Throughout my 14-year career in the business world, I’ve had the remarkable good fortune to participate in a variety of amazing experiences, and to work alongside (and for) genuinely exceptional people. I’ve mentioned several of my fantastic colleagues in various posts over these past 15 months; but I’ve also worked with quite compelling external partners, too.
Several years ago I worked with graphic designers on a regular basis. Up to that point in my life, I had avoided the visual arts domain. While I very much appreciated art, I thought I wasn’t any good at drawing (or painting, sculpting, etc.) – so as a child/teenager/younger adult my creative interests were more focused on musical expression than visual mediums. However, when my job suddenly required me to create aesthetically appealing communications, I had no choice but to learn at least a few basics of artistic design. As I collaborated with (and heavily relied on) a small army of graphic designers, I got to know a few of them on a personal level. When Facebook entered my life last year, one of those individuals ‘friended’ me. Shortly after his wall posts appeared on my news feed, he wrote about a crazy new type of event that he was going to attend, something called “Pecha Kucha”. He was very excited by this Pecha Kucha thing (whatever it was) – and his sincere enthusiasm for this foreign new concept piqued my curiosity, and nudged me to take action and learn more about Pecha Kucha.
After chatting with the above-mentioned friend for a few minutes, and doing another five minutes of supplemental research online, I learned the basics of Pecha Kucha: basically, Pecha Kucha (“peh-CHA-ch-kuh”) is a formal presentation format where a speaker creates a Power Point deck that contains 20 slides – and each slide is timed to automatically advance after being displayed for 20 seconds. No exceptions. So, every Pecha Kucha talk lasts exactly 6 minutes and 40 seconds – and due to the rapid nature of the slide progression, each slide usually has a single image, graphic, or visual on it. Words are rarely used on the slides in these types of presentations; the focus is on compelling story telling, and the slides serve primarily as an ‘illustration’ to enhance the words the speaker is saying – not to replace them.
It sounded like a cool concept, and one I thought I’d like to see in action at least once – but the nearest Pecha Kucha events were not very convenient to where I live. Still, I decided to put this on my 101 list, having faith that if I stated the intention, somehow, some way, it would likely happen. I just had to be open, willing, and patient.
Turns out I didn’t have to be patient for too terribly long. :) A month ago, one of the many employee-created (and run) networking groups at my employer posted a note on our internal message board system saying that they were organizing a Pecha Kucha event – and they were looking for volunteers to deliver presentations in this speaking style. I know the woman who was organizing the event, so I asked her a few questions about it. (Namely, could the speakers use notes [or did each presentation have to be memorized?], and could the topics be a blend of personal and professional [or did every talk need to be completely work-related?].) The organizer told me that speakers could absolutely use notes, and that while a work tie-in for each presentation would be nice, it wasn’t 100% mandatory. Hmm…. I knew that I would absolutely attend this event – but should I take #26 one step further, and actually present at it?
Oh sure… why not? ;) For better or for worse, I’m always up for a challenge…
And so, over the week of Thanksgiving I wrote the first draft of my Pecha Kucha speech, choosing to discuss my 10-day silent meditation retreat experience (because that topic is usually pretty intriguing for a variety of people). I then found images to support each of my speaking points, and built a simple-yet-effective Power Point presentation. Next, I coordinated my speech to the automatic timing of the slides (removing words in a few spots, and massaging transitions in other places) to make the flow of the speech necessarily precise, yet still feel comfortable and conversational. (Note: This is not an easy trick to pull off.) Once I felt good about the speech-and-image combination, I practiced delivering the talk half-a-dozen times – and then I felt mostly ready for the live performance.
Yesterday I delivered my 6:40 minute presentation to about 90 other professionals who work at my company. Many of the people in the room were colleagues and friends (and it was wonderful to have so many familiar faces in the crowd!), and my sweetie even came to the event (which was awesome; I’m so happy I got to share this with him!). Still, I’d estimate that around 80% of the people in the room were pretty much strangers to me, so I was nervous as my turn to speak came around. Once I reached the podium, I saw that my hands were shaking; so as I stood with 90 faces looking at me I paused, breathed in and out once, put a slight smile on my lips – then hit the “start” button and dove in.
Public speaking is one requirement of my job, so I know from past experience that once I get started in a speech/presentation/training class, adrenaline will combine with the muscle memory built during previous practice runs, and the natural storyteller/performer inside of me will pick up that energy and infuse it with appropriate emotion/tone/enthusiasm/humor/etc… and that is exactly what happened during my Pecha Kucha presentation. I was happily surprised at how truly spot-on the transition timing was – the slides advanced within a second (literally) of when I wanted them to move. (I was actually a little surprised that the timing component went so well!) I was also surprised that I started to get choked up at one point in the presentation. Crying in front of a large room full of relative strangers would NOT be cool, so I swallowed hard, took in a breath a little deeper than usual, and just kept going – and gratefully after a few seconds the emotions subsided, and I was able to resume with a more even/grounded/balanced demeanor. At the end of presentation, I felt really, really good: I had just participated in Pecha Kucha! Woot! :)
Five other speakers presented yesterday as well, and the topics were varied: one person spoke about Judaism and Hanukkah, another person spoke about crisis management, two people spoke about two different technologies our company is testing, and one person spoke about developing personal presence. It was interesting to see that this presentation format really can be used effectively across a considerable spectrum of topics. Indeed, I think the case can be made that this presentation style could be used for nearly any topic. (Assuming the goal of the presentation is to provide an introduction or overview; clearly some information sharing needs more than a mere seven minutes.) :)
I am really grateful for all of the friends that chose to spend their lunch hour watching me (and five other people) delve into this speech delivery format; I truly delight in their support, and feel so happy that I got to share this experience with so many other people! I also feel a lot of appreciation for the company I work at, for supporting us employees to spend time creating and running a bunch of groups that provide ‘extra-curricular’ activities which don’t always have an obvious direct correlation to the bottom-line profit picture. I’m also pleased with myself, for choosing to accept challenges and for investing the extra time and work they require; I’m continuing to grow, develop, and deepen as a human – and it’s a pretty wonderfully amazing (and fun!) process in which to participate. :)