Forget spiders and heights (although I’m fond of neither), my biggest fear is standing on stage in front of a beady-eyed audience. Glossophobia (a phobia of public speaking) affects 20 per cent of Britons and, according to YouGov, women are more than twice as likely to be ‘very afraid’ of public speaking compared to men. Sounds about right, then.

Whether it’s the chance of failure or looking daft, public speaking can feel impossible. What can we do to combat this fear? Picturing the audience in their undercrackers won’t work (it’ll just make you giggle), but you could head to a PechaKucha Night for a bit of inspiration, advice and confidence building.

So, what is PechaKucha? The Japanese word for ‘chit-chat’ (which sounds wholesome and friendly, so that’s a lovely start), it’s also a storytelling format where a presenter shows 20 slides for 20 seconds of commentary each (six minutes and 40 seconds in total) and it takes place in almost 1,200 cities worldwide. Each area has an organiser who is trusted by PechaKucha HQ in Tokyo to put on events.

“Recently I saw one in Kathmandu,” says Kyle Soo, one of the founders and organisers of PechaKucha Manchester. “PechaKucha was devised by Japan-based British architects, Astrid Klein and Mark Dytham, to tackle death by PowerPoint. We’ve all been in those dragged-out boring talks where we begin to lose focus and question why we even bothered turning up. PechaKucha is a way to tackle that.”

By day Soo is a lawyer and he organises PechaKucha Manchester in his spare time. “I came across PechaKucha in London and wondered what this strange-sounding event was and went along out of curiosity. What I saw left me inspired. I soon wondered if it would work in Manchester. So I applied with my friend and sister and we got the licence.”

Since September 2016, the team has been running events in Manchester at venues across the city including Fairfield Social Club, the People’s History Museum and The Whitworth art gallery. Soo was initially attracted to the format and the opportunity to learn about a variety of different things over the course of an evening from a mix of designers, architects, teachers, Paralympians and students. “It’s accessible, engaging and diverse. We’re not afraid to explore issues affecting society and a local, national or international level either. We’ve had talks about period poverty, male sexual assault and the push to free Ahmed Mansoor who is confined in the UAE.”

He adds: “PechaKucha talks raise real and challenging issues, help us to think of ways to support the community more widely and to break out of our social bubbles. Personally, I was able to do talks on a photography project as well as talk about my own mental health and dealing with OCD.”

Spreading the word

Vimla AppadooVimla Appadoo, creator of SheSaysManchester, an inclusive networking event where women tell their stories, was interested in PechaKucha because it helps to “condense your thinking into a slick, simple narrative and process”. She continues: “It’s a good way of breaking down problems and honing your own opinions. I did my first PechaKucha a year ago and was hooked straight away.”

For Liam Hopkins, founder of Lazerian a creative art and design studio which manufactures projects from a combined workshop and design studio just outside of Manchester, it’s the focus on creativity. “I have spoken at PechaKucha twice and both times I have loved every minute. I love the concept of having creative minds coming together and the idea that we can share our thoughts and feelings on a variety of different topics. It’s important to have a good network of fellow creatives and Manchester has such a great one. We are lucky that everyone supports each other and an event such as this just solidifies that.”

But what about the restrictive set-up? For Appadoo it’s difficult, but she likes a challenge. “It’s such a good way of condensing your mindset into something simple. Using just images is a smooth way of telling a story and has massively helped me improve.”

Liam Hopkins - ManchesterHopkins agrees that it’s quite tough to stick to the format, but he also enjoys the task. “It’s definitely more demanding than you would think. However, it’s a good way to tell a story and judge the audience to see what they response to.”

“It’s a great format to get started with public speaking,” adds Soo. “I know universities use it to get students to present work, and that’s usually the first instruction people have to it. It’s a useful way to get people on stage and give them confidence to do longer talks. Crucially, you don’t need masses of information given the short time frame, so the preparation time should be shorter. That said, the real art is condensing everything into meaningful and memorable points and combining it with really engaging and evocative imagery. The main issue with the format is the lack of depth and the ability to drill into the detail to emphasise a point. But PechaKucha serves more as an opener to new worlds.”

I’ve attended PechaKucha Manchester on a few occasions and, for me, its rise in popularity is significant because it shows a real desire for connection and the importance of shared experience. While technology ensures that we’re always contactable, the percentage of people experiencing loneliness – particularly in young professionals – is rapidly increasing. Considering this, it’s no shock that PechaKucha continues to attract an audience. But is Soo surprised? “Definitely. It’s lovely to see feedback from people and to see old faces but also new ones. Our last event sold out in 26 minutes which is crazy and an amazing endorsement of what we’re doing. I suppose the challenge is trying to accommodate demand without growing too big and losing precisely the intimacy we try to foster.”

Networking – but not as you know it

A man after my own heart, Hopkins isn’t a fan of the traditional networking events. “If the environment is too professional and strict, it makes some people nervous. At PechaKucha, as it’s so relaxed, it’s easier to make contacts in an informal setting and have a few beers with friends and clients, old and new. It’s a good opportunity to catch up with other creatives I may not have the time to visit individually. I see it as a social event with networking opportunities.”

“It’s all about community,” adds Soo. “We’ve formed a tight-knit network of supporters.”

Kyle Soo, Pecha KuchaPechaKucha is an extremely welcoming event (think networking without the stuffy conference room and name tags) and Soo ensures it feels like a “safe” environment for contributors. Mostly it’s smooth sailing. However, occasionally (as with everything in life) things go awry. “I’ve been on stage when slides have started too soon, or I’ve forgotten to insert a slide or sequence it properly. Or in the worst case, a speaker drops out just before the event. When these things happen, our approach is to reach out to the community who are brilliant at chipping in to help. But I’ve learnt that people are incredibly forgiving, and it makes for a more honest and transparent event which I think is key for building trust. The challenge is that we have a waiting list and also curate the line-ups to fit the theme/event so it may take a bit of time to get you on stage – but we’re trying.”

Recently, PechaKucha held an event to create a Book in a Day which centred around a pop-up workshop and gallery where the community contributed A5 artwork and stories to be fashioned into a book. This has been submitted to the Manchester Open Exhibition at HOME.

So, what’s next? “I want to see more diverse line-ups and new speakers and ideas from different communities,” says Soo. “It’s a harder task, but one we’re committed to especially workshops with ace projects like the Fuse Directory (a directory which champions Manchester’s ethnic minority creatives, working towards a racially diverse creative industry) set up by Jaheed Hussain. We all have a part to play to ensure we support people from all backgrounds to get their stories heard. I also want to see how we can encourage our audiences to action. And we want to explore running speaker workshops to help support people to build their confidence to get up on stage.”

Kyle Soo, Pecha Kucha Manchester, People's History Museum, ManchesterThere’s also talk of PoochaKucha, a special event for our four-legged friends. “I like puns and plays on words. PoochaKucha was a joke but has since gained traction as a good topic where we can celebrate dogs and what they do for us. We may also have one cat speaker for balance and the plan is to hold it as part of World PechaKucha Day on February 20, 2020.”

As a dog obsessive, I’ll be there with bells on.

“And I challenge you all, including you Emma, to present,” says Soo.

What do you think? Is it time I kicked Glossophobia into touch?

By Emma Yates-Badley

Main image by Fiona Finchett


If you are interested in getting involved with PechaKucha Night Manchester, contact the organisation via social media or on the website.

The next PechaKucha Night Manchester Vol.29 will be held on November 14, 2019 at Fairfield Social Club. Tickets are on sale now.