Better Student Presentations Using the Pecha Kucha Format

Dec. 9, 2020

Providing classroom opportunities for students to give presentations helps develop public speaking skills, which serves them in the STEM industries and beyond. Many students present their scientific knowledge through a short (10-15 minute) PowerPoint, Google Slides, Prezi, etc. presentation. The challenge with creating these types of presentations is that it’s time consuming and often unstructured, and on the receiving end, fellow students rarely enjoy sitting through unengaging presentations. Students rarely practice their presentations, leading to unclear messaging and lackluster speaking performance.

Pecha Kucha, “chit-chat” in Japanese, is a presentation method of 20 slides shown for 20 seconds each. The average Pecha Kucha presentation clocks in at under 7 minutes, and typically contains images. Because of the slide count limit, shorter presentation time and not being able to read directly from the slides, students are pushed to make thoughtful decisions about what to include, the flow and pacing of their presentation — and they have to practice in advance.

Students Communicated Better Using Pecha Kucha 

Students prepared 2 PowerPoint presentations, one conventional and the other using the Pecha Kucha method, and provided their feedback as both presenters and audience. Students felt pressure to prioritize information under the time constraints of the Pecha Kucha format. From the presenter’s perspective, some welcomed the time limit of Pecha Kucha and some did not. They described the Pecha Kucha format using words like “focus,” “streamlined” and “forced.” From the audiences’ perspective, students said that the Pecha Kucha method was “better practiced” and “better prepared.” In general, students did not like the time limit on their own presentations, but liked it on peers’ presentations. There were no significant differences between the 2 formats for audience learning. Students reported that both presentation formats helped them learn.

From an instructor's perspective, the Pecha Kucha method was noticeably better. By the slides advancing automatically, most students practiced multiple times. Some even memorized their presentations instead of reading off the screen. Students also reported investing more time to prepare a Pecha Kucha format. Overall, we observed smoother presentations, increased presenter familiarity with the content and halved classwide presentation time. We believe that this small tweak enhances learning and presentation skills. Additionally, the time saved makes small group oral presentations in big classes possible.

How to Implement Pecha Kucha in Your Classroom

Provide students with instructions on putting together a Pecha Kucha presentation. Here is an example of instructions:
“With your assigned or picked scientific topic, research information in print and online. Then, evaluate the information for scientific accuracy. Decide what information to include or not include in the presentation. Organize the presentation in a logical and coherent manner using the 20 slides x 20 seconds each rule of the Pecha Kucha presentation. Lastly, present the information to your audience clearly.” 

Provide these instructions for setting up Pecha Kucha in a presentation software such as PowerPoint or Google Slides so that slides automatically advance every 20 seconds.

To do this in PowerPoint:
  1. Go to the “Transitions” tab.
  2. Set the “Duration” at 00.01 so the transition time between slides is less than one second.
  3. Uncheck “On Mouse Click” and check “After.”
  4. In the window next to “After,” enter 20 seconds.
  5. Clicking “Apply to All."
Setting up Pecha Kucha in PowerPoint.

Given that many colleges and universities are using video conferencing software such as Zoom to deliver lectures and facilitate discussions, the short, image-laden Pecha Kucha presentation format is a good alternative for making presentations shorter and hopefully reducing fatigue.  
Read the newest issue of the Journal of Microbiology and Biology Education, including Min-Ken Liao, Greg Lewis and Mike Winiski’s article: "Do Students Learn Better with Pecha Kucha, an Alternative Presentation Format?

Author: Min-Ken Liao, Ph.D.

Min-Ken Liao, Ph.D.
Min-Ken Liao is a professor in the Biology Department at Furman University.