Photos by Dane Haman
Jon Mueller, co-manager of Pecha Kucha in Milwaukee.
pecha kucha (n)
1. the art of conversation;
2. noisy chatter;
3. coming August 26 to Milwaukee.
Imagine if before facing the auditorium on your big presentation day, you could – without inhibition or shutting your office door – swig from that desk-drawer bourbon flask? Exchange auditorium for watering hole, bourbon swig for beer break and big presentation for a brief one, and what’s left is even better: Pecha Kucha Night (PKN), an idea devised by two Tokyo-based European architects in 2003 that gives the projector + presenter + audience equation a novel twist. Though liquid courage is encouraged, PKN is not about the booze; it’s an opportunity to meet, show ideas to the public, and network — with rules. In other words, “productive socializing,” says Jon Mueller, who teams up with 800-CEO-READ (8cr) colleague Kate Mytty to manage Milwaukee’s only official Pecha Kucha franchise.
A bulk bookseller 25 years in the business and division of local independent shop Harry W. Schwartz, 8cr “works directly with business authors to help them customize books, organize events, and write about the current and best ideas in business thought.” Clearly much more than merchant, they also print reviews and essays in their quarterly magazine and feature manifestos for change from diverse, yet optimistic, perspectives on their culturally conscious ChangeThis website.
“8cr follows business thought and how it changes people’s lives, and Pecha Kucha follows people’s ideas in action,” says Mueller. “There is really a fine line between the two.” Logically, 8cr and PKN aligned, and Milwaukee is now among a worldwide network of 129 (and growing) participating cities. “The amount of work that’s involved would turn many people away from organizing it,” says Mueller, “but we think it’s an important thing to do and we have a lot of fun with it.”
Trademarked and copyrighted by inventive founding architectural firm Klein Dytham, the Pecha Kucha format requires that all slideshows displayed are a standard “20×20” — 20 slides, programmed to automatically advance after 20 seconds on screen — a style that keeps both the speaker and the audience alert and captivated. Synchronizing flow to a fixed timetable is a challenge that is comfortably limiting. “The simplicity is what makes it really effective,” says Mueller.
Do the math and that’s 6 minutes and 40 seconds a pop in PowerPoint heaven. But this brevity “can still become an eternity in the wrong hands,” explains Mueller. “Someone basically giving a six-minute commercial, using nothing but charts and graphs, or other typical business type mumblings, doesn’t do much good in any setting,” Brady Street’s stylish Hi Hat Garage included.
“I immediately thought the Garage would be perfect,” says Mueller of the space where PKN #1 was held in June of this year. The space offers A/V equipment, a capacity for 160, and an ambiance that most hotel conference rooms lack. The bar’s owner, Scott Johnson, whom Mueller has known personally for many years, was keen on the Pecha Kucha concept and was “excited to get involved.”
To raise awareness for the not-for-profit organization and establish a forum that unites innovative Milwaukee minds are two humble goals Mueller and 8cr are aiming to achieve. At PKN #2, attendees can expect “to hear new things, to meet new people, and to learn about some surprising things going on in our community.” Though he remains hesitant to reveal the specifics, he does share a taste of the upcoming event’s provocative scheduled topics: “how an obscure children’s cartoon can benefit us today; the effect of bad music; the adventures of first time boating; the idea of home, and others.”
If the list sounds random, it is. There is no presenter selection process and anyone can register online with confidence. “I’m keeping it open as possible. I don’t really want to turn people away,” says Mueller. “If someone is passionate about something, there are usually great reasons why, reasons that other people can be inspired by.” The ten inspirers scheduled for PKN #2 include Broadminded sketch comic Megan McGee, MIAD Director of Institutional Galleries Mark Lawson and Ministry Health Care CIO Will Weider.
Ask Mueller what has changed between Milwaukee PKN’s maiden voyage and their second go, and you might receive an evasive reply. “We’ve got a couple ideas in mind,” he says. “We want to change what we can while still keeping in line with the Pecha Kucha regulations.”
If its sold-out precedent is any indication, what you can predict are head scratches and smiles. Anticipate doing both in the company of fast, well-connected new friends. VS
Pecha Kucha Volume #2 will be hosted by Hi Hat Garage on Tuesday, August 26 at 8 pm. Tickets are $10 in advance and $12 at the door. Visit pecha-kucha.org/cities/milwaukee for related links and more information.