Pecha Kucha Night: Edmonton #6

Edmonton’s sixth Pecha Kucha Night took place tonight at McDougall United Church downtown, a really fantastic venue. It was pretty full, but I’m not sure what the final attendance numbers were. Pecha Kucha is always a great place to meet new people, and tonight was no exception. Many people in the audience had never been to a Pecha Kucha Night before, which was great to see!

True to its name, there was lots of chatter about PKN6 tonight, in person and online. At one point this evening, the hashtag #pkn6 was trending in Canada, but not for the reason you might expect.

In order of appearance, tonight’s presenters included:

  1. Mari Sasano, Winter Light
  2. Merna Schmidt, Outreach Coordinator of A Child’s Hope
  3. Rikia Saddy, Strategist
  4. David Demian, President of JCI Edmonton
  5. Jessica Roder, Urban Planner
  6. Ken Chapman, Cambridge Strategies and Reboot Alberta
  7. Chris Ford, Program Director for Action for Healthy Communities
  8. Matthew Capowski, Activist
  9. Liz Lepper, YESS volunteer
  10. Chris Moore, CIO, City of Edmonton 

Before I go any further, let me just point out a few facts:

  • It takes guts to stand up in front of a couple hundred people to talk for 6 minutes and 40 seconds, I get that.
  • Christmas and the New Year are probably not the most opportune times to find presenters, as everyone is busy with work and life.
  • You’ll never please everyone, because each person has a different set of expectations.

With that out of the way, I can honestly say that PKN6 was probably the worst of the Pecha Kucha events we’ve had here in Edmonton. I’m saddened by this, primarily because the main issue was not something new or unforeseen. Here’s what I wrote about PKN3:

Tonight’s event didn’t have a theme, but I think perhaps it should have. In comparison with the previous two Pecha Kucha Nights, I found the presentations this evening rather weak. There was far too much self-promotion going on.

PKN4 was better, except for the presentation by Edmonton Next Gen themselves:

Finally, some of the Next Gen members gave an overview of the organization. I’m not sure it was the most appropriate presentation, but it was probably good for those in the audience who were new to Next Gen.

At PKN5, self-promotion surfaced once again:

I thought all the presenters did a pretty good job tonight. I wasn’t as interested in Dawn’s or Jeffrey’s, but others in the crowd seemed to be. My least favorite was probably Nadine’s though. Yes most of the talks are self-promotional in nature, but hers really seemed like a commercial for the United Way (and their campaign is on now).

But tonight, at PKN6, self promotion was taken to a whole new level. With the exception of Rikia’s odd Canadian immigration history lesson and Jessica’s interesting discussion of evolution, all the talks were self-promotional. Ken’s is perhaps unfairly labeled as such; although it wasn’t overt, it was ultimately about Reboot Alberta. It was also probably the best talk of the evening, thanks in large part to how great and engaging a speaker Ken is.

An evening with less self promotion isn’t just my idea of a good event, either. Many people were chit-chatting on Twitter about it. Here are a few select tweets:

  • paulzy: I think I’m leaving #pkn6 less inspired than when I came in. Rally caps?
  • sarahdotb: The energy level in this room is nonexistant #pkn6
  • bingofuel: Too many of these presentations are like, "hey, check out my organization!" #pkn6
  • KendallBarber: Appreciate people’s enthusiam for own happenings, but too much promotion #pkn6 – there’s better things to say.
  • ALeNeve: A little disappointed with the shameless self promotional aspect at #pkn6 #yeg hope the 2nd half ISA bit more inspiring

And, here’s what the official Pecha Kucha: What is it? page says:

Good PechaKucha presentation are the ones that uncover the unexpected, unexpected talent, unexpected ideas. Some PechaKuchas tell great stories about a project or a trip. Some are incredibly personal, some are incredibly funny, but all are very different making each PechaKucha Night like ‘a box of chocolates’.

Enough about self promotion, let’s talk about the theme. I’m not sure why they bothered with one tonight:

PECHA KUCHA NIGHT 6 explores our City’s best and worst kept secrets, furtive futures, ancient enigmas, cosmic quandaries, unsolved mysteries and how-to-guides for pressing problems.

