King Content

The conceit for Pecha Kucha is this: You only get 20 slides, and each slide auto-advances after 20 seconds.

Late last week, I attended an evening presentation event at an art space and performance venue in Brooklyn, New York. (The name of the event will be kept anonymous, in order to protect the innocent from the diatribe that follows.)

The format for this ongoing series of “talks,” in disciplines including technology, business, and the arts, was very similar to something called “Pecha Kucha” (pronounced “pe-chak-cha”), a quick-draw presentation format created by a pair of architects in Tokyo in 2003.

The conceit for Pecha Kucha is this: You only get 20 slides, and each slide auto-advances after 20 seconds. That’s a total of 400 seconds, or six and two-thirds minutes for each presentation. The Brooklyn event was roughly the same, although each slide was only given 15 seconds on the screen.

Twelve presentations, five minutes each, on a host of topics, from socially responsible iPhone apps to orchestral transcriptions of rock and pop songs. Sounds like a can’t-miss, edutaining (that’s educational + entertaining, for those who were wondering) event, does it not?

Unfortunately, it was not.

The problem wasn’t the format, which was clever and hip and managed to draw a capacity crowd of attendees, each of whom shelled out $10 to be there and were clearly excited for the evening.

Rather, the problem was the content, which variously seemed schizophrenically slapdash, criminally undercooked, blatantly self-promotional, and, well — just boring.

Surprisingly, not many in the audience chose to bail on the proceedings — but perhaps this is more a result of the principle by which very few people ever walk out of movies. “Sure, it’s bad,” you think, “but I’ve already invested so much time in it!”

It was easy to discern, however, that the crowd’s enthusiasm, which at the beginning of the evening had been high and festive, wavered and sputtered. They didn’t leave, but I’d wager dollars to donuts that they’ll think twice before coming back.

So what does all this tell us, in the age of social media, Web 3.0, advanced production design, and cutting-edge presentation formats?

It tells us that content — not format — is and will remain king. No matter how hip or cutting-edge an event’s packaging might be, if the speakers you feature are duds, your audience won’t be coming back.

Your attendees are adults, with (hopefully) an adult’s ability to discern what is smoke and mirrors and what is the real educational deal — so be sure your format and your speakers are thoroughly vetted, well-versed in their chosen topic, and prepared and practiced.

In short, make sure that they are worthy of your attendees’ valuable time.

Hunter R. Slaton

Contributing Editor Hunter R. Slaton is a writer and editor based in Brooklyn.