PowerPoint presentations aren't considered entertainment by anyone but masochists. On the other hand, PowerPoint on speed -- with better pictures and cheap beer -- is Pecha Kucha, a thought-provoking and inexpensive way to spend an evening, especially if you have a short attention span.

Pecha Kucha (peh-cha-k'cha) is Japanese for "chit-chat." The concept began six years ago in Tokyo, when two architects brainstormed an event that would draw other creative types to their new bar -- the promise of new ideas, sweetened by eliminating the risk of droning gasbaggery. The format: Anything goes as far as subject matter, but with a time restriction -- 20 slides, shown for 20 seconds each, adding up to a 6-minute, 40-second time limit to make a point and get off the stage.

Since then, Pecha Kucha has caught on in 219 cities worldwide. When the Lab Theater in Minneapolis hosts its event on Wednesday, there will be similar gatherings going on in Montevideo, Uruguay, and Gothenburg, Sweden.

The first local Pecha Kucha Night (PKN), held in April at Intermedia Arts, played to a sold-out crowd, with the standing-room overflow watching from monitors. It was a mix of charming hits and buzz-killing misses, including at least two presentations that smelled an awful lot like thinly veiled product-hawking in the form of live infomercials. And while volume 2 of the Twin Cities event is sponsored by Riley Hayes Advertising, co-producer Jonas Schaefer said that PKN doesn't have a bait-and-switch marketing agenda.

"We get a lot of people with promotional intentions, and we try to steer them clear of that, and make it more about the idea," said Schaefer. "The more events we have, the more we anticipate getting raw ideas from anyone interested in new things."

Schaefer, an architect, and his pal Josh Pepper, a Microsoft consultant, realized after several lunches' worth of interesting conversation that their different backgrounds complemented their talks more than hindered them. When Pepper heard of Pecha Kuchas happening around the world, the two decided to start one up in the Twin Cities. They contacted Klein Dytham Architecture, the idea's Tokyo originators, and signed a contract to be the official producers here. Ad designer Megan Baxter and "Cooking With Rachael" blogger Rachael Rydbeck have also come on board to help plan and promote the events (Volume 1 was pretty guy-heavy, so this is a welcome move).

Volume 2's presenters include Brent Stickels, a principal of the design and branding firm YYES, jewelrymaker Tia Salmela and Jim Foti (the Star Tribune's "Roadguy"), who will address our love-hate relationship with freeways. Other eclectic topics range from how to run an indie craft fair to "Invasions From Entomology" to the provocative-sounding "Burn the Galleries: How to bring art back to the people."

Stickels will examine death certificates of the famous and infamous.

"These pieces of paper put a cold, clinical, official, bureaucratic end to a person's societal and cultural contributions," he said, "but they can reveal insights that cause us to reconsider them and the events surrounding their deaths."

Salmela, who makes laser-cut wooden and acrylic jewelry, will discuss how she gets inspired and how everyday life can inform design. "So often we try to find meaning in a linear way," she said, "but inspiration is a cyclical thing."

So far the majority of local PKN participants have been at least tangentially related to design and advertising fields, but that should change.

"We want to expand it to innovative ideas in any industry," Schaefer said. "We want to see what happens when fresh thinkers from all different communities get together and share their fascinations over a beer."

Now if you could just persuade your bosses to adopt this strategy for the next quarterly sales meeting. ...

Kristin Tillotson • 612-673-7046