On September 8, 2011, I presented at “PKSTL07,” the seventh volume of PechaKucha St. Louis. PK (which is an easier-to-say abbreviation of PechaKucha) started in Tokyo in 2003. The premise is to deliver a 6 minute 40 second presentation containing 20 slides delivered via Powerpoint. Each slide is on the screen for exactly 20 seconds, and slides are advanced automatically. The speaker only has control of what is going to appear on screen, and in what order (to be clear, the speaker prepares his or her Powerpoint beforehand) . The speaker does not advance the slide; a person at a computer does that for you every 20 seconds. Therefore, the speaker must advance his or her thoughts every 20 seconds.
I never get nervous for speeches, presentations or public appearances. I used to, but time and confidence have worn this feeling away. However, I got sweaty cold palms for this one. I thought about why, and all I could come up with was that 1.) This was a real honor and opportunity to speak in front of such a diverse, talented and unique group of people. Were they so different and more talented than me that I’d have difficulty connecting with them? It was possible. 2.) The 20-second thing was new, unlike anything I had done before. Like many of us, I’m fearful of what I’m not good at, what I’m not in control of, and what I don’t understand. And 3.) It was 10 years ago to the day that I spoke in front of 300+ people as Jon Falk‘s best man. On that day, I was a complete nervous wreck, paralyzed by fear, so much so that it kept me from properly enjoying the evening. I guess the anniversary of that night, while ordinarily insignificant, made me think about my current task, perhaps more so than normal.
One way to combat both fear and presentation suckiness is to prepare. Here’s how I did it:
1.) I decided on a meaningful topic. The PK folks helped me with this, and they also offer this info on their site. Pratzel’s was a fun campaign with a happy ending, so this was a good foundation upon which I could build a successful presentation.
2.) Having never attended a PechaKucha night (I had no idea what I had been missing), I visited PK’s site and watched a few presentations. I needed to get an idea of what slides looked like, how people spoke as their slides appeared on screen and advanced, and how presenters concluded their talks. I also noted that the most successful presentations were not advertisements pushing product.
3.) I have seen PKs where the person talks for 6:40 straight, and the slides are random and not necessarily relating to what the presenter is saying at that point. I wanted my presentation to have structure, with slides corresponding to what I was talking about. No offense if you build and deliver yours in a different way.
4.) To sketch out my 20 slides, both the visual and the spoken word, I created a spreadsheet.
I numbered the left column 1 through 20, and started dumping slide ideas into the next column. Having worked on the Save Pratzel’s campaign, I remembered what happened and what was important to me. Nevertheless, I needed to refer to both the original Pratzel’s blog post, the “big announcement” blog post and our case study. After an initial brain dump, I had about 15 slide concepts, but they were out of order. So I thought about the flow of information, and about what I was trying to accomplish with this presentation. This was not a spoken case study; this was a speech about doing something special and changing St. Louis. Based on that premise, I added, deleted and reordered the information. The spreadsheet made this process much easier. You may decide to use 20 index cards arranged on a table; as a former CPA, a spreadsheet made sense to me.
5.) I went for a little humor, mixed with some moving thoughts. I am addicted to producing laughs and feel a speech is a failure if I don’t receive this tactile response. Laughter also sets my mind at ease.
6.) Speaking of laughs, slide 5 is a picture of me crying. The point of the slide is that I’m very nostalgic and sentimental and was sad to see Pratzel’s go. I produced the tear by watching the last 5 minutes of Saving Private Ryan, and I informed the audience of this. I wanted to humanize myself and the presentation. Yes, I was really crying when I took the photo.
7.) After finalizing and ordering 20 slide concepts, I searched for appropriate photos to use as the slides. The St. Louis PK Planning Committee told me to concentrate on imagery and to avoid text as much as possible. When reviewing previous presentations, I noted that some slides had text, but that most did not.
8.) I finalized the order and the content of the 20 slides, and I named the jpegs in this manner: “01_slideonename, 02_slidetwoname, etc.” That made them show up in order on Apple’s Finder, and made it easier to put them in order in my Powerpoint.
9.) I then handed the 20 jpegs to Steve Hartman, Falk Harrison’s Creative Director, and he cleaned them up a bit. He replaced a few, and cropped a few. For instance, he fixed my crying slide, focusing in on the tear a bit more. Someone in the audience approached me afterwards and actually complimented me on the cropping of the photo. Note: this step is obviously optional. Many creative folks attend PK Night and would be used to seeing beautiful-looking presentations. I am not a creative and needed assistance. Frankly, I chose some less-than-good-looking slides; Steve worked his magic on them in the short amount of time we had. He then built the 20-slide Powerpoint and mailed it to the PK people. Our submission was late: DO NOT DO AS WE DID!
