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PechaKucha Orlando – My Experience

I blacked out.

It wasn’t a full keel over. I didn’t require mouth-to-mouth. No calls for a doctor in the house.

I shook Eddie Selover’s hand, adjusted the microphone, and for the next six minutes and forty seconds, I gave what I am told was a very entertaining presentation on Bad Business Ideas.

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Apparently.

As I mentioned, I blacked out.

Let’s take it back a step.

I met Ashley Renee Bland the day she appeared on To a Certain Degree on July 30, 2018. It was a great interview, and I was conscious for the entire show. Her social media person had DMed me about booking Ashley, and I had no idea what to expect from the founder and owner of the Sweet Utopian Mylk Bar.

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Ashley is, as I found out, on the outspoken side of things. She probably wouldn’t have reached out on her own to solicit an interview, but live radio was not an intimidating experience for someone with her chops. She is smart, talented, has a background in spoken word, is not afraid to pivot in conversations or careers, and has a work ethic I admire.

Obviously, I have a professional crush on her. A crush on her from a professional point of view, not a crush that is professional. None of my crushes are very professional. The crushes I have, not the people on whom I have crushes.

As with many guests, we got to chatting about our hopes and dreams after the show was over. Like me, she is interested in professional speaking engagements. Ashley wants to challenge herself, and she feels like she has a story or two to offer that may help others.

I suggested some additional opportunities, and it struck me that PechaKucha would be a perfect vehicle for her.

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If you’re not familiar with PechaKucha, here’s the short version. The shorter version is it’s held three times a year in Orlando, each event has seven to ten speakers, each speaker has 20 slides and 20 seconds per slide to tell a story.

Even if you are a seasoned public speaker, this is a very different way to present. The format, which allows for little to no improvisation, always wins.

Having said that, the audiences in Orlando are very supportive, your fellow speakers are inspiring, and organizer Eddie Selover is a fantastic coach.

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Eddie runs the local chapter of PechaKucha and has curated, organized, booked, marketed, and most every other verb related to the event for the last nine years.

To sum up his story, he saw one in Tampa, asked “Why doesn’t Orlando have something similar?,” answered “Oh crap, because I have to start it,” and the rest is history.

I reached out to nominate Ashley for a speaking role in a future event.

I really wanted to nominate myself as well, which led to an internal conflict between my FOMO and my crippling anxiety of talking about how great I am. Taking credit, as well as accepting compliments and gratitude, is not in my wheelhouse.

Things in my wheelhouse:

  • Criticising myself for actions I have taken
  • Criticising myself for actions I am in the process of taking
  • Criticising myself for actions I may someday take
  • Accepting criticism

FOMO won, and I told Eddie that I wanted to do a presentation on Bad Business Ideas without really thinking about what it entailed. Taking a page from Ashley, I leapt first, looked later.

PechaKucha promo

There was plenty of time to figure things out. The next volume, number 24, was in November, but it looked like he had all the speakers already. February was the next PechaKucha, and that was miles away.

It turned out that Eddie had a couple of cancellations, so Ashley was definitely in. So was I.

The format of PechaKucha has always been the same. The tone of the Orlando presentations has changed over the years. Especially after 2016. After Pulse. After the election.

Eddie wanted a presentation that is specifically lighthearted. Not to distract, not because he wants to avoid awkward or contentious topics. Because he’s a curator.

Think of PechaKucha as a mixtape or whatever your version of a mixtape is these days. A CD you burned. A Spotify playlist. Anything by Girl Talk.

This is Eddie’s mixtape for the audience. For Orlando. Like any mixtape, there should be peaks and valleys, ebbs and flows, Tegans and Saras, Simons and Garfunkels, Thelmas and Louises, Keegans and Peeles.

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Fast forward to 4pm, the day of the event. I’m screaming into a pillow because I’ve had this mental block about memorizing the script for my presentation. I know the words, I know the order of the slides, I know people are going to be there watching and expecting a good performance.

My tongue is uncooperative. It is not frozen or tied. It just refuses to stay on script. It wants to ad lib and try new things. There’s no reasoning with it. I consider faking an injury. I consider causing an injury (to myself).

Back a few weeks to our first practice. Meeting the other speakers for the first time (except Ashley of course), it was evident that they were just as scared of me as I was of them. Wait, that’s bears. And lizards.

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We were all anxious and excited. Eddie, along with Davina Hovanec (one of the photographers) and Cody Strode (running the presentations), watched and gave notes through our first rough practice. The speakers also provide guidance to each other, which helps a lot.

