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It was 8:20 p.m. on a Wednesday in mid-October. Over 100 San Diegans were wedged into the Whistle Stop bar in South Park, listening to marketing guru David Lecours, the emcee for San Diego’s ninth installment of the salon-style event known as PechaKucha Night.

“Anybody grow up here and used to go to Farrell’s?” asked Lecours. A few hoots came from the audience. “Yeah? So, at Farrell’s they have this particular dessert called the Trough.” There were murmurs of recognition. “The Trough had ten scoops of ice cream, and the goal was to eat this whole thing before it melted. That’s the kind of thing you’re in for tonight.”

PechaKucha is the onomatopoeic Japanese phrase for “chitchat.” As Lecours went on to say, architects and designers tend to be a pedantic bunch. This is why European-born architects Astrid Klein and Mark Dytham (whose firm, Klein Dytham architecture, is based in Tokyo), created a short, structured format that would force presenters to be succinct. As Dytham said in a recent interview aired on National Public Radio, “You get passionate about whatever you’re talking about, and you go on forever — so we came up with 20 slides, 20 seconds a slide.”

After requesting that people not forget to donate $5 at the door, Lecours introduced the first presenter: Howard Blackson, an urban designer. Fewer than ten seconds passed between the time Blackson was handed the mike and his first slide appeared on the big screen behind him.

This would be Blackson’s — a young-looking 40-something with a mop of dark hair — fourth time presenting at PechaKucha. He jokingly complained about having to go first after only “four sips of beer,” then transitioned into a well-rehearsed spiel about the detrimental consequences of urban sprawl. His first slide was a snapshot of a Chevron ad depicting a woman’s smiling face, over which was written, “I will leave the car at home more.” Blackson said, “You know there’s something wrong when folks are saying, there’s a problem here, don’t use our products.” The crowd chuckled as the next slide appeared: a mock Oscar Meyer ad in which Blackson could be seen smiling beneath the words, “I will stop eating hot dogs.”

The problem with the Chevron ad, Blackson explained, is that depending on where she lives, the woman pictured could be making too great a sacrifice (missing work, friends, school, etc.) in her bid to use less of Chevron’s moneymaker. Blackson, who walked to the Whistle Stop from his home in South Park, went on to discuss the importance of zoning and planning codes and which agencies would need to cooperate with each other to make change happen. As he spoke, images of town layouts, zoning spreadsheets, and photos of cars and obese children illustrated his words. At times (such as the shot of Edvard Munch’s painting The Scream), an image was used to inject humor into what would otherwise be a serious topic.

Blackson’s last slide depicted his children alongside a list of local community plans currently underway. During his last 20 seconds, he spoke of how his kids are more eco-savvy than he is and that the plans in their present form would never inspire children like his to stay in San Diego.

The presentation was over before I’d had my second sip of beer. Six minutes and 40 seconds. Clearly Blackson had put effort into constructing his speech. He’d mixed information and humor to promote a specific viewpoint: urban sprawl is bad, and we need to work together to stop it. The audience (the majority of whom I guessed to be in their 20s and 30s) cheered and applauded.

The first PechaKucha Night ever was held in a Tokyo bar in 2003 — Dytham and Klein wanted creative types to share their ideas in a space conducive to “thinking and drinking.” Now the foundation has satellite salons in 373 cities worldwide, with new cities popping up on the map weekly. As NPR contributor Lucy Craft put it, “Unwittingly, Klein and Dytham seemed to have stumbled across an apparently universal longing of audience members listening to those who pontificate: just get to the point.”

The first PechaKucha in San Diego was held at the Corner Restaurant & Bar on January 20, 2009. According to David McCullough of McCullough Landscape Architecture, two local architects brought the idea to town — Maxine Ward (architect with Studio E Architects and board member of the San Diego Architectural Foundation) and Mike Stepner (former city architect and current professor at NewSchool of Architecture).

“I can’t remember who said it first, but one mentioned [PechaKucha] and the other said that it would be a great thing to start doing in San Diego,” McCullough recalls. “For whatever reason, they thought that I should take it on.” McCullough became responsible for organizing each event, which includes lining up presenters, then collecting and preparing their slides for the timed presentations.

“I do have a small subcommittee of people helping — David Lecours is one, and now he’s our emcee,” says McCullough. “Dave White helps us find presenters and with logistics, like do we want to have a theme, where is our next location, etc.”

Lecours originally heard about PechaKucha from a blog called Presentation Zen, written by a man who lives in Japan. As a member of the San Diego Architectural Foundation, Lecours was among the first to learn about PechaKucha’s San Diego debut. “I was all over it,” he says. “I had recently turned 40 and submitted a presentation called 20+20=40. It was about life lessons that I’d learned to date.” Lecours presented at the first PKSD in January 2009 and a second time in April 2010.

Lecours is no stranger to public speaking. His website’s tagline reads, “Creative Business Coach + Speaker.” His company, LecoursDesign, specializes in marketing and brand communications. In a blog entry written July 20, 2010, Lecours states that speaking is an ideal way to attract clients. “You can make a deeper connection because your audience can experience your thinking in real time.”

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InOmbra Jan. 12, 2011 @ 2:41 p.m.