Only Liz from YESS attempted to highlight a best kept secret in our city. Maybe the theme was kept secret from all the presenters? The theme of PKN4 worked amazingly well, and I think future Pecha Kucha Nights should also have a theme. Something must have happened for that event (ICLEI?) that didn’t happen this time, however.

Another thing that obviously didn’t happen tonight – screening of presenters. Maybe there weren’t enough submissions, or maybe they all did a good job of convincing the selection committee, but something clearly went wrong. There were two main issues, in my opinion: the order of the presentations, and the quality.

Mari’s presentation was funny at times, even if it was a giant commercial for Winter Light. But it was immediately followed by Merna’s depressing presentation about less fortunate children. It’s an important subject, absolutely, but the difference was extremely jarring. It happened again in the second half. Ken’s presentation was energetic, and really got the crowd into things (finally). That was followed up by a bizarrely bad presentation and then an extremely abstract talk on thought. There was absolutely no rhythm to the evening.

As for the quality of the presentations – Chris Ford’s was probably the worst I have ever seen at Pecha Kucha. Totally disconnected images, long awkward pauses, extremely overt marketing of the organization and its upcoming event, a clear lack of preparation…it was brutal. I’m sure Chris is a great guy, and his organization does good things, but his presentation just completely missed the mark. Compared with previous events, I thought the presenters tonight were clearly nervous, at times quiet, and mostly unenergetic (the notable exceptions being Chris Moore and Ken).

Pecha Kucha Night Edmonton 6Pecha Kucha Night Edmonton 6

At the end of the evening, Cary asked me to come up to the front to be the “celebrity” who drew tickets for the prize giveaways. I joked afterward that he asked me to do that so I’d stop Twittering about the event! My tweets and this post are my initial thoughts on the event, and I’ll absolutely give it more thought so that I can provide more concrete, constructive feedback to Next Gen.

I don’t want to discourage anyone from checking out the next Pecha Kucha Night either! I attend a lot of events, so perhaps my expectations aren’t average. And despite all of the negative things I mentioned above, PKN is still an awesome way to meet new people and to reconnect with old friends. As the saying goes, don’t knock it ‘til you try it!

Finally, please fill out the survey for PKN6. It won’t take very long, and it’s a great way to provide Next Gen with some feedback they can use when planning PKN7. Let’s hope they take note of some of the things that were highlighted tonight!

You can see a few more photos here.

UPDATE: When I originally posted, I had the order slightly incorrect – fixed now.

UPDATE 2: I should mention that there was an after-party at Red Star, which sounds like it was fairly well attended and lots of fun!

  • This is a decent review, Mack, but the one thing that you failed to mention was the lack of beer. Could this have compounded the issues that you did mention? (only half joking)

  • Heh, yeah, that would have made things go a bit more smoothly, I’m sure!

  • Ummm, wow. I feel uncomfortable just reading this, I can’t imagine the tension in the Church.

    Every great idea needs a set-back from time to time in order to get stronger. I’m positive that Cary and the NextGen gang will bounce back…

  • Stella

    there were lots of beer if you came to the after party! Great and fair review, Mack. I hope that we will see more creative ideas at the next one.

  • Amanda

    The whole idea behind Pecha Kucha is to ispire “chat chat” (aka dialogue). Most of the presenters did not stay true to that theme. It’s unfortunate, because that audience was full of young Edmontonians who want to make a difference in their community and talk about how best to do that. This, essentially, was just an advertising platform for the presenters – we should be charging them for their 6:40 if this is the way it’s going to go.

  • Chris

    “(the notable exceptions being Chris and Ken).”
    => Chris Moore, the City’s CIO

    I too, think this is a decent review of the night, Mack.
    As for the theme: I think they announced the theme for PKN7 as being “unreal” ? If this is the case, I can only imagine where this might take us, considering what “secret” did… Dreadful!

