Though he’d served as Toastmaster for one of the two local clubs to which he belongs, Lecours was nervous about emceeing. Prior to Lecours, PechaKucha had been emceed by Dave Brown, creator of the San Diego–based “blog for creative inspiration,” Holiday Matinee. In an email following the event, Lecours wrote, “While I’ve presented twice at PKSD, the idea of emceeing scared me. Especially after following Dave Brown, who is both funnier and more charismatic than I am.”
PechaKucha, says Lecours, is a “powerful way to tell stories.” As with Toastmasters, speakers can present on whatever they want, and the length of time allotted is about the same. But there are significant differences. “Toastmasters has more of a professional-education feel, and PechaKucha has more of a stand-up comedy, open-mike feel,” he explains. “This is a perfect example: Toastmasters Del Mar meets in a church hall. PechaKucha meets in a bar. The presenters at Toastmasters run the spectrum of professionals, [while] PechaKucha tends to draw presenters in the visual arts: architects, planners, designers, photographers, and fine artists.”
After Blackson’s presentation, Lecours regained the mike. He introduced Myles McGuinness, a friend from North County. After working for 15 years in advertising and branding as a designer and art director, McGuinness was now “behind the lens as a photographer.” He’d titled his presentation “Saltwater Connects Us All.”
In an email, Lecours explained that his favorite type of PechaKucha presentation is one that tells a story. “Building a narrative of connected slides is compelling. The combination of visual plus voice creates a result greater than the sum of the parts. In other words, the presenter needs to provide compelling meaning beyond what the audience can glean from the visual.”
Lecours’s least favorite thing is when speakers read from their notes. “It’s painful to watch the audience tune out,” he says. “The speakers would be better served to post their transcript online and let people read it. I also dislike when presenters don’t rehearse. Twenty seconds can go by in a flash or be an eternity, depending on if the presenter has practiced using timed slides.”
Lecours would have done McGuinness a service if he’d shared this information prior to his friend’s slide show. As the first image appeared, positive utterances from the audience indicated that McGuinness’s photos of waves and people surfing were visually pleasing. But the accompanying words were the opposite of Lecours’s description of the ideal.
As each slide appeared, McGuinness described it, as in “This is an abstract image of a girl longboarding in pink.” (She was wearing pink.) He’d recite the title if there was one, comment on the weather the day he took the image, then stand in silence for the remaining 15 or so seconds allotted to the slide. At one point, waiting for the slides to change, he muttered, “That’s a long 20 seconds.” Polite audience members offered encouragement and complimented the image. For the duration of his presentation, McGuinness stood facing the screen, clutching the mike in one hand and a glass of beer in the other.
The sole woman on the organizing team is executive director of the San Diego Architectural Foundation, Leslee Schaffer. In 2008, after the board expressed interest in producing the event, Schaffer applied to have SDAF serve as the official San Diego chapter of PechaKucha Night. All chapter applicants must answer a questionnaire and explain why they would be a good fit for the PechaKucha family. They must also commit to running the event as a nonprofit activity before a “handshake” agreement is made. There is no fee, but chapters are encouraged to donate to the PechaKucha Foundation, money that goes toward paying for website development and staffing costs. For each chapter to maintain its status, the handshake must be renewed annually.
I met with Schaffer at Analog Bar downtown in the weeks prior to October’s PechaKucha Night. She looked casual but chic in a brown tank top with a sequin-embroidered neckline and beige jeans; dangling from a chain around her neck was a silver circle the size of a dime on which the word “Imagine” was engraved. At 40-something, Schaffer has the disposition of a bright-eyed grad student who believes she can save the whales by requesting no straw with her glass of water.
“If I had to describe PechaKucha in two words, they would be ‘stimulating’ and ‘concise,’” Schaffer said. When her cocktail arrived, she disposed of her gum in a napkin, took a sip, then continued. “The beauty is, people aren’t lecturing — they’re forced to give us the important stuff. It’s very social and informative.” In addition to assisting McCullough with selecting speakers, Schaffer maintains the website (the foundation provides a template for each chapter, on which can be posted event locations, dates, and the speaker lineup).
Though she describes the inaugural night as “one of the best nights of my life,” Schaffer admits things got off to a shaky start. “When setting up, one of the AV guys fell off the ladder and broke both his wrists. We called 911, he was given morphine, then we carried on after the ambulance took him away.”
The event featured ten presenters, including David Lecours, Maxine Ward, Kinsee Morlan of CityBeat, Gregory Strangman of the Pearl Hotel, and a few city planners and architects. That evening and since, the subject matter has been weighted heavily toward architecture and planning. This makes sense not only because of the origin of PechaKucha, but also because presenters learn about the event by word of mouth, and people naturally network with those in the same profession.
In Schaffer’s “perfect PechaKucha world,” the content would be 25 percent architecture, 25 percent “other forms of planning or urban design,” 25 percent other forms of art, and 25 percent “baking bread,” by which she means passion. Schaffer coined the phrase the evening of July 20, 2009, when architect Peter Soutowood presented a 20-by-20 about his personal quest to bake the best bread.
Soutowood introduced a third element of sensual experience — taste — to presentations often based solely on sight and sound. When he finished speaking about types of loaves and the process of baking, Soutowood passed around a basket of ciabatta he’d made. “We recognize that everybody’s selling something in some way, shape, or form,” says Schaffer. “But he was just there to express his passion for baking bread.”