Funny name, seriously big idea.
You might not have heard of PechaKucha yet, pronounced (puh-cha-kuh-cha), but this organization is becoming one of the fastest growing platforms for sharing ideas. This post-modern approach to the typical lecture style connects people of all walks of life to discuss concepts that impact the community.
PechaKucha is self-described as “the art of concise presentations” and translates to “chit-chat.” PechaKucha Nights (PKN) have spread across the globe to “over 900 cities around the world” in just 13 years. In 2014, this PowerPoint poetry came to Pensacola.
The organization began in 2003 when architects Astrid Klein and Mark Dytham were working in Japan. They developed a 20×20 format to encourage brevity from the otherwise long-winded group of architects. The idea is to use 20 slides at 20 seconds each to make a point or share a story. Keeping the total presentation time to less than 7 minutes is only one advantage of this format.
Today, organizers include Executive Director of First City Art Center, Meredith Doyen, as well as Liam Dunaway, Marina Quirk and Felipe Muñoz. I sat down with Muñoz, Art Director of Emagination Unlimited and Quirk, Coordinator and Fire Artist, to discuss PKN Pensacola.
In 2010, Muñoz was a first-time presenter at an event in his native country of Brazil. “It was really fun. I loved the format. I loved the way it went, how interesting it was, how diversified it was”, explained Muñoz. “At the end of 2013, I was volunteering with the [Pensacola Museum of Art]. I was talking to the marketing person there, and we started this conversation about how cool it would be to bring this event to Pensacola.”
Simultaneously, members of First City Art Center (FCAC) had discovered and were planning a PKN event for Pensacola. “I did not know at that time that there were some people planning to bring it to Pensacola,” Muñoz said. “Thankfully, … a couple of people that went to the New Orleans PKN and brought the idea to First City.”
In March of 2015, Muñoz met with FCAC and became one of a handful of presenters at the 2nd volume event in Pensacola. At first, the evening seemed to be a disaster. “10 people attended that event. It was in a small classroom at First City…[and] they had problems with AV.”
Despite a low turnout, Muñoz feels the experience was an unexpected success. “Only five other people spoke that evening,” he said, “but it was some of the most amazing five people I’ve ever met in my life!” Afterward, Muñoz spoke to one of the organizers and asked how he could help. “Whatever you need, I just want [PKN] to keep growing,” he told them.
Unlike other formats, PKN is specifically local. “I think they put it really well on their website,” said Muñoz, referring to the PK website statement, “TED is top down, PechaKucha is bottom up!” “It’s more informal. It’s more open. It goes from the concept of ‘everyone has a story’.” He adds, “Even the format itself, you have the 20 slides in 20 seconds each, is different from TEDtalks [which can vary in length].”
“You don’t have to… have a master’s degree or doctorate in order to publicly speak about your passions or curiosities,” Quirk explains. “It creates a dialogue, rather than a lecture.”
The event also includes breaks after a few presentations for refreshments, conversation, and reflection. These ‘beer breaks’ are designed, as Quirk said, “So you can talk about thoughts that inspired you. It brings about a conversation that builds communities.”
Quirk, is an employee of Seville and, on some nights, a fire twirler. She became involved in PKN Pensacola after Muñoz asked her to present in December of 2015. “Felipe reached out to me to speak as well as help organize. I do different organizational events here in Pensacola so I was really excited for that opportunity.”
At that event, Quirk spoke on the topic of “Boundaries”. “I had just got back from a continental trip, so I got to meet a lot of people- meet a lot of cultures. I wanted to talk about boundaries, language and cognition; and how we use these words to define ourselves and other people. It was awesome! I really enjoyed organizing as well,” she said.
Besides the difficulty of recruiting presenters, other challenges include: building variety between the speakers, finding sponsorship, spreading the word and community support.
“We have the support of a global organization but in Pensacola, we are a grassroots activity.”, Muñoz explained. Currently, one major problem is commitment from volunteers. There are many ways to help Muñoz said, “even if it’s just putting the word out.”
PKN is designed to appeal to the diverse mix of people within Pensacola. “We’re all wanting to seek ‘brain food’,” Quirk said. “I think those opportunities and experiences are very important for one to change, to evolve,—to, you know, be out of the comfort zone.”
