Reflecting on Major Milestones | DemoCamp 40 and Pecha Kucha 30

In March, DemoCamp and Pecha Kucha both celebrated a decade of events in Edmonton!

DemoCamp is our most enduring community event and going into our 41st edition in May there is no sign of it slowing down. People have 7 minutes to demo real product and then take questions - all demo and no slides allowed! Afterwards, we all head out for drinks to catch up, ask lots of questions, and get to know new people. 

Pecha Kucha is essentially the opposite of DemoCamp - 20 slides, 20 seconds per slide, and no time for Q &A. Edmonton's NextGen, producers of Pecha Kucha, is a volunteer working together to create a city that attracts and gives voice to the next generation by connecting people, places, communities, and ideas.

Sadly, I had to miss DemoCamp 40 but managed to make it back in town to present at the 30th edition of Pecha Kucha.

I was a long time volunteer with Edmonton's NextGen, and it was an amazing opportunity to reflect on the impact Pecha Kucha had on my life, and the role that community platforms like PKN, DemoCamp and so many others play in great cities.

In the coming weeks, the Edmonton's NextGen crew will have the presentation archived. While we wait, here's what I really wanted to say about Pecha Kucha, Startup Edmonton and finding your place in the community. 

Congratulations to all of the presenters, demos, volunteers, and hosts of both DemoCamp and Pecha Kucha on all of the hard work today and so much more great work still to come! 

I was on the volunteer team for PKNs 1 - 20 and I’d like to share with you how something as simple as powerpoint presentations truly changed my life.

A fellow PKN volunteer Michel, once called me the most awkward dog at the dog park. Super excited to be here, but not sure what I’m supposed to with other dogs, and totally content to be off on my own - which can come off as aloof.

Need proof - enter clippy. I use a clipboard as a business artifact that I can also use a physical barrier to other people, even people I care about - like Brian, another PKN volunteer on far left. As I progressed through my professional career, you can find countless photos of me and clippy. Even this past year, I’ve been meeting where someone has taken clippy and other folks intervene to make sure I get back. This is a clear sign of a problem.

But, I’ve always been driven by curiosity and public service, but that didn’t mesh with how navigated the world. Enter Edmonton’s NextGen. It provided me with a platform for public service and indulged my need for curiosity and creativity in equal measure. And embraced the way I navigate the world - obsessive hard work to show commit and care for other people, rather than familiarity or easy-friendship.

In those early of PKN, I was most excited that I was part of something and happy help with I knew - media relations and marketing. I didn't feel comfortable or really that it was my place to help build something for the city. As more and more people shared their ideas, projects, and passions, I slowly started to shift how I saw my role and contributions.

PK picked up steam fast - we went from a narrow audience to sell-outs within days, in just three or four editions. Demand was so high, we started to live stream on the main page of the Edmonton Journal. What that meant to me was I wasn’t the only one hungry to find community but on my own terms. Whether that was observing, promoting, connecting, or leading.

We did a lot of things wrong at PK and as someone who was obsessed with perfection professionally, this was the best learning ground for experiments and forward motion. This is from our Pecha Kucha at McDougall Church. Dry, very eager Church elder upset by muddy shoes and some rough presentations that didn’t follow the moral contract with the audience - promotion, random Q & A, tiny screen.

People didn’t abandon ship, more people offered to help. And we got better. We welcomed so many people early on in their projects and it’s been a job to see things progress, change and fail. We also got to engage with so many different communities, not just design and architecture, where PK is anchored. PKN #7 is one of my favourite line-ups, even though the night didn’t have a lot of extra bells and whistles. More on that later.

With a decade of presentation behind us, it’s not just the event that has shifted and grown. All of us have grown, too. This is Christine, you heard from her earlier. At PKN 1, I met her then new-ish boyfriend recruited to help take tickets at the door and here she is with their incredibly artistic daughter Sloane, and their rebel rouser Zara. The core group of volunteers from PK 1 - 20 have shaped this city, but also one another’s lives in meaningful and profound ways. Just like I know how the folks spearheading projects presented at PK have been shaped by the community they form around their ideas.

