Monday, August 15, 2016

Pecha Kucha 20x20 and the Laomagination

One aftermath of the 3rd National Lao American Writers Summit has been the continuing question of how do we present our work in an intriguing and engaging manner? This is particularly important in light of the varied interests of those who are typically in attendance in any given year. And to be frank, almost all of us are easily bored, distracted and underwhelmed when we have to present in typical panel structures of sixty or ninety minute blocks.

We've seen efforts to use the Open Space technology model. Others preferred more structure, meaning, purpose and various goals, objectives and outcomes as part of their process. We've had conversations of adapting the presentation techniques of the TED talks given in 18 minutes or less. But is that appropriate for artists, who tend to talk at great lengths about their work and themselves if you give them the floor?

One of the interesting ideas that's come to my attention this season is the idea of the Pecha Kucha, which came about in 2003. Pecha Kucha comes from a Japanese term for "chit chat."

The premise is simple enough, but anyone from 5 years old to 100+ can do it: Each evening the speakers are given six minutes and 40 seconds to present 20 slides for 20 seconds each, or 400 seconds in total.

In an hour, you could theoretically see nine people presenting, assuming everyone's totally on point. I would think it's more relaxing to anticipate six people in an hour, with about 3 minutes between presentations for the audience to breathe and consider what they've just seen.

For most evenings, that could result in around 12 people presenting from 7 to 9 pm. You could rush things through and cram in 18 people. But I think that would do a disservice to the speakers and be far too overwhelming for most audiences.

I'm intrigued by the concept because I can see it almost becoming an art form in itself, like a haiku or more closely to the haiga, a form of poetry that also includes images, such as paintings or photography.

Done well, the conversation, the presentation could be as engaging as a poem or a story. But at the same time, it's also the democratic, egalitarian nature of the Pecha Kucha that should be attractive to us: That everyone should feel comfortable, welcomed and confident enough to bring together 20 images from a recent trip, or from their personal collections, or whatever, sharing it with our community. As we see so many Lao with an interest in photography and storytelling, this really seems like this would be a good, liberating fit.

A good evening of Pecha Kucha tends to "uncover the unexpected" in terms of talent and ideas that allow everyone from professionals to students and elders to see the world from a new angle.

As I ponder what's next for us, I think of the goals of a traditional haiku. In a haiku we see a brief moment in time brought into deep, vibrant focus. A haiku can traditionally be read aloud in a single breath; and when spoken, might well spark a moment of inspiration and enlightenment. That may be a bit grandiose to aspire to at this stage of inquiry, but I don't think we need to rule it out as a possibility one day.

Bear in mind that the Pecha Kucha is a trademarked concept because many people have worked together around the world over the last 13 years to make this possible. The Lao community in diaspora needs something similar, though, even if it doesn't ultimately adhere strictly to this specific format or term. We have to find something that works for us. Sooner, rather than later.

Meanwhile, if you spot a Pecha Kucha Night in your community, I strongly encourage you to check it out and see if there's something you can learn from it, and in due time, something you participate in.

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