Say it with us first: “Pe-chak-cha”. And now say it many times over. Let this rising cultural buzzword be firmly embedded in your phonetic memory.
Devised by two Tokyo-based architects, Astrid Klein and Mark Dytham of Klein Dytham Architecture, in 2003, the first PechaKucha Night was held in their art space called SuperDeluxe—a gallery, lounge and bar which was an extension of their office. To help kick-start this new space, the young architects held a simple show-and-tell event.
It was the time digital cameras had come into vogue. Keynote, a Mac software that allows users to create presentations with easy-to-use tools, had just surfaced. And as co-founder Dytham tells us over email, it was easier to show-and-tell than ever before. Things were casual: a bottle of wine, some cheese and snaps of the duo’s latest construction sites and travels.
This four-syllable phenomenon draws its name from the Japanese word for chit-chat. The 20x20 slideshow presentation format rests on a simple idea: 20 slides of 20 seconds each, with a total presentation time of 6 minutes and 40 seconds.
It’s not that Klein and Dytham harbour a particular fascination for mathematics. The peculiar time restriction, it seems, came about because “architects talk too much”. “The problem was how to get them off stage when they were in full flow,” explains Dytham. “We came up with a simple idea. Each presenter only gets 20 slides, with the slides auto advancing. No ‘next please’, no ‘oh back one please’.”
Show and tell: Ad man Swapan Seth (right) presenting at the PechaKucha event in Delhi in December. Laxman Anand / Mint
Since its serendipitous invention, this casual format of presentation has been fast gaining popularity among creative classes the world over. PechaKucha events are presently organized in 266 cities. And though Klein and Dytham have intellectual rights over the format, other groups can organize city chapters after a simple handshake agreement with the founders. Presently, the Klein Dytham office receives around 10-20 city applications a month.
Born in a time of flux, this cultural by-product of changing technology has come to India during a period of upheaval. “In the last couple of years, the Indian design community has grown in leaps. There are new venues and models catering to them,” says Aditya Dev Sood, founder and CEO of the Bangalore-based research firm Center for Knowledge Societies (CKS). Sood held India’s first PechaKucha event in Bangalore in August 2006 after hearing about it from a business associate who’d attended the first-ever Tokyo event. The gathering in Bangalore, Sood says, “was bubbling with the promise of something new”.
Sood believes that back then, no Indian city other than Bangalore would have been receptive to such an idea. But after the success of this maverick one-off evening, the British Council Library invited Sood to organize events in Delhi. More recently, Mumbai and Pune have got their own chapters as well. Mukund Athale, who heads the Pune-based design consultancy Sarvasva Designs, held the city’s first PechaKucha in October. Apart from the three more he is to host before March, he also plans to create a student wing of the event. And with city organizers like him furiously drawing up schedules, it is likely that the number of PechaKucha events in the country will almost double this year.
At the forefront of these networking events are think tanks and design houses. Presenters range from architects, film-makers and painters to photographers. And they cover a gamut of topics, from sustainable architecture to art history.
Priya Kapoor of Roli Books, whose Delhi bookstore CMYK was the venue for a PechaKucha in December, learnt about it a few months ago from a National Institute of Design graduate who’d helped design her store. Intrigued, she sent a blind mail to the founders in Tokyo about the possibility of hosting one. The organizers put her in touch with Sood, who helped her put the event together.
Among the presenters at this PechaKucha was Naman Ahuja, associate professor of arts and aesthetics at Jawaharlal Nehru University, who says that for him the challenge lay in covering book art from 100 BC to 1780 AD in his 6-minute, 40-second presentation. “Jain painting is something I’d spend four months on in a classroom. At the PechaKucha, I had to cover it with a 20-second slide,” says Ahuja. He thinks it would help to be more selective about audiences so presenters can tackle complicated subjects without having to give introductions.
One could argue that in many ways, Ahuja’s suggestion would be the anti-thesis the core of what a PechaKucha is meant to be. According to the PechaKucha website, it is designed for “anyone” to make a presentation on anything they love—from their new design blueprints to their vintage record collection.
The prospect of a shrouded-in-mystery PechaKucha event at a hip new art bookstore drew scores to the CMYK event. “We hadn’t expected such a huge turnout. I would definitely scale back audiences by around 10% if we were to do it again,” says Kapoor, who is contemplating a PechaKucha themed on erotica in February.
PechaKucha has inspired other presentation-based events in India. Manit Rastogi, managing director of the Delhi-based architecture firm Morphogenesis, attended a PechaKucha night in Sydney in 2006 and, inspired, started an event series with a slight variation, calling it “manthan”. Its 3x7 format, however, is far less rigid than a traditional PechaKucha, with a minimum of seven slides, seven presenters and seven minutes to complete each presentation.
This creative event is also making inroads into the boardroom. “The World Economic Forum uses the format in its idea lab sessions. And we’re working with several corporations and learning centres using PechaKucha as a presentation tool,” says Dytham.
Attend Pune’s second Pecha-Kucha event on 22 January at the Sawai Gandharva Hall on Ganeshkhind Road at 8pm; email firstname.lastname@example.org. Find out about more PechaKucha Nights in cities near you on www.pecha-kucha.org
Krish Raghav contributed to this story.