If you want to gain experience in public speaking, then put yourself on a stage – because the best way to learn is just to get on and do it. In the Netherlands you can find a PechaKucha Night running almost every month of the year. At these gatherings you will find a willing audience, a microphone and a screen for your presentation slides. PechaKucha is a clever concept that can be found across the globe in more than 1,000 cities worldwide. Either as audience member or presenter, you are always welcome.

The concept is simple: on a PK-Night around 14 speakers are lined up to give a presentation according to the 20×20 rule. They each present 20 slides that show for 20 seconds each. The slides are image-based (as few words as possible) and are timed to advance automatically while the speaker presents their story. Every presentation takes exactly 400 seconds (6 minutes and 40 seconds). In most cases, the official language is English. The application process is straightforward: find your local PK-Night, pitch your message, and the organisers will let you know if you’ve won a spot in their next edition.

Suppose your message is about a scientific or specialised subject, one may think that a PK audience is not so receptive to the subject matter. However the opposite is true. Take a look at this presentation by Prof. Dr. Bart Rutten, or this contribution from Dr. Bart Knols. They both successfully translated their scientific vision to suit a wider audience. The PK stage is precisely the perfect place for building a bridge between science and the general public.

Jean-Paul Toonen presenteert de eerste PechKucha in Maastricht 2009

If there isn’t a PK stage in your city yet, you can start one by applying for a PK license. With this in mind, I set the stage in collaboration with Pierre Buijs and Martijn Kagenaar in Maastricht. Our first PK-Night was sold out. The concept is quite an exciting one, for both speakers and audiences. The messages are varied, due to the fact that the presenters all have different backgrounds. There are breaks where you can meet like-minded audience members and start up a conversation. Afterwards, each of the presentations can be found on the PK website. An example of such a presentation is one given by ElizaMaree Power, founding member of the news service in Maastricht aimed at internationals.

Jean-Paul Toonen doet zijn presentatie bij PechaKucha Tokyo

When I visited the PK founders in Tokyo back in 2012 there was no getting out of it. One of the presenters dropped out at the last minute and I was ‘selected’ to take their place. I based my presentation on the photos I had taken that day in the Japanese metropolis. It became one of those ‘flying by the seat of one’s trousers‘ improvisational moments. However the audience gobbled it up. Improvising is also a valuable activity. Especially when you see the somewhat amused faces of Mark Dytham and Astrid Klein, the founders of the largest free stage on the planet.

Mark Dytham, Jean-Paul Toonen and Astrid Klein on PK Tokyo podium

The concept morphs into a form of oratory karaoke when you push the envelope and have speakers present slides that they have never seen before. That fate befell four volunteers who had the courage to take on this style of improvisation on one of our PK-Nights. Add the PechaKucha 20×20 rule to ‘Lullepot’ (an improvisation held at Dutch hazing activities) and with the help of a photo album on a smartphone even the shyest family member becomes a seasoned speaker. Just listen to how these four plucky participants fared in Maastricht, with the topic being: ‘Doing business with the Dutch‘.

stage yourself at the following edition. If you do, make sure to invite all your colleagues, friends and family so that you don’t have an opportunity to back out. If you get stuck, you can always call me. After eight years of organising PK-Nights in Maastricht I wish the new organisers Godspeed and many successful presentations. And for everyone else, I wish them a stage.