Be Bold, Be Brief, Be Brilliant, Be Gone

By Ulfat Shaikh, MD

Originally posted December 11, 2014

“I didn’t have the time to write a short letter, so I wrote a long one,” said Mark Twain.

Marketing and communication experts know that well-crafted and memorable health communication messages are brief, high-impact, and visual. Research shows that the average attention span is as little as eight seconds. Most information transmitted to the brain is visual, and images are processed several thousand times faster by the brain than text.

My medical training reinforced this concept, and I was taught to let patients leave medical visits with no more than a couple of key messages, and to use visual aids to reinforce messages whenever possible.

Unfortunately, this body of evidence has not translated into health professions education with much consistency. Slide presentations, too often, have too much information, minuscule fonts, distracting clip art, and are used as scripts rather than visual aids.

My fears that I was doomed to die a slow and painful death brought on by millions of blue slides with small white type were allayed when I attended a refreshingly different session called “My Hopes for Health and Health Care” at the Institute for Healthcare Improvement’s 26th National Forum last week in Orlando, Florida.

PechaKucha (pronounced pe-chak-cha, Japanese for “chit-chat”) is a presentation style invented by two architects in Tokyo. The first PechaKucha event was held in their gallery and lounge, SuperDeluxe, in 2003, and has since gone viral across the globe. Presenters have 6 minutes and 40 seconds each to get their point across. They use 20 images, each shown for exactly 20 seconds, resulting in high-impact and concise presentations whose messages stick.

Simplicity and brevity is hard. Preparing for this presentation format frequently takes significantly more work compared to traditional presentations.

Helen Bevan from the NHS moderated a riveting PechaKucha-style session at the IHI National Forum, a first for this meeting. Eight speakers from across the globe included a medical resident, a nursing student, physicians, health administrators, and a parent advocate. The session was fast-paced, exhilarating and inspirational.

And why stop here? Why not extend this style to presenting clinical quality improvement work? Improvers in health care frequently present their work to eclectic and diverse audiences. They have no dearth of visual materials and striking graphics to demonstrate their point. Patient stories and pictures add a strong human element to their words.

Change agents and improvers are passionate about their work and love talking about it. Slides in PechaKucha-style presentations run on automatic–a forcing function that ensures speakers end up with compact presentations, whether they want to or not.

I am convinced of this presentation style’s potential as an antidote to Death by PowerPoint. Can’t wait to try out a PechaKucha-style presentation at UC Davis’ 5th annual Healthcare Quality Forum on April 1, 2015.  But first I need to learn how to pronounce it. This little video helped:


ShaikhUlfat Shaikh, MD, MPH, MS is director of healthcare quality at the University of California Davis School of Medicine. She blogs about health care quality improvement at Pulse.