Blackson, a nice, chubby, friendly neighbor, lives and works in North Park, not South Park. He makes money by selling urbanization plans. Google him and "Ramona," for an idea of what he does in these lean times for architects. You might not find it so cool.

For two reasons, he has inserted himself in the Greater Golden Hill Community Plan Update, even though he doesn't live in the district.

1) He has joined a group of SP and GH realtors, developers, and business owners south of Juniper who support and promote the City's pending change of Land Use Code that allows building of second units on single-family residential parcels. Good business for them, bad for the rest of us who don't want infill and density in our quiet neighborhoods.

2) He has joined with the SP Business Group (realtors and business owners) in asking the City to take a part of Greater North Park (where Blackson lives) north of Juniper and place it in Greater Golden Hill, so that the SPBG fans can be said to be located in "South Park" (they already claim that, when they can, but they are all North Parkers)- mainly to create a Business Improvement District along 30th, that certain SP people can control.


Barbarella Fokos Jan. 12, 2011 @ 5:47 p.m.

@Sara, thank you! The next PechaKucha event is NEXT THURSDAY at Quality Social downtown. I'll be on NBC/KNSD News in the Morning tomorrow at 6:45 a.m. to discuss this piece and offer a taste of what it's like!


myles Jan. 13, 2011 @ 9:09 a.m.

I came across this story after Googling my name...

Sorry that Ms. Barbarella didn't enjoy my presentation. Speaking isn't my strong suit, at least it sounded like you enjoyed the images. You left points of my presentation that I felt were more personal & story telling in the presentation– such as my head being split open by my water housing or the pain and fear of swimming out in 48 degree water at dawn on a cold winters morning. Oh well, maybe next time you can interview me as you did for some of the other participants. It's all good. Cheers and good on ya.

Good to go- Myles McGuinness


Ponzi Jan. 14, 2011 @ 5:48 a.m.

I read this long story and I want at least my 6 minutes and 40 seconds back. If people can't sell something at these, why bother? Sounds like a waste of time. A mutual admiration society for bored people who want to meet, share photoshopped power-points and have an excuse to drink on a weeknight.


fhanson Jan. 14, 2011 @ 7:14 a.m.

I'm sorry some felt my presentation at PechaKucha was condescending or self promoting. My intention was in no way to drum up business, but was simply to present a concept that I thought would be helpful: the importance of building an online presence. My slides were meant to demonstrate that through telling my personal story of online branding… the message being - be passionate about what you do, get involved in your local community, and your brand will build from there. Welcome to take a peek at http://slidesha.re/hhSZs9

Clearly I was not able to convey that message in 6 minutes, which perhaps means I’m a bad presenter… so be it. I was sort of thrown into the line-up last minute and was unsure what content would be valuable to the community. Obviously I should have attended an event before agreeing to present.

Perhaps I might be invited back some day (doubt it) to present on a project I’m also passionate about… http://www.ArtMeetsFashion.org.


Nikki Jan. 20, 2011 @ 9:35 a.m.

Felena, I was at the Pecha Kucha where you presented, and thought that you had the right kind of energy. My friend even commented to me how although she's tech savvy, until seeing your talk, hadn't realized how many social networking and marketing outlets exist.

I didn't feel like your talk was simple self-promotion. Rather it was more telling people "this is the world we live in now, and (whether you like it or not) you have online presence so you may as well manage "you" as a brand." Designing "you" is design even if it doesn't involve architectural structures, and therefore topical to the content of Pecha Kucha.


Ponzi Jan. 14, 2011 @ 8:41 a.m.

Felena, I'd like to look at your presentation. But when I cliked on your link it directed to a log-in for LinkedUp. I don't use LinkedUp. Is that the only way to view it?

Also, I wouldn't get too worked up over "PechaKucha." Many Japanese fads wash ashore in the U.S., few (like karaoke) stick around.


SDAF Jan. 16, 2011 @ 11:18 p.m.

Ponzi - We encourage you to attend a PechaKucha Night, and bet you'd find that passion and creativity are much more compelling than sales pitches.

Felina - haven't had time to respond to your note but have most definitely not forgotten. For now though, thank you. We'd be most pleased to have you back to hear about Art Meets Fashion!

For everyone interested in checking it out, here's the 411 on San Diego's next PechaKucha Night, Volume 10, coming up next Thursday night:

Facebook event page: http://www.facebook.com/#!/event.php?eid=174021009302506.

For info on presenting, etc.check out the PKN page on San Diego Architectural Foundation site: http://www.sdarchitecture.org/pecha-kucha-night

International PKN site: http://www.pecha-kucha.org/night/san-diego/10

Hope to see you there!


Ponzi Jan. 17, 2011 @ 8:32 a.m.

Leslee, you might be right. I used to enjoy bowling. Got to hang out with friends. The best part was the game. Throw the ball, sit down have a beer, throw the ball again, sit down and have another beer. At a PechaKucha Night I don't even have to stand up and throw the ball, just sit there and drink beer.


SurfPuppy619 Jan. 17, 2011 @ 3:38 p.m.

Leslee, you might be right. I used to enjoy bowling. Got to hang out with friends. The best part was the game

When I was going to school in East Lansing MI, the big thing to do on the weekends (zero degrees outside and 5 feet of snow) was go bowling, 20 or 30 of us- we loved it, so much.


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