Photos by Neil Zeller, Kelly Hofer & Ben Laird
"[I love] the tight structure of the "Cracker Jack" presentations. And each one is a surprise in the box."
- PechaKucha #30 Audience Member
PechaKucha Night Calgary
Production, Design, Management
Production, Event Management & Marketing
PechaKucha Nights are a global speaker series that was started in Tokyo in 2003 by the Klein Dytham Architecture firm. The premise: architects talk too much, so let’s give them a very tight format. They defined it by saying that each presenter would prepare only 20 slides and each of those 20 slides would auto-advance every 20 seconds. This gives each speaker a grand total of 400 seconds, or, 6 minutes and 40 seconds, to speak their piece and share their viewpoint. It was a huge success. The format set the stage for an energetic transmission of ideas that led to lots of fired up conversations by the audience…that may also be lubricated by the mandatory Beer Break. The premise took off, was soon branded “PechaKucha” (which loosely translates from Japanese as “chit chat”) and became a licensed worldwide event.
PechaKucha now takes place in more than 950 cities worldwide. Every city hosts at least 4 PKNs (PechaKucha Nights) each year and most of those have multiple speakers. You can scroll through presentations on the international site; there are many incredible ones.
Calgary has always taken a particular approach. We were first granted the licence back in 2009 when the Calgary Arts Development Authority (CADA) was at the production helm. They set the stage for our YYC flair. Every event they would invite 10 speakers from as diverse a series of backgrounds as possible. Each show there would be politicians alongside geologists and poets with engineers. As a result, our audiences were much the same: wide swaths of Calgarians gathered together in a theatre discussing ideas over some cold brews during the Beer Break. But what was more, Calgary (somewhat uniquely) defined a central theme each time. Mostly, these have been one-word themes fully open to interpretation by the speakers. We guide the speakers regarding the format but their content is their own to create. Now in our 9th season, over 300 speakers have been at the PKNYYC podium across 31 events. We’ve had a doctor talk about the neurology of fear, a parkour gym owner propose to his (now) wife, a transgendered technical director share her harrowing realizations and abuses, a physicist lovingly explain his team’s experiments in quantum computing, and, above, a magician talk about an international scandal.
Calgary PechaKuchas So Far
PKN Speakers in Calgary So Far
Cities Worldwide Hosting PKNs
Speaking for 400 Seconds
I spoke at “Love.” That was PKNYYC #7 on Valentine’s Day 2011. I was newly repatriated to Calgary after university and travel in other parts of Canada and the world. Donovan (RocketHouse’s Head of Production) had heard about PechaKucha as one of his comedy colleagues was speaking so he took me to #6. It was amazing. I was completely awestruck by the cavalcade of ideas that effused from the 10 speakers on stage. This event was a turning point for me. Calgary has long had a rep as an oil town with underdeveloped culture — that was expressly not the case when I saw PKN. It was awesome.
Next, I heard they were crowdsourcing for speaker nominations. I jumped on it. To attract votes I told anyone in the social media sphere who would listen that if I got their vote they could also submit one word to me that I would incorporate into a story which I would add to and post each day through the voting timeframe. Wanna read it? It’s all about teddy bears, nuclear countdowns, magic and much more. “Adorable Armaggedon,” and my friends, earned me a spot. I worked my ass off prepping that speech. And so does everyone. Zoë (RH’s co-founder) did when she spoke at PKN 19: “Skin.” It was an honour when each of us was asked after our speeches to join the PechaKucha Calgary Committee.
"It is easiest to pronounce 'PechaKucha' if you imagine you are a pterodactyl. I.e. peCHA^ KoooCHA^...the inflections are easiest to hit if you move your arms like you are flapping your dinosaur wings."
- Steve Nagy, CEO of RocketHouse & former PKNYYC Committee Member
PechaKucha incorporates some unique production challenges. To honour the architectural underpinnings, we host it at a new venue each time. The audiences are pretty large, too, north of 400 per show and that definitely narrows in the number of venues available to us in Calgary but it has led to extra creativity with found spaces and unusual settings. The benefit is we know each time what the show needs to look like: a screen, a projector, a microphone, some seats and beer. The finesse comes from doing the most within those parameters (just like the speeches).
For the first 19, Calgary Arts Development was at the reigns and we on the PKN Committee curated speakers, venues and themes. Following some structural changes at CADA, they lovingly passed it onto the committee in full. As a volunteer group, we collectively put in the hundreds of hours each show needed for production and speaker preparations. But then, as PKNYYC gained momentum into 2017, the committee approached RocketHouse to be its production partner. YES. That was the only answer. Zoe & I, at RocketHouse, have been part of the fabric of PKN for years and admire what it is among the tapestry of Calgary as a cultural hub. It was a perfect fit for RocketHouse as sponsors.
So, we launched Season 9. The committee is still in full form and growing; they sift through nominations and select the speakers, curate the line-ups and build the community of PKN in Calgary but with RocketHouse as the production seat, we have been able to devote extra energy to codifying the production system. This has been the first time ever, in the history of PKNYYC, that we’ve been able to announce a full four-show season. We’re now 2 shows in and looking forward to PKNs 32 & 33 in 2018.
While the committee reaches out to as many veins of Calgary’s economic, arts and culture scenes as possible to find combinations of well-known and fully unlikely speakers to fill the bill, we have been working behind-the-curtain building new intake websites, ticketing systems, marketing campaigns and cutting the presentations loose from reliance on the dreaded PowerPoint. The show is now run from a gem that we love to produce with, Figure 53’s QLab. (Check out Donovan’s “Secret Weapon” Article about it; if you are in production and aren’t using it already, it will blow your mind.)
We’ve now produced 2 shows, been involved in 25, spoken at 1 each, and have 2 more to come this season. What a wild ride of incredible Calgarians sharing inspiring ideas.