20×20 = A Winning Architecture for Presentations

Q:  What can communicators learn from architects? 

A:  PechaKucha 20×20.


According to the movement’s Web site, PechaKucha 20×20 was born to limit architects’ long-winded presentations.  In February 2003, the first PechaKucha (pronounced pe-chak-cha) night was held at a gallery in Tokyo.  It established two rules for speaking architects.  1) Presenters were limited to twenty slides; 2) each slide must have auto-advanced every 20 seconds. 

Today, informal PechaKucka nights are held in bars and cafés around the world.  Anyone can present on any topic, as long as they adhere to the 20×20 standard.  Some events have added a one-minute-remaining bell tone, and a gong is struck when the presenter must surrender the podium.

There are great lessons here for presenters:

  • Six minutes and forty seconds is plenty of time for you to make an impact.  It’s more than double the amount of time Lincoln needed for the Gettysburg Address — doubtful your presentation is more important.
  • With or without auto-advance, changing slides every twenty seconds prompts creativity.  Only images and sparse text will captivate your audience.   
  • Pulling off a tight, impactful 20×20 presentation requires rehearsal.  Everyone benefits when you rehearse.

Today, PowerPoint is a crutch for a large majority of presenters.  For the rest, it’s a wheelchair.  The PechaKucha 20×20 format could be the key to rehabilitation.  Give it a try.

If you’re not convinced, at the very least watch this video by comedian Don McMillan for a candid look at some of the most common PowerPoint pitfalls.  (I’ve also saved a copy of this link to the Communications Coaching Resources part of this Web site.)

3 thoughts on “20×20 = A Winning Architecture for Presentations”

  1. Interesting post on a subject that sorely needs it. My favorite related quote (from a fellow former colleague) "the mind can't absorb what the ass can't endure" (P. Fleischer) has always been my guiding light in deck preparation. Though I agree with the 20×20 rule, I've also found two tricks work exceptionally well for ppt survival. First – the "one slide that says it all" rule – once the deck is complete, find a way to creatively package the entire content onto one memorable slide that will stick in the audiences frontal lobe after the show is over. Second – choose your own adventure. Effectively hyperlinking the deck and allowing the audience to choose the content/sections most appealing to them is a winner for triggering interactivity and active listening – both good outcomes for any presentation.

    Great site, JD.

    1. The "placemat" — or "one slide that says it all" — is a great handout to keep your audience focused.

      Also love the idea on "choose your own adventure" in presentations — it makes things highly interactive.

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