Recently I’ve been trying to dream up a new Pecha Kucha presentation for the ISTEK conference in Istanbul in March. It’s not easy. I am planning/trying to be witty, erudite and challenging all at once, in 6′.40″ (six minutes and forty seconds). It may well be beyond me!
(You can leave out the next paragraph if you are a Pecha Kucha habitué. The main thrust of this post comes later).
Just in case any of you don’t know what Pecha Kucha is (and if you are reading this blog you probably do) you might want to have a look here. Basically if you are doing a PK presentation, you have 20 powerpoint slides, each lasting for 20 seconds, no more, no less. The slides change automatically; the presenter has no control over when this happens. Having done a Pecha Kucha once before (and repeated it a few months later), I can testify about how exhilarating and scary the whole experience is. But it is great fun too, as you can see by watching the PK presentations from TESOL France 2009 that Shelly Terrell put up on youtube.
So PK sessions are fun. But are they more than that? Or rather is their central premise that ‘small is beautiful’ sustainable. The reason that Pecha Kucha started in the first place was because speakers – architects in this case – tended to go on for too long, waffling, sending audiences to sleep. The answer? Make it short, make it fun. Size matters, in others words, and in case you think ‘the bigger the better’, well, ‘el perfume bueno siempre viene en botellas chicas!’ (Good perfume comes in small bottles). And you can go further than PK. At a meeting earlier today I was told of people being given no more than TWO MINUTES to explain what they wanted to say.
Against that – and just to muddy the waters – is the frustration that I and other speakers have felt when, having prepared for a specific time slot (e.g. 60 minutes), a conference organiser has asked us to cut it down to 45 minutes because things are getting behind. I always want to refuse (‘I have spent time preparing the talk for an exact period, how dare you?!!’ etc etc). But some conferences have now cut down ALL their presentations to 40 or 45 minutes. So they are heading in the same direction as PK.
What is going on here? Are we saying that in a soundbite age (has there ever been any other kind?) or a Twitter age people can’t cope with more than 40 minutes? Are people really not capable of sitting and listening for longer than that? Speaking personally, I like 60 minutes or 75 minutes so that I can develop a theme, include an activity or two and generally ‘choreograph’ a session. But maybe I am fooling myself. Maybe that IS too long and people DO begin to glaze over after the first 50 minutes. I suppose that as speakers we attempt to tailor what we have to offer depending on the time we are given. And yet I can’t help feeling (as happened to me in Catania the other day) that setting out from an airport and changing planes just to deliver 40 minutes of potted ‘wisdom’ simply isn’t worth it. For me or for ‘them’.
Or is it? Recently I played in a concert (mostly) for children which lasted for about 50 minutes. Perfect timing. Longer could well have been too much longer!
So what is the answer to all of this? Does length really matter, and if so what size is the best? What is the ideal time for a lecture? What is the best length for a keynote session, a talk or a workshop? Do you have any thoughts? Comments welcome……