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PechaKucha - From Tokyo To Illinois

Rachel Otwell/WUIS

For some people, paying to watch one Power Point presentation after another might sound insane. But with interesting topics covered at a brisk pace, plenty of refreshments and a snazzy name - such events are becoming popular around the globe.

Called PechaKucha, the pronunciation is not exactly agreed upon. But one thing is certain, no two presentations are alike. Take the most recent one in Springfield as an example. One of the presenters was Jim Pauley, who talked about working with the homeless. Bonnie Styles, of the Illinois State Museum, presented about an excavation she was part of.

PechaKuchas may contain a broad range of topics, but the format is strict and unchanging. Each presentation consists of 20 slides, mostly just images. They are on display for 20 seconds, so each presenter gets about seven minutes. They are encouraged to keep the pace lively and informal. The name means chit-chat in Japanese, and the first one was organized by architects in Tokyo in 2003. Since then, the idea has spread through the world.

Paul O'Shea is also an architect, he brought the events to Springfield and helps organize them. He re-iterates though, these nights are not just about his chosen field. "It's about as broad a range of presenters as you could imagine ... in the beginning we had a lot of artists, both in the performing arts and graphic arts ... the bee-keepers have been a captivating program," said O'Shea.

O'Shea says the events can draw up to 200 audience members. They happen a handful of times each year at the Hoogland Center for the Arts. In Chicago- the events have been taking place since 2007. At least half happen at a music venue called Martyrs'. Peter Exley is one of the hosts. "A great PechaKucha presentation has a nice melody, it has thematic idea that perhaps gets repeated, and if you don't like it, it's over in 400 seconds - and then you're on to the next track on the album, so to speak," said Exley. He says an important part of the events is the social networking - interactions that happen in real life instead of from behind a screen. Exley says he hopes they continue to spread: "I'm a little bit of an Evangelist for it. I guess I'm an Evangelist for creativity, and this is a good vehicle for spreading creative messages and getting people involved in public places." Exley says it's relatively simple for a city to get involved, and all PechaKucha groups are connected to one another.

Credit Rachel Otwell/WUIS
Ronald McDonald presents to the crowd

Back in Springfield, a man named Ronald McDonald was also one of the recent presenters. He had the crowd in stitches, telling them about his experience in a Taco Bell commercial directed, for which he was flown out to L.A. and joined by many others with the same name. McDonald, a business analyst from Rochester, has attended several of the PechaKucha events. He says he keeps coming back because it's a fun time, and it feeds his curiosity: "You can learn a lot, some people present things I have no clue about and most the presenters are passionate about what they are talking about - it's really a good way to expand your education a little bit," said McDonald.

The events draw in audiences as diverse as the topics they include, and PechaKucha has made its way to other cities in the state like Champaign and Rockford. So chances are, if you're in Illinois there's one to attend that's not too-far from you, even if you can't pronounce it.

Springfield has a PK event Thursday November 6th at 7:20 pm at the Hoogland Center for the Arts. Click HEREfor more info.

Rachel Otwell of the Illinois Times is a former NPR Illinois reporter.
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