EVENT RECAP: Pecha Kucha Night—Recess for Pittsburgh’s Creative Class

On the face of it, nine PowerPoints in a row might sound like a good Thursday evening spoiled. Nonetheless, a few weeks ago a flock of urban sophisticates headed (or stayed) downtown once again for a program of visually enhanced musings from a lineup of their professional peers.

The draw was Pecha Kucha Night Pittsburgh, a quarterly gathering that’s been luring designers, architects, and makers away from their computers with the promise of after-work refreshments, mental stimulation, and face-to-face resuscitation since 2008.

What keeps the event light on its feet are the ground rules: They limit each presenter’s slide deck to exactly 20 images, programmed to advance every 20 seconds, no matter what. Bold visuals are encouraged. Bulleted text is considered poor form. Storytelling is king.

It can be a tricky form to master. The relentless pace keeps the crowd engaged, but pressures presenters to keep things lively. After the traditional midpoint beer break—more seventh-inning stretch than intermission—an audience can turn boisterous, at least by Pittsburgh standards. On a good night, the ambience hovers somewhere between standup comedy and poetry slam.

Motives for stepping up to the Pecha Kucha Night (PKN) lectern vary. For serial presenter Eric Fisher of Fisher Architecture, “It’s a chance to practice trying out new ideas on a supportive audience. It forces me to rehearse, rehearse, rehearse, which is great discipline. The positive feedback and reinforcement are always valuable, and I’m making new friends and contacts without getting into a heavy networking situation.”

Milanese transplant Bea Spoli, an intern at Rothschild Doyno Collaborative, is another repeat speaker. “PK Nights have given me the opportunity to talk in public and find confidence in myself,” she says. “I love PKN because I can hear people talk about their passions, and there’s nothing more inspiring and enriching.”

Says AIGA Pittsburgh board member (and, last October, a first-time speaker) Greg Coll of GC Graphic Design, “For me, presenting had a dual purpose: PKN was a perfect outlet to share the excitement I felt about my bike ride from Pittsburgh to Washington, D.C., with the 20×20 format keeping me on track. In addition, I was looking for a way to overcome my glossophobia—fear of public speaking—and it was either PechaKucha or karaoke!”

In Pittsburgh, PKN is jointly sponsored by a collaborative partnership: AIGA and The American Institute of Architects. As PKN point man for AIGA, Greg is already working to enlist presenters and schedule a venue for next spring’s event. “Every time we do this, the diversity of our speakers impresses me. Young designers and students will always be essential, but there’s a core of generous and brilliant professionals at senior levels, across a whole range of disciplines, whose engagement makes this thing pay off for the community.”

• See the presenters of PKN Pittsburgh Vol. 16 (Oct. 17, 2013), and lots more, immortalized on video.
• Next post: What really went on at PKN Pittsburgh Vol. 16 (Oct. 17, 2013); a little PKN history; and—how DO you pronounce “Pecha Kucha,” anyway?

Special thanks to guest contributing writer, George Heidekat. George is a design aficionado who often writes about medical research.