PechaKucha. It’s a bizarre word. Or is it two words?
As I head to my first event held at Bruntwood’s Neo building on Charlotte Street in Manchester, I realise that it’s a word I’m not entirely sure how to pronounce, or even grasp what it means. I’ve accidentally been calling it Pikachu for most the day and I’m concerned that it’ll slip out at registration. Luckily, I don’t have to say anything, just give my name, before someone asks me if I’m “here for the PechaKucha night”, and I’m instantly filled with gratitude that I now know how to say it.
I’m given two options: I can go upstairs to the bar area and get a drink, or head to a letterpress workshop. Now, I’m not crafty but I secretly wish I was, so I relish the opportunity to say I’ve done something arty (later I text my mum with “Look what I made!” alongside a snapshot of my card and my smiley face). The lovely ladies at G.F Smith show me the ropes (I feebly attempt to shove the press “until it clicks” before someone else has to take over – the shame) and I’m chuffed with my cute card, embossed with a bee and the word happy. Anything where I come out with a piece of art for my ever-growing Wall of Stuff, and covered in a light dusting of gold glitter, is fine by me.
Odd name aside, PechaKucha (which means “the sound of conversation” in Japanese) is an interesting concept. Part networking, part advertising, part social gathering, part motivational forum, it makes for a thought-provoking evening. It’s structured around the 20×20 format where presentations have 20 slides and each slide is set with the software’s timer to display on the screen for exactly 20 seconds before the next slide advances. Because PechaKucha slides progress automatically, the presenter cannot stop to advance a slide manually or go back to a previous one. It’s extremely popular, having hit 900 cities worldwide.
In short (and as a rubbish public speaker) it’s my worst nightmare. I’m a waffler of epic proportion. I’m waffling now. Perhaps I might benefit from a PechaKucha talk? As I pick up a programme, I scan the room to see if I can recognise any of the speakers and I wonder if they’re nervous. If they are, they don’t show it. The atmosphere is relaxed, like a gathering for post-work drinks, and although the setting is semi-corporate, the event couldn’t be further from being buttoned-up. As one of the attendees sits next to me and we start chatting (turns out her boss, Chris Furber, is giving one of the presentations) I feel a lot more relaxed about flying solo. The beer I’ve ordered at the makeshift bar certainly helps.
The theme of tonight’s talk is ‘Journey’, inspired by the Manchester Moleskin project where 50 artists were tasked with contributing to a Moleskin sketchbook to capture the talent of Manchester alongside raising money for community charity, Forever Manchester. For two years the book was passed between creatives before finally being auctioned off at the end of 2016. The guys at PechaKucha reckoned that the book should belong to the people of Manchester, rather than end up sitting in a private collection, so they crowdsourced a bid and won. True to their word, the book is there for us to have a gander, and plans are afoot to find it a forever home so it’ll be accessible to the wider public.
There are six presenters involved and the night’s proceedings are kicked off by Chris Roberts and Rob Evans from the With Love Project. Originally an idea to document a small number of people who produce things with passion, the project became a small booklet, a blog and then a book. Now, they’re on book two and creating a film of the project. Quite the journey!
Kyle Soo, one of the organisers of PechaKucha, takes us on a journey of photography, coordinates and remembering to look at the beautiful things in our everyday. Meanwhile, Chris Furber talks about his impressive coaching journey in Paralympic Sport, from the personal reasons he was inspired to work with disabled athletes, right to Paralympic success.
Next is Lauren Coulman who chats about her wonderful and engaging Free to Be OK with Me campaign, discussing body politics, society’s crappy double standards and forming a collective community of activists and storytellers. She’s brilliantly frank and funny – the kind of speaker (and lady) I bloody love – and it’s the sort of chat we should be having in schools, actually, all the time, with anyone who’ll listen (and even if they won’t, we should make them). I even approach her later in the evening and have a small fan-girl moment. Sorry, Lauren, you’re my new girl-crush.
Then there’s Sam Jones, managing director of Manchester-based social media and video marketing agency Tunafish Media. Every time Sam interviews a candidate, the first question he asks is “who is your role model?” Like everyone, he admits to judging that person on their answer, but admits that it’s only recently he’s realised his own personal hero is a bit of a dubious choice. His witty chat about Eric Cantona has the room in stitches.
Dr Erinma Bell discusses challenging crime in an urban environment. The celebrated peace activist expands on her history of engagement and how her journey has inspired a campaign for social change (and holds her own during a little slide hiccup). She’s followed by Brendan Dawes, an artist and designer who rather interestingly uses code with an eclectic mix of analogue and digital materials. I’m not entirely sure what that means, but the results are outstanding and have ended up in the permanent collection of New York’s MOMA (as well as being used by the likes of Google and Airbnb).
The night ends with Tash Willcocks who facilitates digital design programmes at Hyper Island. She talks about living your life as a Work in Progress and training your brain to hold off on the judgement, something I’ve been reading about recently. She chats about the importance of creating regularly and putting something out there. There’s also a teeny bit of audience participation which, naturally, I manage to mess up.
It’s all inspiring stuff and urges you to get out there and do something. I’ll be heading back to PechaKucha in the future. I left the event feeling not only enthused and entertained, but reassured that Manchester remains a wonderful, vibrant, eclectic, multi-cultural city, filled with people championing community and achievement.
Later in the week, I scroll through my Instagram feed and come across an image from Tash Willcocks, where she’s been moved by Coulman’s (she admits it’s slightly misquoted but it’s still hilarious) talk highlighting the unfairness of our consumerist society, particularly the beauty industry where sanitary towels and women’s razors are taxed whereas men’s razors, edible cake decorations and, weirdly, crocodile steaks aren’t. She’s created an illustration warning readers to Never Shove a Crocodile Steak Up Your Vagina. A funny take on a funny talk depicting seriously unfunny stuff we need to be talking about.
So, what am I getting it? I guess what I’m trying to figure out what PechaKucha means to me. I reckon it’s inspiration, creativity, silliness, activism, community, and the importance of shared experience. We should all strive to motivate each other and support imagination and innovation. If we take into account the negative, divisive, heart-breaking and traumatic events of 2017, it’s an incredibly powerful tool at our disposal.