Pecha Kucha: 20 images. 20 seconds. 1 chance.
This blog has been published by Ben Pollock and Melissa Colak (current postgraduate students in International Disaster Management) who arranged the Pecha Kucha event last month, in collaboration with colleagues in the HCRI faculty and office. A big thanks to Billy Haworth and Gita Shaparia for their invaluable assistance.
Pecha Kucha. You may have heard the name before, at work or online or in a coffee shop conversation – or, like many here at the Humanitarian and Conflict Response Institute (HCRI) of the University of Manchester, this may be the first you’ve heard of it. So let us transport you to Wednesday 6th February 2019… on a bright and breezy winter’s afternoon, around 40 budding Masters students accompanied a handful of HCRI academic staff to the Old Abbey Inn Taphouse, a pub located just off of the main university campus. The event? HCRI’s inaugural Pecha Kucha session. It promised to be an afternoon of intrigue and discovery #academicstyle.
Pecha Kucha is a presentation format designed to be more punchy, engaging, and informative than your typical presentation. It consists of 20 slides of one image on each, shown for just 20 seconds. It’s known worldwide – check out the official website if you’re interested.
The event was born from a handful of desires. Firstly, and most importantly, as students on the MSc International Disaster Management and MA Humanitarianism and Conflict Response courses here at HCRI, we’re required to undertake an independent research project – the dissertation. These are expected to be innovative and ‘push the boundaries’ of existing knowledge. The catch? Academic research can take up to two years to be published. The answer? Pecha Kucha! Our idea was to hold an event where our potential dissertation supervisors can share their latest research, thoughts on future areas of research, and broader themes that we can explore outside of the slower and more rigid structure of academic publishing.
Secondly, as HCRI has enjoyed its 10-year anniversary, we’ve welcomed some fresh faces to the academic ranks. So, this event gave a great opportunity for us students to get to know our new academic teachers a little better, and for them to meet us all in an informal setting away from the university.
Finally… food and drink! Little else grabs the attention of students, even at Masters level. We discovered that the department would be happy to provide some funding for catering. Together with the Old Abbey Inn Taphouse we decided on a suitably dazzling array of nibbles and bites – including student-friendly options like falafel and chips. Yummy.
After raising the idea of the event with fellow students and HCRI staff, we set about organising the day. Admittedly the most fun part was creating the two posters – both shared below for your pleasure. Bonus points if you can piece together the Madonna reference, but equally no problem if you don’t know what to do… (that’s a hint!)
On the day we heard from eight of our potential dissertation supervisors. The topics were incredibly interesting and varied greatly – ranging from historical studies of major humanitarian organisations like MSF, exploring diverse experiences of marginalised sexual and gender minorities through participatory mapping, to investigations of identity and space after the Troubles in Northern Ireland. It’s all incredibly fascinating stuff, so do check out the HCRI website to find out more.
Most importantly, the feedback from students was overwhelmingly positive. Beforehand many were worrying that they wouldn’t find a suitable project and were unsure of who in the department could supervise them. As the session wrapped up, we all enjoyed a drink and some informal networking. Many students said that they now had such a better idea of ongoing research and who they can speak with to find out more. So much so that several found that they had too many ideas!
On reflection, the event was a great success. It gave us students an opportunity to tap into the knowledge of our lecturers in an inclusive and engaging way – hearing the passion of HCRI staff really drove home to us all the importance of some of the fascinating research that’s taking place right now. And that’s the key point – the event allowed us to hear what’s going on right now in both academic and practitioner circles. Hosting the event in a pub close to campus worked really well and gave the session an informal vibe that you just don’t get in a venue on campus.
In particular, the Pecha Kucha format was a super choice to use for this event. The slides consisting only of a single image, and the presentation being limited to just 20 slides shown for 20 seconds each, helped keep each session engaging, to the point, and meaningful for us all. And best of all, it helped keep our lecturers on their toes! (The tables were turned for once.)
We’ve heard a little rumour that the event will be taking place again ahead of the dissertations next year, which is fantastic news. As the inaugural event we’re super pleased that it went to plan, was enjoyed by students and staff alike, and most importantly of all has proved useful for our fellow Masters students as we hurtle towards undertaking our dissertations. We’d be delighted to speak with those who plan the event next year if they’d like some advice on planning the event and how we went about it.
P.S. a free piece of advice – be firm with keeping to the Pecha Kucha format! 20 slides, 20 seconds each, 1 image per slide. Don’t let the academics try and convince you otherwise!
Ben Pollock and Melissa Colak