  • Lisa

    Pecha Kucha is about ideas (not information or promotion)…any idea that falls under “design”. It is also about networking.

    1) These ideas don’t have to be new. Old ideas presented freshly that prompt reflection are valuable for the generation of new ways of thinking, new strategies, new ideas, and new connections.

    2) The ideas presented at PK also don’t have to be exclusively about Edmonton and, quite frankly, they shouldn’t be. The application of a theme to PK seems limiting and becomes redundant. I even found this at PK 4 about sustainability, which was not at all my favorite PK. I want to be inspired when I go to PKs and be exposed to a diversity of ideas, not just a idea related to sustainability or Edmonton’s best kept secret.

    3) Complex and simple ideas should be welcome. Not everyone is going to be inspired by the same presentations. Unlike others, I found the thought presentation fascinating. I also can’t stop thinking about who we are as canadians and what this means for the potential of our country. And isn’t this the point? To prompt reflection and think big about the kind of change that is possible. To me, these two presentations were about changing the way we see ourselves…this is huge.

    4) Cool spaces are…cool. But the venue must above all be conducive to networking. That’s the whole point of this event. We hear an idea and then we chit chat about it with everyone. Also, energy is key. The vibe just wasn’t right in the church.

    I have no doubt that the next PK will blow us away as others have in the past.

  • Perhaps themes need to be less loosely defined. Like, “Talk about your ideas and theories, not yourself and your organization.” Or am I being too Chinese-mom about it?

  • Walter – I agree, I think PKN7 will be great.

    Lisa – I think being inspired is important, but I do think that can happen around a specific theme.

    Sarah – Either less specific or more specific, I’m not sure which way would have made things better. Edmonton’s best kept secrets could have worked, though the way it was written was a little…out there 🙂

  • Rikia

    I’m a big fan of the new political compass, and I thought Ken Chapman’s presentation was a model for groups that want to be a part– by all means represent your organization, but bring some new ideas to the party.

  • I like the idea of a theme – I think it worked well for “Sustainability” and “Old School”. Maybe Next Gen needs to work more as curators/cultivators for the presentations – meaning: work to gather/solicit a base of presentations and THEN decide what theme to use as a label before an open call for more presenters. Then again, maybe they already do this.
    Also, I think themes for this kind of thing work well if they have multiple interpretations, and are prone to innuendo; “Old School” could have been about ‘going back to basics’ or ‘things that are obsolete but still cool’ or ‘a Jack Black movie’ or ??? Themes also need to be broadly inspirational and extremely adaptable in order to attract presenters and give them confidence that their subject fits.
    “It’s a Secret” either didn’t work for potential presenters as an inspiration, or we just don’t have enough worth talking about in Edmonton – I want to blame the theme.

    Here are a few theme suggestions for the future off the top of my head that have multiple interpretations, and could be inspirational:
    “Community”
    “Building Bridges”
    “Money Talks”
    “Trending”
    “Grading on the Curve”
    “1984”
    “The Heart of the City”
    “Waiting is the hardest part”
    “That’s what she said”

    I’m just thinking out loud, thanks for listening.
    See you at PKN7 🙂

  • That’s what she said! Ahhhh that would be a great theme!

  • Lisa

    I disagree. While I think that specific themes work well for other types of events, i don’t think they do for PK. PK is wonderful because it is so open.

    The theme of PK is design. http://www.pecha-kucha.org/what.

    Anything falls into this category and that’s the beauty of it. The reason why I became a big fan of PK is because it challenged me to expand what I thought “design” meant. The reality is that youth programs are designed, trips to foreign countries are designed, campaigns, buildings, companies, bike paths, culture shifts, cities, social structures…who knew? I was fascinated by the way in which other people saw design, presented their visions, and told stories about the challenges and opportunities around designing whatever it is they were presenting.

    By forcing creatives to take their idea and apply it to a theme like “1984” or “money talks”, you are limiting who will come out to present and could adversely affect the quality of the ideas and the idea sharing experience because presenters have to fit it into a mold. This is especially important to consider in a city the size of Edmonton.

