Are 6 minutes or 20 slides more important?

If you were invited to share your story or idea at an event with 400 progressive minds in a contemporary art museum, how could you refuse, right?

Welcome to Pecha Kucha.  It means “chit chat” in Japanese and the concept started about 7 years ago and is now in over 350 cities worldwide.  Around 10 talks are accepted for each gathering (4 per year); each speaker presents 20 slides for 20 seconds each, totaling about 6 minutes.

Let me first say that I love this event: if we were to catalog the things that give Columbus its “inner go,” this would be on the list.   This week we heard about serious non-profit endeavors to the “let me share a conversation in my head with you” talks- it’s a menagerie of rapid fire concepts, trends and new endeavors.

But dare I say from a presentation orientation, if I was a speaker, I’d be prepared for failure.   When Pecha Kucha was started, it was for architects to quickly share their concepts.  The slides were meant to probably get their best images culled down to a ‘top 20’ and make them get through the story really quickly. Apparently, architects are a chatty bunch.

Since then, as with most good ideas, it has morphed into dynamic local gatherings of creative thinkers feeding a pent-up hunger to be inspired and enlightened.  But does the 20 slide rule work for someone wanting to tell a story about why you should care about the smells and scents in your life?  About how a writing program in an arts institution is influencing local schools?  About the multitude of benefits of community gardening?

So I asked myself, what’s more important?  Is it keeping to the 6 minutes or being forced to create and talk to 20 slides when maybe 4 would work?   And does the format take away from the ability for someone to visualize a rich, colorful story (which is often more memorable, case in point here) ?  Indeed, some topics require slides to demonstrate a design, illustration or comparison graph.  I particularly loved the one of a young professional’s demonstration of how he process a simple math problem with dyslexia against how the rest of us mutants tackle it.  But did he need 20 to do it?

When you take any stage I claim that you have a ‘contract’ with yourself that you are prepared, with the organizer to technically support your talk, and with the audience that you will deliver your ideas, concepts, inspirations, vision and dreams in the best way you know how.  I couldn’t help but think if some of them just had a timer and buzzer- and the license to tell their story in 6 minutes however they wanted- would we have more impactful, memorable talks?

The 20×20 slide format of Pecha Kucha will likely continue, but there’s one thing the speakers can hope for: a monitor in front of them to let them know when the slides advance (since they are on an automatic 20 second timer).  After all, every time a speaker turns their head to look at the slides behind them, they create barrier #1 in presentations: turning a back on the audience.

The next Pecha Kucha Columbus is February 10, 2011 at the Columbus Museum of Art.