The full weight of the format had yet to sink (sync?) in. We left thinking we had this.

There are two shows for PechaKucha Orlando, one at 6pm and the other at 9pm. They are the same order of speakers, the same presentations, and Eddie assures us the second show is a breeze. All the butterflies and nerves have left. The speakers are more relaxed, the crowd is a little smaller. The first show is all adrenaline, the second is endorphins.

But I don’t remember anything about the first show except shaking Eddie’s hand and adjusting the mic stand.

Both shows are held in the Alexis & Jim Pugh Theater at the Dr. Phillips Center for the Performing Arts. This is a sizable venue. I notice the audience as I wait my turn. I’m on after the intermission part of the show where Eddie brings up some volunteers to improvise a presentation. They don’t know what slide is coming up next and have to make up a story on the spot.

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I’m keenly aware of this. I am in their shoes.

In the green room before the first show, a welcome visit distracts me from the additional anxiety I’m having about whether to tuck my shirt in. Will anything go right for me?

Yes, because Bob Kodzis is here. Bob is the best person you will ever meet. He is a public speaker, improv teacher, motivational social media user, and many more complimentary adjectives and nouns. The worst thing you can say about Bob is he’s not around you all the time.

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He walks the group of speakers through some improv exercises to warm us up. We Zip-Zap-Zop some energy around the room. I feel slightly better. That fades quickly as I sit on the side of the stage waiting my turn.

Fast forward to right now as I’m writing this. I’m feeling the anxiety of that evening all over again. Is this supposed to be cathartic?

I chose Bad Business Ideas for a few reasons. It’s a fun bit on the show, and it lets me be creative and try my hand at a bit of comedy. It breaks up the interview, which ends up being about 90 minutes altogether. It’s takes away the direct pressure of the guest talking about themselves, and puts a different pressure on them. They have to want to play.

I know the combination of puns and ridiculously unnecessary and outlandish startups will land with an audience.

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It’s more or less a tribute to my father. He has a lot of schemes of the get rich quick variety, but doesn’t want to actually put in the work or money necessary to see them through. As a young man, that seemed lazy to me. As an older man, it makes perfect sense.

I’m walking up to Eddie and the microphone at about 6:46pm, and I have no idea what I’m going to say. I’m walking with confidence though. I adjust the mic stand as if I know what a microphone does and how it functions. I give the signal to Cody to start the presentation, and I black out.

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This is how many of the pitches from my dad would start:

“Nicholas. Nicholas. Nicholas.” 

[pause for dramatic effect]

“Weathervanes.”

He had seen decorative weathervanes at a couple of big box stores and thought he could do a better and cheaper job. He was willing to provide me an entire roadmap of the supply chain, but it fell apart at the marketing/sales stage:

“Online. You sell them online.”

This isn’t meant as a commentary of the understanding boomers have towards the internet and technology, although I’ve set up every computer, phone, and tablet my family has owned over the years. There was about a decade they thought I worked in IT.

The challenge of actually selling these efficiently made weathervanes, the missing step, that’s the key component of a Bad Business Idea. An important activity in the use or lifecycle of a product that is completely glossed over.

Some sample Bad Business Ideas to illustrate the point:

  • A puppy delivery system via drone. Significant safety and some light ethical issues.
  • Edible insect arrangements. No market in the United States, or most other places.
  • A rideshare where other people and businesses can outbid passengers on their destination. PR challenges stemming from the kidnapping-centric product offering.

All of them are fantastic Bad Business Ideas.

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There aren’t many people who attend both the 6pm show and the 9pm show. Again, it’s the same show, so the audience typically buys a ticket to only one of the showings. Those in attendance for both are the speakers, Eddie, Davina, Cody, David Lawrence (the other photographer), the videographers, and the production staff.

After the 9pm show, a few of the other speakers tell me my presentation was different than the 6pm show. Still really good, but definitely different.

“I didn’t remember what I said in the 6pm show,” was my response. They assumed I was joking.

“No really,” I want to say, “did I even give a presentation at 6?”

Apparently yes, as there is photographic and video evidence.

I’ve been able to watch the video twice. Once on my own, once with my mom and sister. I’m not sure if my dad has seen it.

I surprise myself by not hating it. I don’t nitpick the mistakes, wish I had done or said anything differently. It’s been six months since that night, and while I am anxious, I want to find other Eddies around Florida and up north and offer to do it again.

If there’s a fit in their mixtapes.

Photos by Davina Hovanec and David Lawrence

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