Whenever I hear the words ‘powerpoint presentation’, I reach for the tiny capsule of potassium cyanide lodged behind my right upper molar. Over the last few months in which I have been napalmed with meetings, meetings about meetings and post-meeting discussions, I have lovingly brushed that capsule with my tongue quite a few times. On one occasion, when a particularly offensive pie chart was made to hover on the screen in front of me, I almost decided to end it all by crushing the capsule between my teeth. The thought of finishing Emile Durkheim’s Suicide at home stopped me from doing anything rash.
So when I heard that I was invited to make a powerpoint presentation in a fancy Delhi restaurant in front of a crowd of bona-fide aesthetes, my two hands reached for panic station. Would I now be delivering the same kind of slideshowed death that has made me age five years in the last two months? Would I, mid-slide, mid-narration, keel over and upset the neat logic of one connected image following another? (Which, to be honest, is something I frequently wish upon the powerpoint presenters I encounter. Sorry.) The organisers of the event from the British Council immediately went into a pre-damage control-cheerleading mode. This was not going to be your regular PPT where figures hovered and hearts sunk, they gently told me. This was going to be a Pecha Kucha Night.
Now, I’m a married man. So quite understandably I balked. The Inca site of Machu Pichhu I’ve heard of. Businessworld editor Jehangir Pocha I respect. But Pecha Kucha? It sounded ominously like a sub-genre of Japanese art-porno. “Tut, tut. It is cutting edge but it’s safe,” were the comforting words I got. Yes, a Pecha Kucha Night does involve a laptop. Yes, it does involve speaking to a bunch of listeners. But it was not going to be one of those powerpoint displays.
So in between more migraine-inviting meetings at work, I went about finding out what this Pecha Kucha was. It turns out that in 2003, two designers based in Japan, Astrid Klein and Mark Dytham, came up with the idea of a slideshow format that involved the presenter showing 20 slides of 20 seconds duration each. Thus, it was a ‘creative’ pitch of an idea or a thing that was conducted all within 6 minutes 40 seconds. It was sort of a Twenty20 of powerpoints. Klein and Dytham’s concept was basically geared to get young designers to showcase their works to their peers through an informal, concise, non-boredom-inducing manner. It was powerpoint minus the clichés. The idea caught fire and Pecha Kucha (‘chit-chat’ in Japanese) became the rage across cities among the arty types as well as among the academics and — sigh — business people.
My Pecha Kucha presentation involved me talking through 20 images and telling an audience that knows its Klimt from its Bling something about the ‘Aesthetics of the Editorial’. (I heard that guffaw, you reader!) I can’t tell you whether the listeners were laughing with me, laughing at me, or laughing in me. But it was fun in a serious way — and serious in a fun way — to connect Groucho Marx, an HT editorial, Emile Zola’s front page anti-anti-semitic tirade, ‘J’Accuse!’ , an Amar Chitra Katha frame, a Nazi Nuremberg rally, crowds at a Kumbh, The Exorcist, an Escher picture of two hands drawing each other, Martin Luther, a flying pig, Wittgenstein (that enemy of all editorial writers whose advice to shut up if we have nothing to say can be so crippling).... You get the picture.
The most impressive Pecha Kucha presenters that night were virologist Dr Shahid Jameel, who took us through ‘Aesthetics and the Virus’ (an electron microscoped ‘up close and personal’ showcase of the beauty of diseased cells), and architect Stephane Paumier, who talked through some stunning works he’s working on.
Someone told me after the show, “Yours was the best bull-shit I’ve ever heard.” I thanked him. What I didn’t tell him was that a man cowering from an unending line of meetings and powerpoint presentations at the workplace has only two choices before him: take up Pecha Kucha full time; or die.
6 months ago