PechaKucha presenters have just over six and half minutes to tell the story of their passion projects on stage before an audience | Credit: Photos by Bonny Wolfe/Frank Productions

How much of your passion could you convey in 400 seconds?

Could you be concise and expansive at the same time? Could you deliver the goods with vigor and panache?

If so, the Sept. 12 version of PechaKucha in Charleston might be just the ticket.

The Japanese word “PechaKucha” translates loosely as “chit-chat,” but those who engage in these worldwide presentations which adopt the word as its name can be far more challenging, and substantial.

For presenters and audiences, PechaKucha means relating and absorbing a considerable amount of information in a very short time. Which doesn’t mean it has to be superficial.
Call it show-and-tell for the Electronic Age. With a dash of pizzazz.

PechaKucha was born on Feb. 20, 2003, in Tokyo, the brainchild of architects Astrid Klein and Mark Dytham, who felt some of their colleagues were much too long-winded. It has developed into an international happening now celebrating its 20th anniversary. PechaKucha nights are held in more than 1,000 cities, with as many as 100 events occurring each month.

The 43rd rendition of PechaKucha in Charleston will be held at 8 p.m. Sept. 12 at the Charleston Music Hall. Organizers offer eight presenters who share their professions and preoccupations on stage. They get 20 seconds each for 20 slides and provide revealing commentary for each.

There’s no dawdling — slides auto-forward after each 20 ticks elapse — but with the potential of presentations being just as visually arresting, engaging and useful as they are succinct.

“PechaKucha is a fun, inspiring, and powerful community event,” said former participant Polly Buxton, owner of Buxton Books. “I didn’t fully grasp its importance until I had the honor of participating as a presenter and sharing the stage with such trailblazing members of our community.

“At Buxton Books, we hope to help curate the community through connection and meaningful conversation. The presenters and audience gathered at PechaKucha are doing just that! I can’t wait to see what’s in store for the next chapter of PK, and we’re so thrilled to be a new sponsor.”

Presenters are not professional speakers on tour. Anyone with something to say or showcase may apply to be accepted. To date, some 320 “creatives” have graced the Music Hall stage.

PechaKucha 43’s presenters

Among the participants who will try to beat the clock on Sept. 12 are:

  • Sarah Moriarty, executive director of the Charleston Literary Festival;
  • Tiffany Silverman, director of Fine Arts at The Citadel;
  • Artist Taylor Faulkner;
  • Marcus Hammond, founder Black Food Truck Festival;
  • Vikki Matsis, founder of Ohm Radio;
  • Photographer Alice Keeney;
  • Sean Mendes, owner of Gillie’s Seafood, and
  • Andy Brack, editor and publisher of the Charleston City Paper.

The emcee will be Charleston violist and jazz vocalist Alva Anderson. Taylor Faulkner designed a poster and ancillary designs while Professor Ping (aka Josh Silverman) again will be the house DJ.

PechaKucha audiences can vary around the world from 50 to 5,000 people, according to the national office. About 800 are expected at Charleston Music Hall.

Through the years

The Charleston series traces its history to Terry Fox, founder of the Charleston Arts Festival, and currently is a joint production between the Festival and the Music Hall, directed by Charles Carmody.

Terry Fox and Charles Carmody | Photo by Bonny Wolfe/Frank Productions

“Participation is completely open within the broad parameters of what constitutes a ‘creative,’ ” Fox said. “Vetting is always key to assure both diversity of thought and inclusivity.”

Fox says Charleston’s PechaKucha has returned to its pre-pandemic schedule of quarterly events. Planning is already in the works for PechaKucha 44, Charleston’s 15th anniversary edition, which is slated for Nov. 29.

In addition to its growth and significance, Fox said what strikes him most is the enthusiasm it engenders between presenters.

“[It’s] the sense of camaraderie established within presenter groups in their zeal to share with attendees their personal stories regarding what drives them creatively.” 

PechaKucha’s reach is truly global, with the number of cities involved approaching 1,300. Within a month of the Charleston event last January, “PKs” were held in Germany, the United Kingdom, Taiwan, Canada and Turkey, as well as in Providence, R.I., Santa Fe, N.M. and Bozeman, Mont.

While local activities are focused exclusively on the quarterly PechaKucha Nights, in other locales PK events are sometimes held in schools and businesses.

Fox said that Charleston’s PKs benefit enormously from local support drawn from varied community resources. The partnership with Carmody and the Music Hall, one of the city’s most appealing venues, has been instrumental.

“Although Charles was not one of the original organizers, his involvement has been invaluable since he became a presenter in 2013,” says Fox, who produced PechaKucha No. 1 here on Nov. 12, 2008, less than five years after the Tokyo launch.

While some of their professional titles or job descriptions have changed over the years, among the fellow start-up organizers who worked with Fox on PechaKucha were Steve Warner, vice president of the Charleston Regional Development Alliance; Robert Prioleau, founding partner of Blue Ion; Patrick Bryant of Go To Team; Lee Deas and Jenny Ferrara of Obviouslee Marketing; Chris Starr of the College of Charleston; and Gary Collins, of SeamonWhiteside.

“An additional very important participant, although not an early organizer, has been Josh Silverman, who has served as our house DJ for 95% of our events since the beginning.”

Tickets are $12 and available online. More: PechaKucha 43.

Bill Thompson is a veteran culture writer who lives in Charleston County.

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