The personal perspective a PechaKucha talk

Article by Kelly Holmes

I was asked to talk about my work at PechaKucha around four months before the event. I accepted gladly as it felt far enough away that I didn’t have to think about it imminently and the few glasses of wine that I had been drinking at the time seemed to soften the idea.

I give talks to fundraisers and in work situations on a semi-regular basis so the initial thought of speaking to a friendly audience didn’t worry me. I put it in my calendar and didn’t really give it much thought for the next three months. About a month before the PechaKucha I thought I should begin to prepare some slides. I combined twenty slides from previous talks that I had given and was feeling very pleased with myself that I had prepared my talk three weeks in advance and thought I’ll practise it a few times before the night.

Initially when I ran through the slides I was shocked to find that the first slide took over a minute! I broke down the first slide into three and continued in the same manner for the next six slides, so only a fraction of my original talk was used to make my final twenty slides. For the second time I sat back feeling comfortable that the talk was going to be fine, and glad I had averted an embarrassing situation where I had twenty slides that was going to take at least twenty minutes to talk through.

Five days to go and Clair (a seasoned PechaKucha speaker) was at our house, she was asking how the talk was coming along and whether I had practised it. I said I had the slides all prepped but hadn’t run through them with the timer, but I was sure it would be ok as I had broken up slides from previous talks.  Clair strongly recommended that I visit the PechaKucha website and watch some other talks. I took heed of her advice; quickly panic began to spread through my body and I wanted to phone Richard the organiser and tell him that I wouldn’t be able to make it due to an extremely contagious illness!

I pondered over whether it was better to be the speaker who had rehearsed each slide to exactly 20 seconds, and who on the night talks too quickly leaving silences at the end of each slide; or the presenter who had too much to say and ended up over running and perhaps missing out a slide (or two!). I decided that I don’t like uncomfortable silences so opted for having slightly too much to say on each slide. I also worried at this point that my talk was too science based for what seemed like a largely arty group. I cut out lots of graphs and data that traditionally make up science talks, this all felt very foreign to me, I was way out of my comfort zone. I spent a long time looking over the slides and thinking about what I wanted to say, but I never decided exactly what to say for each slide until the night as I didn’t want a talk that was too rehearsed.

The day arrived and the urge to call and say I couldn’t find a babysitter was overwhelming. Thoughts of “Why had I invited friends that I will have to see again after I make a complete fool of myself? “ kept running through my mind.

When I got to the rowing club I was pleased to see a few familiar faces and quickly realised that no-one was out to get me, expecting me to mess up. I began to relax. I listened to the other talks and really enjoyed the different styles and range of subjects that were covered in just the three talks before mine. I had a sudden last panic as I stood at the front of the room and heard, blaring through the speakers, a shaky voice that did not sound like it belonged to me. I looked around the room and saw lots of smiling faces, then looking back at my second slide I started to feel a bit calmer. The rest flew by without really being aware of what I was saying, and before I knew it,I was sitting down and the next speaker was up. I felt relieved and really pleased that I had done it. It is a completely different style of public speaking to anything I had done before so I felt like I had risen to the challenge. I had managed to speak for six minutes, whether or not it actually made any sense or not I can’t say because I won’t listen to the talk online, but you can listen to my talk: Understanding Cancer, which has already been watched by over 3,000 people.

I would definitely recommend going to a PechaKucha night and if you feel up to the challenge, give it a go.