Perhaps it’s because I’ve been reading papers about persuasive technologies alongside thinking about a Pecha Kucha talk, that I find myself mildly disturbed by this format. The upsides are claimed that its fast paced and concise (which are offered presumably as the metrics for a good talk, and that means that they are worthy of attention). And at 6 minutes and 40 seconds it is certainly fast. It maybe concise even. But is it interesting, comprehensible, and does it have substance? And should talks be valued for their fast pace and conciseness if they don’t have interest, comprehensibility and substance? And perhaps more.
Pecha Kucha achieves this fast format by having the author of the talk relinquish control over the ability to make transitions as necessary through the talk. Instead the presentation software handles this, changing the slides at every 20 seconds automatically. But, what if there is a concept I want to explain that goes over 20 seconds? I could just continue to talk about it, but the slides behind me change pictures and I am sure that that suggests to the audience that something has changed. If nothing else, the cues are wrong. I could just abandon the idea that I was going to talk about anything that was more complex to explain than in 20 seconds, but that may be the route to omitting important concepts, dumbing others down, and presenting a lot of claims with little of substance to back them up.
There’s an issue of control. By quantifying every 20 seconds of the talk, the author loses some of their ability to tell their story. So, that creativity to make a story arc that is engaging at our own pace has gone. Perhaps we need that guidance, but perhaps if we are left alone to speak as we think befits the topic we can do better. What about expertise? I think I’ve earnt the right to be considered the expert in narrating my research. I certainly prefer that to being told by presentation software that my time is up, yet again.
And presentation software makes a difference. Social cues designed to do the same thing, to flag people to move on, can be ignored because the presenter has control. And in most cases while it’s not precise it’s not wildly off either, so the social cues work but with a nice property of the fuzzy boundary.
I can’t help feeling that the auto-slide transition feature here has allowed us to create a genre of talk that takes some control away from the author, while simulateneously demanding a lot from that same author to hammer their material into the format. And it remains, at least to me, an open question of whether fast-paced and concise are the only metrics for a good talk. Trite and poorly executed also seem to be metrics one could add to the Pecha Kucha talk format. And what of authorship, have we moved from a voice of authority to a voice beholden to presentation software. Now that’s an interesting criteria for a talk.