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Pecha Kucha: A Precision Tool for Learning & Growth

By Ettie Zilber
Pecha Kucha:  A Precision Tool for Learning & Growth

“No more death by power-point.” This is how my graduate students learned that their final projects would have to be presented to the class using 20 pre-timed slides totaling 6 minutes and 40 seconds, giving them only 20 seconds per slide. No more read-aloud bullet lists. Instead, they would have to select images that relayed their message without the use of bullets whatsoever. This is pecha kucha (PK), a technique whose name means “chit-chat” in Japanese. Since its origins in Japan’s expat circles, it has become a popular evening activity around the world for the exchange of ideas and information.
I first learned about pecha kucha from Daniel Pink, author of To Sell is Human, and immediately sensed that this approach could be applied to presentations in my course with the aim of enhancing learning. The assignment for this Master’s course required students to convert their final projects into a “pitch” and present it for assessment by class colleagues and by the instructor.
Though some students struggled with language issues, they nailed the exercise with aplomb and panache. What’s more, as current and future administrators, they demonstrated how they might perform under pressure with merciless time constraints and outside their comfort zone. Many even managed to include humor, despite their nervousness. I was so proud of these current and future leaders!
Among the challenges and difficulties, students frequently cited the forced entry into the “discomfort zone,” where they had to grapple with a new paradigm when stakes were high and time was short. Keeping to the prescribed format of PK without falling back into familiar practices was also challenging for many. Then there was the labor-intensive process of finding images to serve as metaphors for the message. Many found it hard to pare their comments down, as directed, using fewer words and more exact language timed to correspond with the slides. All felt they could have used more time, preparation, practice, and synchronization with their team.
As for the benefits of the PK approach, participants were unanimous in stating that it forced better thought practices, produced a sharper analysis, and required greater preparation than a slideshow with fewer constraints. There was a general sense that the exercise encouraged creativity and had added to students’ personal and professional growth. Most felt it would appeal to various audiences.
Pecha kucha, we concluded, could be profitably implemented in making presentations to various groups, including parents, administration, board, staff, and students. It could serve as a way of pitching the school at recruitment and other fairs. Educators could encourage their own students to embrace the method, using it in their own presentations and pitches.
On the personal level, a few students described a shift in their feelings. “I must admit, I was skeptical about pecha kucha in the beginning… however, after seeing all of the other groups’ presentations and experiencing it myself…I think it was a successful experiment!... [despite the difficulties] I do think I learned a great deal from this experience.” Also, “I think this was the most useful of all of the projects I’ve done to date in terms of getting me to think critically about how to get my thoughts out to other people in a way that is effective.” Another student reflected: “It is a very powerful way to present and I’m very happy to have done it. It has taught me to consider carefully how I present myself.”
A number of participants indicated their discomfort with public speaking, in general, but felt that this strategy helped them prepare, practice and develop this very important skill. “At first I hated the idea of the pecha kucha but now I see how effective it can really be.”
Judging from the participants’ evaluation and continued application of this technique, it seems worth passing on to students, educators, and educational leaders. As an approach that values brevity and precision, it could be valuable as a teaching and learning tool in the curriculum, in the community, and for marketing purposes.
I offer this up for your consideration and would love to hear how you implemented this strategy in your communities.
Dr. Ettie Zilber has served as an educator and leader at international schools in Israel, Singapore, China, Guatemala, Spain and the U.S. She has also served as Adjunct Professor for various universities which offer international Master’s/Doctoral programs.
[email protected]
Pink, D. (2013). To Sell is Human. NY: Riverhead Books.
A Pecha Kucha about Pecha Kucha.

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