Whats your Story?


In our profession, we are often required to tell a “story”.  We use presentations and summaries to communicate.

In order to be effective, we need to be good in making a presentation that is remembered. When we write couple of pages as a summary to our report, it must communicate that is the essential and serve as a “teaser” to make the reader go through the entire report.

I often tell my students and colleagues to master the skill of effective story telling. Unfortunately, these skills are not imparted in the universities and are just let go.

In making presentations, we need to have creative capability to organize our thoughts and presenting to the audience in a limited time. The presentation must convey the “substance” and engage the audience.

In writing an Executive Summary of a report we want to be sure that we don’t miss out anything that we want our reader to know. Most people are not interested to do a “full read” and many a times stick only to the Executive Summary.

Technique of PechaKucha 20×20 is an example of the first skill that I highly recommend. This technique should be experimented, experienced and mastered. PechaKucha is a presentation format where you show 20 images (slides), each for 20 seconds. Every speaker has thus only 400 seconds (approximately 6.75 minutes) for presentation.

The images in a PechaKucha “show” advance automatically and your talk should “flow” along to the images. Once you start, the slides move and you don’t have any control. You cannot stop, “rewind” or “skip”. You have to simply “perform” resonating with the moving slides. A simple format of PechaKucha can be therefore deceiving. You need to take PechaKucha presentation very seriously and rehearse.

PechaKucha format was devised by Astrid Klein and Mark Dytham of Klein Dytham architecture. PechaKucha in Japanese means “chit-chat”. The first PechaKucha Night was held in Tokyo in the gallery “SuperDeluxe”. Today, PechaKucha Nights happen in over 900 cities around the world, taking inspiration from Tokyo. The PechaKucha get-togethers are often held in fun spaces (essentially places for “thinking and drinking”) where people can show and share their work in a relaxed manner. (Alas! when do we get time and space to relax now-a-days!)


A PechaKucha Night

I feel that PechaKucha format is best suited when we hold conferences that often get crammed with speakers. Many a times, we stack too many speakers in a session (just to oblige) and the first speaker hogs the time by showing some 50 slides – ending with apologies. There is hardly any time left for the last speaker and for Q&A. The situation of the Chairman of the session is like the Speaker of the Indian Loksabha – helpless and hopeless.

Here imposing PechaKucha format can make wonders.

I remember attending a session at the IAIA (International Association for Impact Assessment) event where we could comfortably “accommodate” six presentations in just one hour. More than management of time, the presentations turned out to be very engaging and sometimes hilarious.

I will recommend you to read guidance materials on how to prepare a PechaKucha.

Take a look at presentation by industrial designer Dave Bramston. Follow him during one of his journeys in China to understand Upcycling and innovative product design.  Or watch David Gunawan’s presentation on his ideas on sustainability and healthy eating as a chef. In his talk on “Promoting Sustainability and Consciousness in Food” you can see  that David strives to find local, organic foods by creating a healthy and viable relationship with farmers.

Few years ago, I started experimenting PechaKucha format in my office with my colleagues. And wow, it opened new doors to creativity and composing – leading to confidence in communication (my 4c’s). I witnessed some outstanding and bold presentations.  I am sure my colleagues gained significantly by preparing, making and listening to such presentations.

Imagine if conferences in India start holding one PechaKucha session to start with.  It will be something so effective and transformational! Let us demand such PechaKucha sessions.

The second skill I urge my students and colleagues is to master writing of an Executive Summary. Executive Summary is often the toughest piece to write. Some people read the Executive Summary to find out if they need to read the full report.  It’s this group that you really need to worry about, because they’re likely to include the Board or executive team of your organisation, as well as journalists. What goes into the Executive Summary, therefore, is the message that they’re going to take away, that may be spread more widely. For these people, the Executive Summary is their window to your full report.

So, when you are writing your Executive Summary, you should always keep your intended audience in mind and write your summary for them. Unfortunately, Executive Summary is given a low priority by many and is written at the “last moment” and generally with less attention than it deserves. I have seen umpteen number of instances where a report, painstakingly prepared, gets abused or misunderstood because of the poorly written Executive Summary.

Broadly, an Executive Summary summarizes the main points of the underlying paper, and draws out the key points. A good way to think about the key content of the Executive Summary is to imagine meeting your boss or CEO in the car park or at the coffee machine. These conversations are generally difficult! You often miss the point.


Ensuring Clarity, Maintaining Relevance and Using the right Keywords is Important

An Executive Summary has typically three sections: introduction, main body and conclusion. The main body of the Executive Summary needs to be stand-alone without the reader having to refer to the main report. But remember that the Executive Summary should not be stuffed with overwhelming Data or Tables. You only provide a top view and make a reference. Please refer to the Guidelines

There are how a few commercial software tools available to “generate” a summary. Visit  http://freesummarizer.com/. Some tools are even online. See http://textcompactor.com/

Do try these tools and have some fun. Indeed these tools are not a substitute for writing an Executive Summary. There is no option but to sweat.

In the field of Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA), a Non-Technical Summary (NTS) is considered as a special form of an Executive Summary. In countries like United Kingdom, NTS is asked as a requirement in the preparation of an EIA.

A NTS is not equivalent or substitute to an Executive Summary. It should be written in a local language. But a NTS is not a translated version of the (Technical) Executive Summary.

Writing a NTS is an art where we use less technical jargon and use more easy to understand words or expressions. We should not take the reader for granted. For example, we should know that an ordinary citizen does not know the term BOD and the abbreviation may imply to him/her as Board of Directors and not Biochemical Oxygen Demand.

IAIA has come up with guidelines on how to write a NTS. In India, we do not have such a requirement. We should ask MoEFCC to specify so by amending the EIA Notification.

So, while selecting a new Team member in your organization, it is a good idea to ask for a PechaKucha presentation and give an exercise of  writing an Executive Summary. I guarantee you that anyone doing good in these two “tests”, will be an asset to your organization for effective “story telling”.

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  1. Good insight to pass on. I still see Powerpoint presentations, where bullet points are written as ‘paragraphs’, instead of short key single line statements. In preparing a presentation, keep the target audience in mind, and tailor it to their level of understanding and expertise. If the ‘skeleton’ of the presentation is sketched out properly, fleshing it out is simple to accomplish.

  2. Having gone through the experience of PechaKucha, I must say it challenges the presenter to think about what to communicate and that too effectively. The presenter also commands the complete attention of her/his audience, who knows its just 7 minutes and not the next hour. Indeed a very effective technique. Pity haven’t seen it practiced.

    Also excellent pointers on executive summary. So true, that most good reports miss out on the opportunity that Exec Sum holds to make the report noticed.

    Thanks for this piece. Very useful reminders for me.

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