Speaking of the diverse mix of longtime locals and recent transplants, Muñoz said he would like to have more locals be involved in the discussions. “The people that move here, want what Pensacola has and more.” He adds, “…the [people] that are born and raised in Pensacola and are pushing those boundaries, it’s because they went somewhere else, saw something different and they want to bring it back to where they came from.”
Presenters for PKN should have the ability, Quirk said, “to be gentle but provoking. To shake people from a common way of thought. To give people something entertaining.”
“I personally believe that everyone has a story to tell and I like to give that stage for people to tell their stories- if it interests me or not.” Muñoz shared. “The contrast, the adversity- that’s the way that we live now, and exposing that, showing that anyone can be really powerful with their words.”
Topics for future presentation may include a PKN Junior. Muñoz said that he has considered the “all kid presenters” idea, or a parenting theme for some time now. “It would be awesome, but we would need connections that I don’t have,” he said. “You need commitment from not only the kids… but the parents [as well].”
What might that event look like? “My neighbors have two kids, and they play in a band. I would bring that band to play [at the event] and it would be awesome.” Muñoz shared. “I always keep it in the background of my mind,” adding, “I do not give up easily.”
As for Quirk, she would like to see more about cultural movements, environmental subjects, technological and even business related topics. “Especially culturally, I think there’s a lot going on in the world … that I feel needs to be said.”
The theme of the next event in August was announced as “Intense Proximity”. Themes are often open to interpretation, Quirk explains, “So, ‘Intense Proximity” can be one’s relationship with self, one’s relationship with another being, it can… even go to science…” Flexibility of the theme, often chosen by random generator, not only benefits the presenters but as Quirk said, “I think that keeps PechaKucha very open, very dynamic, and very organic in that sense.”
How do organizers measure the success of the events? “I’ve really enjoyed my time so far. Getting to know all these different people and connecting.” Quirk said. “It’s so much fun.”
“I really don’t know how much I care about the success of the event as much as I care about the people that go there and the friendships that I make, [and] the connections that I make through it. So personally, the success is measured by these conversations.” Muñoz remarked.
Although donations have averaged about $70-80, PKN Global doesn’t seem to mind. “I don’t know how much difference that makes on the global scale, but they are always pretty happy with what we do. Their feedback is always positive.” Muñoz noted.
Networking is very important for this organization. Volunteers are needed for stage production, marketing, and even photography. Networking is one way organizers have recruited such volunteers. “There’s so many outlets for one to just hop on,” Quirk commented.
In the past, New Belgium donated beers to the event. “Now they want to engage in the next one,” Muñoz said. “Those are things that are awesome for us. We’re slowly growing on that part.” Seville Quarter has donated wine to the event, as well. Although beer is the preferred drink for PKN, any donations of alcohol are appreciated.
The event is free; however, donations are happily accepted. Funds that are raised help pay for refreshment, however, “We donate part of it to PK Global.” The funds sent to global help cover the cost of business and promoting PK.
What does PKN look like 5 years from now? “I hope that it will be flourishing, that would be nice. And just have more community involvement from the city of Pensacola.” Quirk shared. “To plant that seed of self-sustainability.”
Muñoz hopes that the right people come along that will really help the organization take off. “Pensacola deserves it. Pensacola needs it.” “Naturally, we’ll grow.” “Having more volunteers, and more structure, more PR, will make those numbers grow.” Although he hopes that PKN doesn’t grow out of the underground appeal that it already has.
What have these two PKN organizers gained from their experience with PKN? “Trying to build those bridges and those platforms of a brand new project that needs a lot of support,” explained Quirk. She adds, “No matter how used to a stage or microphone and lights in your face, it’s humbling.”
“It’s true. You hear stories there and you’re like ‘Whoa!’,” Muñoz said. “The perspective is what I think I gained there and connections with people.”
Would you like to volunteer? If so, you can email PechaKucha at email@example.com. Please include a small introduction about yourself and the idea you wish to present. Click here to check out the PK Facebook page, and visit the website here!”
If you know of a person or organization that has made an impact on the community, please nominate them for this series. Email me at Rebecca.Carlson1984@gmail.com with the subject line “Spotlight: Philanthropy” and a brief description of the person and their achievements.