Tuesday, 29 April 2014

My thoughts on the Pechu Kucha presentation style BEFORE the HEA STEM Conference

This week I'm attending the HEA STEM Conference 2014.

+Paul Harper  and I will be presenting some work we undertook with +Louise Orpin and +Noel-Ann Bradshaw (the title of the talk is 'Operational research ambassadors in schools' but that's for another time).

All of the presenters have been given strict constraints to use the 'Pechu Kucha' style.

This involves using 20 slides that are set on a timer so that every slide is shown for 20 seconds with no control from the speaker. (All slides have had to be sent to the organisers quite a while ago and will be ran from a central computer.)

I am writing this post before the conference so perhaps my opinion will change but at present: I don't like it.

There are obvious benefits to using this style:
  • It's something different;
  • It will be fast paced;
  • It is easy to control (I have heard that this format was chosen because multiple talks overran in past conferences).
I'm sure I'm missing other good points (feel free to add them in the comments).

Here comes my negative points:


From a technical point of view it's a shame to not be trusted

We had a virtual meeting yesterday where +Noel-Ann Bradshaw suggested something that really should have been on our slides but we cannot modify them.


Forcing everyone to use a given content delivering format is not appropriate.

This is an education conference with talks entitled: 'Dancing statistics - communicating statistical ideas to non-mathematical students' and 'iLectures - designing and developing interactive lectures using cloud-based broadcasting solutions'. These talks sound like they will be discussing various innovative content delivery formats. There is (in my opinion) no single best content delivery format but usually an ok content-audience-speaker triplet.

Why should everyone have to use the same format? (For some Pechu Kechu might be great but for others it might be terrible).


This is enforcing a lecture style delivery with a disconnection between audience and speaker

I try my best to make my presentations (and lectures) as interactive as possible. I encourage interruptions and if we (the audience and I) go down a particular lane that isn't what I had planned: that's often just fine!

There is time planned for questions at the end of the session but what if I want to ask the audience a question or if I welcomed a discussion midway through the presentation? Without being able to carefully ensure that this fits in the 20 second per slide constraint this is something that I simply won't be able to use.


Why am I here?

When my frustrations with the format first began I thought that perhaps Paul and I should simply screencast our talk which would enable us to edit it carefully and have the 6 minutes and 40 seconds perfectly cut to a high standard. Thus, when it was our turn to 'talk' we could simply press play and sit back.

Sadly this is not an option as everything is being run from a central computer through PowerPoint. In essence though, there is no point in us being here apart from taking the potential questions towards the end of the entire session (by which time the audience as a whole will have completely disconnected from our talk).


Looking forward to the conference

I suppose this post stems from the fact that I'm a spoilt only child and don't like being told what to do. I think that I'm just unsure about everyone having to use the same thing (whatever that thing may be). We are all different with different presentation skills and styles. We should be 'allowed' to express ourselves.

Ultimately I am very much looking forward to the conference and also am (despite what this post might indicate) optimistic about trying a different delivery format. I will try and write a reflective post after the conference: it would be awesome if I'm completely incorrect and Pechu Kechu is actually a great initiative from the organisers (who I'm sure have worked extremely hard to put on what will be a great conference).

I have spoken to Paul about this but in no way mean to bring my co-authors in to this rant: this is my personal opinion :)

Finally, so that there's something nice to look at here is a picture of Machu Picchu (from wikipedia) as that's what I've been calling Pechu Kucha for the past month or so as I've not been able to remember it's correct name: