11 April, MTG
Thankfully the ‘character-building’ art of public speaking (as it is no doubt still regarded in schools) is not dying out. Quite the opposite, it seems to be enjoying a renaissance if you consider the remarkable popularity and even cultural influence of TED Talks where subjects of all types, no matter how arcane or potentially dull, are made as digestible and engaging as possible by adding visuals and limiting the amount of time that the personable but sometimes egg-heady presenters can bang on. It is in the genial spirit of TED Talks that Pecha Kucha meets its enthusiastic audiences, as presenter and talented amateur sports photographer Mark Roberts reminded me last night when he broke free from the comforting harbour of the lectern and drifted across the stage with a microphone attached to his cheek to seemingly share the athletics track with his high-school stars. Bravo.
What makes Pecha Kucha special though is the game-like format, 20 slides – 20 seconds per slide. It’s like a kind of infotainment sports evening where the rules only become visible when a player muffs their timing due to nerves or disorganisation – otherwise, when it is done well, the audience is so captivated by the content that the fretwork of the timeframes melts away and the flow becomes film-like. Roger King’s account of the transformation of a neglected plot of waste land near New Plymouth into the now stunning Bowl of Brooklyn was carried by a succession of remarkable historical images. Significantly, it was King’s great- grandfather who began the process of the lands recuperation and it was poignant to watch as the monochromes of the past gave way to the technicoloured panoramas of the Bowl’s high-profile present as annual venue for the WOMAD festival.
Not surprisingly Pecha Kucha is often co-opted as an opportunity for self-promotion and you find yourself shifting uncomfortably in your seat as a member of an audience that is effectively captive to an unsolicited advertorial. Even though this kind of commercial pitching has been resisted by Pecha Kucha’s organisers it has still managed to seep in on numerous occasions. Often it does so under the guise of “community-spirited enterprise” or “my passion is my living”. I guess you have to take these cases on their individual merits. Generally, though, the audience is there because they want to be entertained, transported, not sold.
Pecha Kucha’s potential for presenting small personal documentaries has been explored by numerous presenters over the years. To have an uncommon, unusual subject or experience presented in well chosen images is to have a low secret door open onto a fascinating new world you never suspected was there, or perhaps had never seen before in this particular light. This is when Pecha Kucha becomes a compelling medium, where its slight intimate formal scale dovetails with an unfolding narrative of discovery shared by both presenter and listeners.
Pecha Kucha needs you.
Presenting at Pecha Kucha is a creative and exciting experience, and you will earn a generous (she won’t mind me saying that) and funny introduction from Ali Beal, Pecha Kucha’s dedicated MC (long may she reign) along with the encouragement and support of a terrific audience.
Next Pecha Kucha is May 30th.