    I have big ideas and have been told I should present them at PK. The problem is that my idea for an “idea gallery”, for instance, did not fit within “sustainability” or “Edmonton’s best kept secret” or “that’s what she said”. It also has nothing to do with old school because I don’t view it as a new way of presenting ideas or an old way. It just is. It’s an idea that I have that I think would enhance the way we deliver and receive ideas. I’d love to explain why, but my explanation probably wouldn’t jive with the next PK theme.

    I’m afraid, like others, I’ll have to wait until the right theme to get my idea out there. Too bad. I’d love some feedback. Even a theme like unreal is limiting. It sets expectations high and intimidates.

    I definitely think that TED like rules (zero or limited selling from the stage) would be helpful too. I’m voting for keeping PK so open that anyone feels (no matter their background) like they can apply to speak and give a talk about their idea in the most powerful, thought provoking, and inspiring way (following PK rules of course).

    Design, design, design. What better theme? This can’t get dull if the calibre of the presentations is high and there is diversity of ideas. The first three events had no themes and were really good. We also didn’t have to hear the presenters say “shhh it’s a secret” a hundred times.

  • Lisa,
    I think you’re right. Even though you started with “I disagree” 😉 In the seven hours since I posted my comments, my thoughts keep coming back to what would make a theme perfect for both inspiring presenters and not excluding good presentations on “unrelated” topics. Maybe no theme at all is the best way to go; even though I impressed myself with my witty list of suggestions 🙂
    “Design” IS inspirational and inclusive.

    …and an “idea gallery” sounds pretty unreal to me – I can’t wait to hear about it at PKN7

  • Lisa

    🙂 Absolutely! Dirk, your themes are impressive. I especially like “Grading on the Curve”. Ha. Perhaps we should start a salon…or apply these themes to the idea gallery! Seriously. Now, my wheels are turning. Thanks for the vote of confidence on the “idea gallery”. Maybe PKN7…

  • Greg

    I’d just like to chime in with some disappointment too. (found this blog while searching for the pk survey)

    The biggest letdown about PKN6 for me was the (almost) total lack of presentations about Art and Design. @Lisa: I get what you’re saying about an open view of design, but at least for now I don’t think PKN should adhere to such a lose definition. When I go to an event that says it’s about Art and Design, I expect the presentations to be about Art and Design (which is still an incredibly broad topic).

    (for the record I was at the first and fourth PK nights, being out of town due to school for the other ones; really loved the first, and had some reservations about the fourth)

    Also, I really agree that they should just get rid of themes; I think they discourage some people from offering to present, and I fail to see how they make the events any better.

    And they really need to avoid having people that are there just for self-promotion reasons; talking about your work in a passive way is fine (and in the context of art and design, it’s fairly easy to do that), but when the entire point of your presentation is getting people involved in your organization it can be a real drag.

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  • Lisa

    Art and Design. Good point, Greg.

  • i agree, the event was so bad i left halfway through. i moved to edmonton from vancouver this past summer and was so excited to see that they were having a pecha kucha night here. i was so disappointed to see the self-serving “commercials” that made up the majority of the presentations. i’m an interior designer and i expected presentations about art and design!

    i approached one of the next gen members who told me that they have opened up the opportunity to present to anyone from the general public because people find art and design too inclusive! the problem is that edmonton is already lacking in cultural events like pecha kucha is supposed to be, to turn it into a self-promotional evening is neither interesting or thought provoking.

    i won’t be going back.

  • Greg

    So Next Gen officially (though not publicly I guess) did open it up to everyone; well I guess that explains why they’d allow it to be so off-topic. 🙁

    You’re absolutely right that Edmonton lacks art/design events, though thankfully there are still some. Given that you’re from out of town, you may not have heard of M.A.D.E. in Edmonton (Media Art and Design Exposed in Edmonton), but they put on art/design events throughout the year. Mostly lectures by artists/designers/architects from other cities, but also things like free art/design film screenings (there’s actually one of those this Wednesday night at Metro Cinema).

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