Where Science Meets Muse

Making Innovation and Design Consciousness Ubiquitous – Lessons from Open Mics

Posted by Plish on February 26, 2011

I used to be a fan of the Pecha-Kucha presentation format. Stripped down, only the essentials, no wasted time.  This is what a presentation should be. 

But then, like this person and this person, I became frustrated by it.  Frustrated because if I wanted to run a Pecha Kucha night, I had to get permission from the ‘founders’ of Pecha Kucha.  The reason for getting permission is because, as the website says:

We have a very simple Handshake agreement with each city basically to ensure there is only one event series per city and people are not treading in one another toes or pulling the rug out from under there[sic] feet. PechaKucha Nights take quite a bit of organizing and the more networks the better so we think it is better for cities to focus on one event.


As a practicing musician I often go to open mics to try out new tunes and refine them prior to using them in shows.  For those that don’t know, open mics are held weekly, or at least monthly, at various venues such as bars, restaurants, churches, cafes, etc..  Some of these are very spartan in format, others are quite elaborate with backup bands, but they all have food, drink, friends and fun.  They often last for 2 to 4 hours, some even longer.  Many open mics develop followings and have regular attendees.  They are events!

According to the PechaKucha website there are over 230 cities holding monthly PechaKuchas. According to openmikes.org,   there are at least 137 open mics in and within 25 miles of Chicago each week!  That’s 548 per month, not counting those establishments that have monthly, as opposed to weekly, open mics. 

 There are twice as many open mics in one city in a month than there are PechaKucha events worldwide!

That is sustainability.  That is empowerment.  That is a whole lot of sharing, of interaction, of friends and fun! 

What are the rules for performers at open mics?  Usually it’s something like 3 songs or ten minutes, whichever happens first.  PechaKucha, as a reminder, is 20 slides for 20 seconds each- six minutes and forty seconds max.

According to their website:

Pecha Kucha was devised  by Astrid Klein and Mark Dytham and their office Klein Dytham architecture has supported the movement and global network for the past 7 years covering all cost for staff and web development. To keep the project sustainable and viable going forward as the network expands we are setting up a foundation. The foundation will also support creative projects such as the Mark Hoekstra PechaKucha Night Award.

As a reminder, there is no central office for Open Mics, no foundation, no licensing the format for events.  Just a simple rule: Give everybody an equal chance to share themselves over the course of the evening.  How this rule gets applied is up to the emcee of each open mike.  Pecha Kucha could learn a thing or two about sustainability and empowerment from the open mic phenomenon.

But, Plish, Pecha Kucha is about presentations; open mics are about poetry and music – there’s a difference!

Not really. 

Why?  Have you ever listened to story tellers or  TED presentations?  Slides are not the focus for most of these presentations.  The audience focuses their attention on the speaker and ultimately the story.  Pecha Kucha, and even other formats that seek to get around the 20 slide/20 second rule such as Ignite, still put emphasis on  using slides.  And you would think that with a shortened format format,busy slides shouldn’t exist, but they do.  It’s because people still think of PechaKucha as a presentation night and we all know how to do presentations, we just prune them down for PechaKucha nights, right?


Formats like Pecha Kucha, Ignite, whatever, are not about conveying the number of  Wagma Widgets sold in each state, over the course of 275 days.  They’re about telling a story, about sharing, about inspiring and empowering.

 When there are people sharing, the number of slides, the seconds per slide, all that should be secondary.   Open mics have an expectation about them.   People come expecting to learn, to experience, to feel emotions, to dream!  There are no slide presentations, just people and maybe their instruments.  And, a person can go to any city on any day of the week, check the paper, and find an open mic (and I’ve done this when travelling!)

If we want  innovation and design to inspire,to be as ubiquitous as music, canonizing presentation event formats like Pecha Kucha isn’t going to make it happen.  Once a month in one city won’t cut it. 

No, we need to go to a format of Open Mics.  Self-sustaining, in every city, on every day of the week, we need Innovation Open Mics, or Design Open Mics.  Need slides? Great! You’ve got 8 minutes but use the slides only if you need them.  Or perhaps it’s the other way around.  You’ve got 7 minutes of soul inspiring slides/animations.  Shut up and don’t talk.  Humans have a tough time reading a slide while someone’s speaking.  Let images stand on their own, let your words stand on their own.

Let’s excite people with design and innovation open mics! Let’s start creating a culture of inspirational sharing!

And best of all, you don’t need to ask permission from anyone.   

One Response to “Making Innovation and Design Consciousness Ubiquitous – Lessons from Open Mics”

  1. Making Innovation And Design Consciousness Ubiquitous Lessons From Open Mics…

    […]Leave a Coment Cancel reply. Your email adres wil not be published. Required fields are marked *. Name *.[…]…

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: