I did have my hopes too high, but they weren't dashed, just satisfied in a different way. I expected pecha kucha (which Dan Pink pronounces p'chatchka, making it sound just a little bit Yiddish) to be about ideas, about putting over a point of view, about stimulating an argument. It can be, clearly, but last night’s effort was not like that.

Instead, students in University of Washington’s Design Program in Rome made presentations about some of the things they’d studied, in part to introduce a new intake to the things they’d be studying this year. Rather than being about ideas and debate, these were more in the way of mini-lectures, pedagogy for the ADHD generation, if I wanted to be nasty. But they worked beautifully. Three pairs of students did their thing; one on Ostia Antica, one on three early Christian churches, and one about Il Gesú.

As expected, from design students, the visuals were excellent, and very different one from the other. And while the timing was not exactly perfect -- hardcore pecha kucha advances the slides automatically every 20 seconds -- they certainly galloped along at a good clip. The information, too, was good; succinct and to the point, a perfect introduction to these sites for students who would then go on to visit and learn more.

At least, the information I could hear seemed that way. Truth be told, the one fault was the speakers’ speech. A small measure of this was not their fault. They were stood at the back of the room, manipulating the machinery, while the audience was facing forward looking at the slides, and that made it difficult to hear. Of course they should have been in front of us, with a decent remote (or the dreaded automation). But the larger fault, I think, lies with the speakers themselves. They just don’t know how to talk to an audience. Of course they’re inexperienced, and maybe some will improve, but I don’t think they get any formal teaching in how to speak in public. Those that do improve probably absorb things by osmosis. I wonder, though, whether there might not be room in the curriculum for an hour or two of teaching how to speak. And with the ubiquity of cheap video, how hard would it be to record thier presentations and subject them to a class critique?

In the discussion afterwards, other teachers asked the students how they felt about the constraint of 20 slides at 20 seconds each. There seemed to be universal agreement that the limit was a good thing, forcing them to abandon the idea of dumping everything they know and making them select. All of them said that pecha kucha shouldn’t replace other forms of presentation, but was a good discipline to ensure focus, brevity and good communication.

I wonder whether anyone I know would be willing to give it a go.

Nah, almost certainly not.

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