PechaKucha ((Japanese for chit-chat), which started in Tokyo in 2003, is defined as: “The art of concise presentations.”

Concise is right! 20 slides with 20 seconds of talk for each slide. PechaKucha Night is now in over 800 cities, so it’s a genuine phenomenon.

20160125_140256I’ve heard it pronounced pecka koocha, pe-ka-coo-cha, peek-a-boo-choo and other almost unrecognizable versions. Regardless, it’s a fascinating approach to creativity.

When Ange Friesen, Community librarian at the Markham Village branch, asked me a few months ago, I thought, sure, sounds like a good way to test my public performance skills.

They expected over 400 people in attendance (some came for the free food). And there’d be wine and beer. Yeah. Not scary at all. I mean, I used to teach internal auditing and performance management at the Ontario and Canadian Police Colleges, to classrooms full of somewhat skeptical students. How hard can this be?

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The first challenge was trying to come up with a topic. Here’s what I submitted to describe “You see, I say: We interpret the world in a myriad of ways. As a writer with a vivid imagination, my perceptions, especially of the visual, yield stories.” That wasn’t so difficult.

Next up was selecting the 20 slides. That wasn’t too bad either, thanks to Pixabay and hours spent searching words and looking for interesting images that I could weave a story around.

The hardest part was putting together the 20 second script. As a storyteller, filling a page with description was easy. Pruning it down to 44-46 words per slide and getting the cadence right (because what are words without musical flow?) was torture. I’ve prepared speeches for one-hour presentations. This was way tougher.

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When I thought I had things down pat, I’d set a 20 second transition for my Powerpoint slides, stand at my desk and read. Of course I had to revise. Chopping the presentation up into 20-second bites didn’t work, so I had to build in a flow. I tried to memorize, but I knew that wouldn’t work if I was to keep within the time limits. I needed to have that script in my hand, if for no other reason than to keep my jitters in check.

Thank goodness I was second on the schedule of presenters. We’d done the lighting and microphone check, and I knew that once the stage lights came up, the audience would be invisible. I knew where Hub was sitting, and that’s all that mattered. I’d only snarfed two small slices of pizza in the Green Room beforehand and I hadn’t had anything to drink, just in case. Still, I had a moment where I thought I’d have to sneak out to the washroom. People around me were live-tweeting and I knew that whatever happened, it would be instant social-media fodder.

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The first presenter, Will, spoke about his visit to North Korea to teach English to English teachers. He was fast and funny and natural – and he used no notes. Ugh, would I look like an amateur? I knew I couldn’t juggle the mic and my notes, so I forged ahead with the standing mic. It worked.

Under the glare, I took a quick look around and saw nothing. I gave my cue and the slides popped up. Luckily there were two monitors we could glance at to check our pacing, which was very helpful. My voice grew stronger after starting out a bit wavery (to my ears). I’d forgotten that when I’m in front of an audience, I speak more slowly and enunciate more clearly so that people can hear what I’m saying. I had a few palpitations when I realized I was falling behind my pace, but I adjusted.

The audience laughed when I wanted them to, which was a huge boost. What I didn’t expect was the loud applause when I was finished. The look in Hub’s eyes when the lights came on made the whole thing worth it. I eventually stopped trembling when Matthew, the young man who spoke next about engaging youth in the electoral process, launched into his presentation.

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During the Beer Break (intermission), I lost track of the people who approached to tell me how much they enjoyed my presentation. Phrases I said were tweeted – they resonated and that was such a rush. I also got the opportunity to meet a lot of folks who are writers or who want to write.

Each of the seven presenters was amazing. The common denominator was passion and inventiveness. Despite sweating over how much work getting ready was, I enjoyed the experience. The Markham Theatre was packed with people, eating, drinking and having a good time at the tenth edition of PK. I am incredibly proud to have been part of that. Now I’m an alumnus of a unique group of intrepid presenters.

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Would I do it again? Absolutely.