The problem with Pecha Kucha by @KristiCasey

In New York, things are in fashion for barely a season before they’re passé. In America’s other big cities, three to four years may pass before that fashion catches on. Ten years later, you’ll encounter people sincerely hanging on to that look because it’s still new to them.

The events world is similar. Tasting tripe may be big with hipsters right now, but no one is rushing to put it on a banquet menu. That’s not because event organizers don’t love innovation. It’s because there are still attendees out there who are amazed that mashed potatoes can be served in a martini glass (believe me, I met them just last year).

Which brings me to the presentation style called Pecha Kucha.

Chances are you’ve either heard of it but haven’t seen it, have seen it and are over it, are all about it and love it or have no idea what I’m talking about.

What the #%(*& is it?

To summarize: Pecha Kucha was developed in Tokyo by a couple of architects who thought other architects talked too much. They limited speakers to 20 slides that auto-advance every 20 seconds. Now it’s a “thing” people do in cities all over the world and sometimes at conferences. When done well, these 7-minute Pecha Kucha presentations can be stunning, hilarious, moving and/or thought-provoking.

Sound interesting? It is. And when you mix in drinks, it’s a lot of fun for the crowd, too. But mark my words, Pecha Kucha is in grave danger of becoming as stale and overexposed as a mashed potato martini. And, what’s worse, it can seriously backfire on you. So before you add one to your event, there’s a few things to consider.

Three things you need to know

The first is that no one knows how the hell it’s pronounced. Is it peh-CHA koo-CHA or PEH-cha KOO-cha? At a recent event, one attendee earnestly told me how excited she was to see that night’s “Hunky Monkey” presentations. For the record, I think that’s how we should all pronounce it.

The second thing is that it’s been around since 2003 (feel out of the loop yet?), so there are actually trademarks involved. Want to Hunky Monkey at your conference? Please contact the founders first.

The third thing you need to know is how to educate and prepare the people presenting. At a lot of conferences, attendees are encouraged to sign up and present Hunky Monkeys for each other. (And its founders encourage this “bottom-up” approach to curating content.) Because even professional speakers may be unfamiliar with the format, everyone who participates is taking a risk.

Be cool to your speakers

Unless you want to create an evening that will scar and horrify your presenters for life, please let them know:

  1. 20 seconds is a long time. Don’t believe me? Imagine you’re at a birthday party and someone is singing “Happy Birthday” to you, but they’re doing it really slow. They get to the end and, just before you blow out the candles, they start singing the song again. You just have to wait until they’re done. That’s 20 seconds. And that’s the feeling your presenters will have when they realize they said everything they wanted to say about this slide in 10 seconds but the slide that won’t go away because …
  2. The slides auto-advance, so you don’t control them. There are no do-overs. There’s no “Can we go to the next slide, please?” Make sure you remind speakers that they are at the mercy of the machine.
  3. The audience is on your side. Everyone knows the Hunky Monkey is difficult. That’s why only a fraction of the audience is presenting. Mentally prepare them to have a Plan B. Remind speakers that it’s OK to fall down, pick themselves up and keep going, because everyone is rooting for them.
  4. Faster and louder is not better. When ballsy people get nervous, they get fast and loud. Thought 20 seconds was long? Try surviving 400 seconds of ear-splitting adrenaline-fueled hoo-hah as the presenter tries to beat the clock on each slide. Do your audience a favor and remind presenters that if they talk less, there’ll be less stress … and that it’s OK to breathe.
  5. Practice may not make perfect, but it will keep you from looking like an ass. It doesn’t matter how charming a presenter is, they can’t “wing” a Hunky Monkey. The minute someone takes the stage who is honest and present, knows what slide is coming next and has thought out the visuals accompanying their story, the “winger” will look like a jerk. Please let them know that in advance so the audience’s disgust doesn’t take them by surprise.
  6. Friends don’t let friends drink and stumble through a high-speed presentation. Caution the presenters about imbibing too much liquid courage, especially if there’s more than seven speakers and an open bar. Believe me, drunken Hunky Monkeys aren’t pretty.

Finally, a word about judgement. Recently, I was at a Hunky Monkey where the speakers were lined up on stage while drunken attendees texted in who they thought did the best job. The results were shown in real time, allowing the presenters – who had just risked everything to try something new – see just how many (or few) people thought they did a good job. That’s not cool. Audience choice awards are fine, but keep the results private.

So, what do you think about Hunky Monkeys? Are you over it, all about it or going to try it?

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