My Pecha Kucha Process

I arrived back from Hong Kong on Monday, jet lagged and the worse for having been sat on airplanes and in airports for upwards of 20 hours, and beginning to regret agreeing to give a presentation at Wednesday's Flatpack Pecha Kucha. Thankfully the organisers were OK with my slides coming to them just a little past the deadline, and I had what remained of Monday and Tuesday to knock it into shape. I spent Wednesday exercising to fight off the urge to sleep, and rehearsing/editing my script.

it's worth talking about how I put this talk together, which was a bit of a change from my usual processes. I'd done a lot of thinking, some note-taking, and very little actual writing while I was in Hong Kong. I'd toyed with the idea of sketching in a small notepad I was carrying with me but that just didn't seem to stick, and instead I found it much easier to add links and ideas into an iOS Notes document on my iPad or iPhone (whichever was closest to hand).

By the time I arrived late at Frankfurt airport (and missed my connecting flight home) I had lots of notes but no real structure, and I managed to grab an hour or so in a cafe there to begin to outline the twenty slides mandated by the Pecha Kucha format (it's surprisingly hard to make the quota—I find my natural rhythm normally hits about 12-15, or goes much longer). Forcing myself to stay awake after arriving home, showering, and unpacking, I took myself out locally for dinner and a beer, which I sipped slowly and pieced the rest of the outline together, still in Notes.

Tuesday was spent in cafes (on my iPad Air) and at home (occasionally on a 13" Retina MacBook Pro) sourcing images from my own library and online references and piecing the slides together in Keynote, and patching up a few holes in the script (I never write scripts for my lectures, but I knew that the only way I'd be able to keep each slide to 20 seconds was to write and edit it ruthlessly, and even then it was a struggle). I liked this way of working, moving back and forth between notes, slides and script, and it felt like actually making something (with some fairly rigid constraints in place due to the format). By the evening (over a glass of smoked German beer in a great new place that's opened up while I was away) I had the slides in a good-enough state to send them off, which I did from the iPad using iCloud sharing (and Dropbox just to be sure). 

it's gotten much easier to do most of this on an iPad for sure. I sometimes moved to the MacBook Pro to be more efficient (editing slides in Keynote still seems smoother there), but I'm pretty sure I could have done the whole thing in iOS. That's a big change from just a couple of years ago.

With the slide deck locked down and checked at the other end I could concentrate on getting the script down to the right length, and to something that sounded reasonable coming out of my mouth. I'm pretty good at editing for length but less so for elegance, so this was a process of iteration—reading out loud, improvising shortcuts, changing the text, doing it again, over and over. I used Alexander Senin's Workout Timer app to work on timings—not what the app was designed for at all, but it's perfect for anything that needs a set number of timed repeated steps (I set it to 20 reps of 18 seconds with a 2 second gap between them so I could get an audible warning of the upcoming transition. If Alexander added silent wrist taps on the Apple Watch it'd be perfect).

Like I said, this process is a new one for me, and I see the end result as very much a first version. I'm keen to talk to others about their process, and to see how I can refine it for other kinds of presentations. It seems, initially at least, that the key will be to have some strong constraints in place for the end product. I'll write more about where this goes over the next couple of months as I prepare some talks for lectures and upcoming conferences.