Stephanie Caress and John Taraborelli of PechaKucha

For the uninitiated, can you explain what PechaKucha is?

John Taraborelli: It’s a fast and fun way to present an idea or share a story. It’s a great way to focus your thoughts around an idea because you know you’re only going to have 20 slides and 20 seconds each, no matter what. It forces you to streamline your thinking. Sometimes having artificial limitations imposed on you is the best way to bring out your creativity.

 
Also, it might be worthwhile for you to know that the term PechaKucha (pronounced puh-CHA-kuh-CHA, to the best of our knowledge) is a Japanese word that literally translates as “the sound of conversation.” It’s basically the Japanese analogue to the English word “chit-chat.” 
 
You’re coming up on a big milestone. How does it feel to approach the 100th PechaKucha Night in Providence?
SC: In a way, I think John and I are both surprised we’ve lasted this long. PechaKucha has seen a turn of hosts three times, and we’ve definitely lasted the longest. I was hoping to have made it to 100, so I’m glad we’re still around! Although, this confirms that we’re old. We’re pretty excited to partner with the Steel Yard for the 100th; it’s a good match for a historical theme.

JT: The Providence chapter really stands out and the people who run the global PechaKucha organization in Tokyo recognize that. Every once in a while when we hit a milestone, the founders, Astrid Klein and Mark Dytham, will send us a funny video congratulating us. They’re always adamant that we not share it on social media because they don’t want 999 other cities to start asking, “Hey, where’s our video?”

 
What are the dos and don’ts of a good presentation?
SC: Don’t sweat it. 95% of the time, people are here because they want to be here, not because they were forced to. Maybe they were forced to… PK_b
But stressing out about how “good it’s going to be” is the first mistake. There are no grades given, so just go up and have fun. If you’re having fun, the audience will have fun with you. Also we find that trying to read off notes is more harmful than helpful.
JT: The audience can tell when a presenter is not enjoying him or herself, and it gets awkward for all parties involved. This isn’t TED Talks. You don’t need to have saved the world or come up with a “game-changing” idea to present. Just stick to what you know and enjoy talking about and you’ll be fine. Everybody has something they can talk about for six minutes and 40 seconds.
The biggest don’t is to not make it a business pitch. That’s really our only rule. Of course, plenty of people talk about their work or careers, but it’s all in the way you present it. A good presentation is, Here’s what I do and here’s my personal story of why I do it. A bad presentation is, Here’s what I do and please visit my website/support my nonprofit/come to my fundraiser. 
Tell me about some particularly memorable presentations or presenters.
SC: I’m a fan of rhyme schemes. We’ve had a few that have been rhymed and timed out perfectly with the slides. It’s always impressive. I don’t have that kind of patience to practice, let alone rhyming ability. Melinda Rainsberger draws all of her slides, which is always enjoyable – mostly because she sometimes works me into them, and I’m vain.

JT: My all-time favorite was in November 2014. It was right after the mayoral election in Providence, which had been a total circus. I worked on Mayor Elorza’s campaign, but quit after we won the primary because I just hated the 24/7 nature of working in politics. So I had this idea to do a post-campaign debrief – partly because I knew it would be interesting, but also because I figured it would be cathartic for a lot of people involved. We had a couple of my coworkers from the Elorza campaign present. Dan McGowan, who had been the reporter covering the campaign, presented. PK_fAnd the showstopper was Dan Harrop, the eccentric Republican candidate who had shocked everyone by endorsing Elorza just days before the election. Throughout the entire campaign he seemed to be the candidate who was always having the most fun. His presentation did not disappoint. He had the crowd roaring with laughter – and that night was the first time he admitted that he had communicated about his endorsement behind the scenes with Brett Smiley. One of his slides was actually screenshots of emails they had exchanged.

SC: I love the informality of it. I used to act and I don’t get to do that often anymore, so when I present it gives me a chance to do something fun. I’ve never presented a serious PechaKucha – informative, maybe, but not serious. I usually have a shtick; that’s my form of self-expression. Other presenters have much more interesting things to say, but it’s all a form of self-expression that presents itself in such a non-judgmental and informal setting that begets courage from even the shyest (for 6 minutes and 40 seconds).

JT: I realize I’m biased, but I really believe it’s one of the best ways to connect with fun and interesting people in Providence. I recommend it all the time to college students who are looking to network with the young professional crowd, but without the awkwardness of forced networking events. We also get people all the time who tell us that they’re new in town and either someone they know suggested it as a good way to get to know Providence or they come from other cities that have PechaKucha chapters and know it’s a good way to get acquainted. Every month at the beginning of the event I ask people to raise their hands if they’ve never been to a PechaKucha Night before – and every month, almost without fail, roughly half the hands in the room go up. It’s great to have that mix of loyal regulars and newcomers every month; it’s not something you find at most events.

 
What’s the next big milestone you’re going to aim for? 
SC: That’s a funny question because our next milestone is debuting new hosts. We’ve said we wanted to make the centennial, but PechaKucha really needs a new face(s) and new enthusiasm. We’re getting old and curmudgeony. It’s getting harder to get up in the morning, new bones crack… We’re not sure how much longer we can last…

JT: I agree with Stephanie 100%. We’ve had a great run and we’ve loved doing this – but we’re ready to move on and I think some new ideas and energize would really be great for Providence. PK_e

 
Is there something you’ve never seen happen at a PechaKucha night but always hope for?
SC: A new host. But seriously, more cats.

JT: Maybe a marriage proposal. I thought we were going to get one last summer, but it turned out it was actually a presentation inspired by a breakup. 

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