The name does not say it all.

You see signs around town announcing “PechaKucha Night” and you think maybe it’s an event where you learn to make Polish pastries. Or learn Lithuanian folk dancing.

Although it looks vaguely Eastern European, the phrase “pecha kucha” is Japanese and means, loosely, chitchat. More specifically, members of a Japanese architecture firm used the term beginning in 2003 as a label for a series of rapid-fire idea-sharing sessions.

Since then, the idea of PechaKucha Nights have spread around the world, and are usually open to all sorts of creative types, from architects and designers to painters or builders — anyone who has ideas to share.

In Portland, PechaKucha Nights are held four times a year, following the specific parameters set out when the events started in 2003: Each presenter gets to show 20 slides and talk about each slide for 20 seconds.

“I don’t know if they started it that way because they knew architects are loquacious, but it works well,” said Leah Whalen, a Portland writer and editor who is on the board of PechaKucha Portland. “It’s basically a chance to talk about your work, your ideas.”

And a chance to listen and learn. Tonight’s PechaKucha Night at Space Gallery will feature 11 presentations on a myriad of topics ranging from landscape architecture and Maine clay to mushroom appreciation and the healing power of lullabies.

So from an audience standpoint, it’s pretty informative. And entertaining to see how much people can cram into 20-second time slots.

“I’ve come away from every one of these feeling like I just fed my brain,” said Whalen. “There are so many people doing so many interesting things. You might come away thinking, ‘Boy, I’d really like to take a course in mushrooming.’ “

The beauty of a PechaKucha Night is that it’s live, local and limited. Certainly, we can all go online and research any topic we want. But we can’t see the joy in somebody’s face as they tell us about the topic. On the Internet, you might not find a real person, who lives nearby, to tell you about the topic. And on the Internet, you can get lost in dead-end searches for hours and just keep going.

But at a PechaKucha night, time runs out. The variety of topics does not.

Other presentations scheduled for tonight include ones on henna art done on the bellies of pregnant woman, and on the redesigning of municipal landscapes. Presentations at past PK Portland events have been on quilt making, “compassionate signage” and 3D modeling.

PechaKucha nights happen all around Maine, including Bangor, Brunswick, Kennebunk, Lewiston and Waterville. To keep up with PK schedules from around the state, go to pechakuchamaine.org.

Or you can think about doing your own presentation at a PechaKucha night about some idea you have, or something you’re interested in, or something you’re working on.

It doesn’t matter what it is. Just make it interesting.

And above all, make it brief.

 


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