As some of you may know, Bettakultcha is an evening of PowerPoint presentations organised by myself and Richard Michie.
It sounds incredibly dull, like paying to attend other peoples office meetings about logistics or sales targets, but at the last event, 120 people paid £5 each to show up on a filthy, rainy night, and watch 13 presenters talk about something that they are passionately interested in.
The word passionate is the magic key here, because it unlocks a vast reservoir of untapped creativity and purpose in the people who attend. Part of the answer also lies in the four basic rules;
- You must use 20 Slides
- Each slide must last for 15 seconds exactly
- After 5 minutes, your presentation is finished and your time is up
- ABSOLUTELY no sales pitches
The strict template of 20 slides, 15 seconds each is a great way of keeping all the presentations focused. You can only really get one point across with these imposed limitations, so it had better be a good one. If you are used to waffling on in a presentation for forty minutes because you like the sound of your own voice then the Bettakultcha format is a merciless disciplinarian.
No sales pitches was a masterstroke. How many breakfast meetings, networking meeting, conferences etc., have you been to where someone abuses the privilege of your undivided attention by trying to sell you something that is overpriced, useless or unoriginal? And how many times have you resented that fact? In my case, far too often, so from the outset we wanted to make it clear that this was not a networking exercise or sales conference. We extended this ethos to the entire project. In the early days we were offered sponsorship for the event. As tempting as it was to have some kind of financial backing, we resisted because we didn’t want to be beholden to anyone who might start wanting to interfere with the running of the event or impose some kind of sponsor related theme. We wanted to have a free hand to experiment with the running of the event.
Due to this strategy, we had to use a venue that was either free, or incredibly cheap. This ruled out the usual corporate type venues with regimented layouts and over-heated rooms. Instead, we used Temple Works, with no heating and a ‘make do’ attitude. And so the first four events were held there. This made for an unusual evening in an unusual space. People brought their own drinks and enjoyed the evening in their overcoats.
What we discovered was that this unusual approach initially attracted those people who are still curious about the world. The randomness of the presentations was also a refreshing change from the themed homogeneity of most events. Subsequently, other people from different backgrounds began to hear about it through word of mouth, and started to attend. I should point out that the entire marketing budget for Bettakultcha was, and still is, £0 and it has only ever been promoted through Twitter. It is the people who attend who subsequently become our best marketers. Word of mouth from a trusted friend or colleague is still the most influential of all the media.
The result of this is a wide diversity in the demographic of our audience. There are no silo’s of ’suits’ or ‘arty types’ or ‘geeks’. We have them all!
And so another unforeseen consequence has emerged; incredible networking that actually works and has become something far more powerful; a community.
Because people can be themselves, because the evening is about ideas and passion and there is no business agenda, people talk to each other. They swap stories about the presentations, they borrow bottle openers, they learn something new. Then they swap Twitter names and ask what each other does…
Another attraction of the event is the true egalitarian philosophy surrounding it – anyone can have a go. There is no hierarchy at Bettakultcha. The presenters step up from the audience and when they finish, they step back into the audience. We sometimes do have professional speakers (who don’t get paid) talking about their passions but they are alongside presenters who might never have done anything like it before but feel strongly about something.
My gut feeling is that something much bigger is being created at the Bettakultcha events. It’s as if a sector of society is looking for a new identity to articulate their frustration or pleasures and Bettakultcha is providing a kind of alternative parliament to voice those ideas.
The Kult of Bettakultcha is, in fact, real democracy making a comeback.