immediately.  While talking though, I realized that what I’m trying to say is far exceeding the 20 second limit, so I will need to make yet another version with timing included.

Getting the timing right – 1st draft.

To prepare for the timing portion, I found a great online timer – Pecha Kucha Timer – it’s a flash file that can be played within the browser.  Once started, it counts down and tells you which slide you’re on.  It even turns more red as you approach the end of the current slide’s time-period.  I found this to be invaluable for working out what could be said within the time constraint.

Next, I’m going to go back to what I thought worked out best for me – working through my words by writing them down.  In fact, to get this right, I think I’m going to write some words, read out loud with the timer going, and see how far I get.  (After the fact, this worked out really well!)  This will then be my baseline for figuring out how much text equals 20 seconds.  Then I have a good constraint to work with, similar to a 140-character twitter limitation.  It forces conciseness and creativity within that space.

When it came time to start practicing the timing, I ran into powerpoint slideshow issues – it was always skipping slides. As a work-around, I imported it into google presentations.  Since 20 sec wasn’t a delay option; I used two 10 sec (duplicated) slides.  Ultimately, I gave my deck to Jake Simon to help me with fixing the delay problem… Thanks, Jake!

Practice, Practice, Practice!

I did lots of practice sessions at home – since it needed to be timed, it worked best for me to get the basic idea of what I wanted to say written down.  I then practiced that, and if something else came out extemporaneously, then that would be fine – at least I had the majority of the content down along with the timing.

I remember from my toastmasters days that practice in front of others was best.  Not wanting to waste people’s time while I was working things out, I started off by myself.  I started off using my notes as a crutch. It was hard.  I then did it in front of some people, also while looking at my notes – and IMHO, I did terribly.  But, once I started practicing more and I made the key decision to no longer use my notes, I did much better.  I eventually got more people to watch me, including my 7 year old daughter (who gave great feedback, btw!).  I then had 2 friends watch me at the same time which helped by making the environment into a new situation.  I was now speaking to a (small) crowd.  The best part was having the critiques of two build upon each other.

The important thing is to get your ego out of the way and focus on massively iterating to get to the best presentation you could give.

Pre-Presentation Tips

When it came to actually arriving on site, I followed some advice that I read about online.  First, I want to give credit to Chris of RizzoTees for his great P-K speech outline method.  There are a number of people recounting their P-K experiences online including “behind the times”, and avoision.  One idea that I liked (sorry, don’t remember the source), was to let out a bunch of energy by yelling in the car while on the way over or by doing some rigorous exercise.  I did the former and it was quite helpful 🙂  Another trick that was very helpful was to spend as much time as possible shmoozing and shaking hands with audience members beforehand.  It worked out really well because there was one person in the audience, the wife of one of the other presenters – Bob Henkel (who gave a great presentation on urban permaculture and food forests), who was smiling and encouraging me throughout my speech (and I presume for the others as well).  This was a great help and if it’s possible to identify people beforehand that you really connect with, I can’t recommend it highly enough, especially if you’re new to presenting.

Overall it went very well… it was a great experience and look forward to my next speaking engagement.  When the video gets posted online, I’ll include a link to it.  If you’re interested in seeing one of my earlier versions of the presentation (slides only, for practice), check it out here.

What about you… Do you have any tips or experiences with Pecha Kucha or presenting in general that you’d like to share?


Update: here’s my actual presentation… I hope you enjoy it!

After sharing it on Facebook and getting a bunch of friends to look at it, I got a few compliments. But seeing it myself I still cringe bit… What to do when not talking? So, I just want back to Toastmasters and look forward to getting up to snuff with them again!


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Filed under Electroculture, Speeches

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