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!