Back to all the bells & whistles, PK clearly was a way to be of service and as we gained confidence we started to be curious and playful. This is a real set for PKX that Michel built in her garage to take a photo of to make the poster - then we turned it into a photo booth. PK provided not only a platform for our speakers but one for us to build just to see if we could do something - and celebrating the value of trying.

One of the things we did in those early years was move venues each time. Not efficient, but a way to showcase our city beyond presentations. This is us in Hawrelack Park - Omar gave a presentation on Cats and the audience reaction to Chase No Face on this giant LED wall is still one of my favourite moments because the setting is as important - you’re more likely to run into a cat at the park, then in the Citadel.

The success of PK encouraged us to ask for a lot of things we probably wouldn’t and the City of Edmonton was awfully indulgent with our requests. When the Percent for Public Art garbage collection trucks rolled out, we asked if they could come on display at PKN and everyone made it happen.

And, the public was relaxed with us, too. Because we didn’t theme many of the PKs, allowing for the broadest kind of submissions, we took incredible liberties with where we found inspiration and people played along with us. PK 15 was inspired by a book a bunch of us had just read and we thought - why not do a circus theme and make everyone present in the round.

PK always felt incredibly personal until it didn’t, and not in a bad way. For PKN 1 -16, it felt like we were inviting a bunch of people over and hoping for the best. PKN 17 was at the Winspear and we had speakers from across the country. This is a screen grab from Twitter of Roman Mars of 99% on our seven-camera live stream from FAVA, which nearly killed me because of internet issues. We ended up broadcasting across the nation on a Rogers Hotspot, not ideal. It felt different to had things over to a Stage Manager & Director, not for the worst, just the realization that something has changed.

After producing 20 Pecha Kucha events it seemed like the poetic time to wrap up. New voices, new experiments, new approaches are all benefits to this thing we fostered. Personally, PK gave me so much more than I ever put in. An understanding that I can build my city and find community, on my own terms, without being polished, or gregarious, or even innovative.

Now, I have the privilege of doing what PK did for me for loads of other people at Startup Edmonton. At Startup, we want to see more tech-enabled products start and grow in Edmonton. One of the big parts of that work is connecting people to a community, not a single tech community, the many communities that let them fail, succeed, and grow personally and professionally.

This is from one of our most popular events, Startup Crawl at Edmonton Startup Week. We take about 100 people from startup office to startup office to meet one another but also the teams of places they might want to work. Social cohesion or stickiness is vital for a thriving tech ecosystem because regardless of the individual work someone is doing, we need them to build teams, we talent to stay and shift between teams, and we need to people to Edmonton to know they can find friends.

Another event celebrating a decade is DemoCamp, it’s incredible that volunteers and a small staff have kept two community events running for TEN YEARS. That is an astonishing feat for any group, but even more so because these are content driven events. Without the community desire and commitment to lift one another up and support bold, ridiculous, practical, simple, and incredibly complex ideas, all with the same respect and attention it doesn’t work.

Thank you, to all of you for your time, respect and attention to all of those presenters, community and product builders brave enough to share their ideas. My transition into the tech community hasn’t been seamless, I’m still awkward and finding my way. This is Ken Bautista and Cam Linke, the co-founders of Startup Edmonton who trusted me with the message of their community and ideas before we ever had space or programs, or a Startup Week. One thing they, and the community as the whole, always did was work hard to make sure that I seat at a table and my ideas had value.

And I hope that Pecha Kucha has acted as that same support for so many of you.

I’m incredibly lucky to have stacked some of the best jobs in the world into a career, The British Museum, Canadian Breast Cancer Foundation, MacEwan University, a decade at Bottom Line Productions and now my family at Startup Edmonton. The team at Startup Edmonton challenges me, champions me, and I’m eternally grateful to have found another group of people that share my passion of curiosity and public service and pushes me from the sidelines to build with them, not just amplify their work.

So, I’m still that awkward dog at the dog park, but because of the patience and support of so many people, and especially by PK family, I’ve found a way to be myself, still be curious and of public service. Thank you for giving me the opportunity to create something, and if you’re creating something (and you think it might be tech-enabled) please come over to Startup Edmonton, we’ll help you find community and path to build something.