10.) I wanted to be able to deliver this presentation without reading it, and without referring to notes. I knew I could deliver it without a full script. However, I was not sure I would be able to pull it off mistake-free without notes to which to refer. I did not want to get stuck in the middle, not knowing what to say next, uttering an eternal “Ummmmmmmmmmm…” So I created a cheat sheet.
There were certain thoughts I absolutely wanted to remember to express. I highlighted those so that my eye could more easily catch them as I glanced down. I shaded every other slide description to make things easier on the eyes. I made it three pages long, and small enough to fit in both my pocket and my hand. Falk Harrison’s COO suggested I use heavy card stock, but I stuck with regular paper. I wanted it to be very lightweight, and I thought normal paper would be easier to hold on to. Out to the right, I described the slide that would be up on the screen. I thought this might help me in case I got totally lost. Finally, I numbered the slides with a thick red Sharpie, using red to have that info jump out at me in case of emergency.
11.) I can deliver a speech or presentation with little difficulty now, and I never rehearse. I have a weird superstition / phobia that if I practice, that will be the best version of the presentation, and it will only be downhill from there. However, I practiced for this; I felt PK was a different kind of presentation. I wanted to be able to deliver it without reading it, and I had to master the 20 second thing. So at 5pm, two hours before delivering the talk, I grabbed my laptop and went to a conference room. I wanted to rehearse it and have my Powerpoint automatically advance every 20 seconds. I could not figure out how to make it do this. So I pulled up the file in Apple Keynote and noticed a “rehearse presentation” feature (Nav bar: Play / Rehearse Slideshow). It pulls up your first slide, and there’s a stopwatch on-screen. I had my cheat sheet in hand, hit go, and started talking. The stopwatch started. I delivered the presentation while watching the clock, and advanced the slide myself every 20 seconds. This really helped me get my 20 second cadence down pat. After three rehearsals, I had developed a sort of 20 second internal clock. I also had a general idea of how quickly or slowly I had to talk through each slide in order to be done with that slide while not leaving any “dead air time.” Rehearsing worked! I have not heard my presentation yet (it was recorded and will be released on YouTube), but I’m pretty sure my timing between slides was spot on. As I said, I never practice speeches or presentations, but it helped immensely here. (NOTE: sitting down next to the Powerpoint operator before I went up on stage, I noticed that he was using the same Keynote rehearsal feature to run the slides. He manually advanced the slides every 20 seconds per the stopwatch on-screen, just as I had during rehearsal.)
12.) I did not drink alcohol before presenting. If you know me, you know I enjoy a red wine or two. In this case, I wanted to be sure I could deliver a 100% performance without a hitch. It did not hurt matters that, out of 10 PK presentations, I presented first. I finished up and walked to the bar. I also did not eat dinner, which is typically a bad idea for me. I’m usually shaking from hunger by 4:45pm, but luckily this day was different. I was fine and did not eat until well after 9pm, when I had a slinger at Courtesy Diner. I recommend eating a little something an hour or two before your presentation.
13.) Most of all, I reminded myself that this was a fun challenge to undertake, that thousands of people had done this very thing before and no one had ever been injured, that I knew my subject matter backwards and forwards, and that I deserved to be there (not to sound like a dick). About two or three slides in, I was completely comfortable.
14.) Afterwards, I asked people for feedback. It’s difficult to tell how honest people are with feedback. “Wow, Chris, you really struggled up there,” is not something you’d typically hear from even the most coldhearted attendee. Nevertheless, I asked both friends and strangers if they enjoyed it, and my sense was that they did. I cannot wait to see the YouTube video of it. I will review it to see if there are areas I can improve upon.
Overall, I think it went well. Two random people gave me hi-fives as I left stage, which made me feel pretty good. I headed straight for the bar and enjoyed the rest of the presentations. Thanks Katy, Jay, Jeannette, and Jay of the PK Planning Committee for all of your help!
I hope this blog post can serve as an aid to future PK presenters everywhere. I don’t want the sheer length of this blog post to scare anyone away. You might be able to quickly choose 20 jpegs, string them together in a Powerpoint, and get up on stage and rock it. I felt like I had to put the work in to ensure success. Overall, I probably spent 8-10 hours of time on preparation. You may spend more or less time. I encourage everyone to attend a PechaKucha night, and give presenting a try.
Here’s the video of my presentation. The sound is not terribly good. I apologize, but you’ll have to turn up the volume to hear it.