Vocabulary for the week: pecha kucha (pronounced peh-CHAK-cha): a presentation format in which work can be easily and informally shown in a short period of time, with the creative use of PowerPoint slides. The format brings people together in “meatspace.”

Meatspace: refers to real life or the physical world, as opposed to cyberspace or virtual reality.

If you haven’t heard these terms before, don’t worry, even your high school and college age kids may not yet have heard about pecha kucha, or more specifically, a pecha kucha night. The Japanese phrase can be translated as “the sound of conversation,” and the pecha kucha format was invented in 2003 by two Tokyo architects, Astrid Klein and Mark Dytham, as a way for young designers to meet, network, and show their work in public.

Pecha kucha events are designed to bring people and their ideas out of cyberspace and into meatspace where they could interact with each other. The evenings have since spread across the world, and have become popular in places as far away as Berlin and Bogota.

Pecha kucha evenings have been described as a combination of a “business meeting and poetry slam,” and “a transformation of the corporate cliche‚” of PowerPoint into performance art. Admirers include entrepreneur and author Seth Godin, who praises the format on his blog.

The concept makes its first appearance in Princeton on Tuesday, June 3, at 7 p.m. at the Princeton Library. Cost: free. The presenters from the library’s Tech Team will discuss a variety of computer technology topics using the “20×20” pecha kucha format. Presenters include Janie Hermann, who will showcase social networking online; Nicole Engard, on open source software; Romina Gutierrez, on specialized search engines; Robert Keith, on gaming; John LeMasney, on sharing online, and Julie Strange, on virtual reference. The evening will conclude with a rebuttal by official skeptic, Pete Bromberg.

Hermann, who is organizing the library event, is a self-proclaimed “geek librarian” and proud of it. She defines the term as a librarian who specializes in technology. Hermann, a native of Kingston, Ontario, Canada, originally planned a career in education. She received her bachelor’s degree in education from Queen’s University in the early 1990s and taught school for five years before going back to Queen’s for her master’s.

“I thought of the master’s degree as a way to further my teaching career, but it took me in a different direction,” she says. She took a sabbatical to learn more about the world of libraries and got a job at Hobart and William Smith Colleges in Geneva, New York. NAFTA allows librarians can work on either side of the border.

She came to the Princeton library intending to stay only a few years, but 10 years later she is still here and still loves working in a library. “There is not a single idea I’ve ever brought forward that wasn’t supported here. They have always allowed me personal growth and never stifled me,” she says.

Hermann was recently appointed director of programming. “It’s the first time since working in a library that I haven’t had the word ‘technology’ attached to my title,” she adds. But she isn’t totally turning her back on the technology department. She is still active in coordinating the library’s monthly Tech Talks.

The pecha kucha format, though originally developed by architects, easily lends itself to artistic subjects, says Hermann. She also feels it will work well with her favorite topic, Internet technology. Besides, her “guinea pig presenters” who volunteered to help her in the program all had expertise in that area.

“It will just be more of a challenge to make the presentations as artistic and as interesting as possible,” she says. So exactly how does one prepare for a pecha kucha presentation?

Format. The pecha kucha format is deceptively simple. Twenty slides are displayed for 20 seconds each, for a total of six minutes and 40 seconds. “Say what you need to say and then sit down,” is the pecha kucha motto. There’s no going over the time limit. At the end of your time period you sit down, whether you are finished or not.

Timing. Obviously in a presentation this short timing is everything. “You must rehearse,” says Hermann. The speaker must time his talk to coincide exactly with the slides, or the presentation will not make sense. The slides are set to automatically advance, so the speaker is forced to keep up.

“You are taking your talk down to the barest essential core, a sound bite almost,” says Hermann. “Every word must be essential. By the end of our pecha kucha the listeners will have heard six sound bites on the latest in computer technology.”

Images. The images are all important in pecha kucha. Forget everything you have every learned about how to make a PowerPoint presentation. This format does not lend itself to the typical four bullet point slide that has become the cliche‚ of the corporate speech. Instead, think art. For Herman’s talk about online social networking she plans to intersperse some practical screen shots of sites such as LinkedIn.com with “really interesting and unique photos” related to the topic. Finding appropriate images may seem difficult, but as a librarian, Hermann has a list of websites that offer royalty-free photos. She particularly recommends www.flickr.com for interesting and artistic images.

Her final word of advice on presenting a pecha kucha is to approach it differently from the typical business presentation. “The challenge of the pecha kucha is to make your presentation as artistic as possible, no matter the topic.”

— Karen Hodges Miller

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