Pecha Kucha Night

Getting learners to speak is one of the challenges in language teaching.  Where in other subjects saying something wrong is usually a problem, in the language class it can often be useful as it provides the springboard for a learning experience.  In Business English and in higher level teaching, the aim is often to promote fluency and strengthen the confidence to contribute to a dialogue.  Pecha Kucha can do that.

The technology hurdle for this activity is pretty low – basic presentation software knowledge on the part of the teacher and the learner, a computer, and a projector – that’s about it.

How do you say that word again?

The “experts” will tell you it’s  (pekak-cha), but you’ll mostly hear it pronounced   (pecha-kucha).  Interestingly, there are a few YouTube videos which state that the experts have got it wrong – just imagine that!  Ultimately, it doesn’t really matter, but if you say it the common way people will probably be likely to understand what you are talking about!

So what do we have to do?

The structure is simple.  20 slides.  20 seconds per slide.  That’s about it.

The slides need to be set to advance automatically (see below for help with that).  This means that each presentation lasts exactly 6 minutes and 40 seconds.  There isn’t time for lots of points on each slide, and the automatic progression keeps the speaker focused.  Just because there are 20 slides doesn’t mean that there are 20 points or facts.  You can spread a point across 2 or 3 slides, and if you are quick you might squeeze in a couple of points on 1 slide.  The great thing about the format is that it stops the speaker from thinking too much about what they are saying so you find out what the person can really do.

A Pecha Kucha on doing a Pecha Kucha

There are a lot of examples of this on YouTube, but the one below was created by me especially for English language learners.  It was also done in one take which is important, because learners need to see that even native speakers stumble occasionally.  The constraints of a Pecha Kucha put a healthy dose of pressure on a learner, but last thing the teacher needs is that the learner thinks it has to be perfect.  That’s more likely to to have a negative effect on the learner as opposed to building confidence.

Using Google Drive

In PowerPoint or Open Office you simply have to set the slides to advance every 20 seconds.  Although most learners can easily handle this, I usually provide a template already set up to do this.  With Google Drive it’s a bit trickier, but the video below from Michael Gowin will walk you through the process.

Getting Creative Commons Images

Copyright is a serious issue, and although there are often exceptions when it comes to classroom use, it’s not a bad idea to encourage learners to use the Creative Commons (you can make a couple of really good Business English lessons on the subject).

In the Pecha Kucha above, all the slides were made using the Drawings function in Google Drive.  This had the added advantage that the image search function defaults to show images allowed for commercial reuse with modification.  The keeps your images on the safe(r) side of copyright law if you are concerned about such issues.

What the learners think…

I’ve used this presentation form with a broad span of learners, from lower intermediate secondary pupils to seriously advanced business clients and generally I get met with some suspicion at first.  But after the first attempt, the learners usually ask me if they can do future presentations in the same style.  It really is very popular, even with learners who aren’t usually very keen on talking.

I’ve had reports back that managers have introduced the practice into their companies, and in one case I was even invited to do a workshop on the presentation style to help other workers to adapt their materials to the style.

Some final thoughts

One of the big strengths of Pecha Kucha is that the structure provides support for the speaker in the form of a slogan and some images, but removes the temptation to put all the text on the slide and read from it and, believe me, I experience that far too often even in professional presentations!

The element of fun shouldn’t be underestimated either.  Whether consciously or unconsciously, the learner knows that no-one hits the twenty-second-limit perfectly every time, so mistakes are inevitable.  Everyone makes them, even the teacher, and that takes away some of the pressure to be perfect.  Communication is placed squarely in front of perfection, mirroring the real world but also in a structured way.

In Business English this activity can be a real winner – it’s not only a great activity for promoting confidence, it’s also a transferable skill that’s directly relevant in the workplace.  And that’s not something you can say about every classroom activity!

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