Presentation Night - Feb 7 - Recap
Highlights from the first Presentation Night
This event is kind of difficult to describe so I wanted to write up this recap about how it went. I hope you find this helpful, if you’re curious about attending an upcoming one, pitching a talk, or hosting your own version of it!
What is Presentation Night?
Five people give 5 minute talks about anything.
The way I pitch this to people is: you should give a talk “anything that brings you joy & delight, and that you think is worth sharing”.
We advertise it as “an evening of talks by non-experts”. You’re encouraged to pick a topic you don’t know a lot about, perhaps one you’ve always wanted to understand, and share what you learned.
What this event is really about for me:
Learning is fun — & it’s generally more fun with others. This is a space for you to share cool stuff you’ve just learned, and learn from others. Having this recurring event helps me a lot in staying curious as I go through the world. It reminds me that it’s worth pursuing because there are others who do care about whatever has piqued my interest.
Joy is infectious — watching someone really excitedly talk about their interests is incredibly rejuvenating. It makes me want to pick up things in my own life that bring me joy just for its own sake. This was a common sentiment with people I spoke to after the event.
People are interesting — I’ve met a lot of people here in Ithaca who are really cool and I just want to hear them talk about their life, how they spend their time, or just something cool they want to share. It’s typically not very polite in a social hang to just start lecturing at people, but presentation night is exactly the space for that!
Expanding your world — because the talks are only 5 min it’s easy to sit through even if you have no interest in the topic. And sometimes, you might be surprised to find that something resonated with you in a topic you’d never thought was worth exploring!
To me the only really important rule is that it should be something you care a lot about. The talks are usually lighthearted but can be about something serious. It can even be about your work. As long as it’s something that (1) matters a lot to you (2) you think other people should hear it.
How it went
Sander gave a talk on “What is Fermentation, or, Why Isn’t Sourdough Alcoholic?” with all hand-drawn slides.
It was inspired by this question of…if bread is fermented in a similar process to how you make beer, why isn’t there alcohol in bread? It led him down this rabbit hole to find that the answer is, apparently, bread DOES have alcohol! Kind of.
My favorite part of this was that apparently during the prohibition, in 1926 there was a serious study to determine the alcohol content of bread and it found that it exceeded the amount set by the prohibition statute!
In the Q&A after, someone in the audience mentioned a story about a high school kid who once tried to eat enough bread to get drunk (the consensus here appears to be that you’ll get sick from the bread way before you can ever get drunk from it…)
Naman told this funny story about how a specific verse in the American national anthem was inspired by an Indian general.
Frances gave a talk about idioms and their origins. This was kind of a game where the audience would see a picture and had to guess the saying or phrase inspired by it. For example:
The correct answer here is “white elephant”, and the reason we call them “white elephant gifts” is because of an old story about a king who would gift people he didn’t like a white elephant. White elephants were rare and treasured, so they were expensive, but because they were rare, you couldn’t kill them for food, couldn’t sell them without permission from the king etc. So you were just kind of stuck taking care of this expensive “gift” !
We had a few breaks in between speakers where people mingled:
Finally, I gave a talk about “How do we know what we know?” where I was trying to grapple with this idea that we take for granted a lot of knowledge about the world, and that it’s worth asking “how do we actually know that?” My example was “how do we know dinosaurs looked like that?” (because we have their bones, but we don’t know if they were furry or scaly etc. Here’s a fun series of pictures about what a lot of modern animals would be depicted if we only ever saw their bones).
Finding community & private presentation nights
Ultimately a big part of doing all this is to connect with other people & share in each other’s journeys of learning and growth. If a talk resonated with you I encourage you to reach out, either in person at the event or shoot them an email afterwards.
Story House Ithaca has created a FB group for post-event discussion here:
I think organizing a private variant of this with friends is a wonderful thing to do because then it creates this space where you can be vulnerable, and maybe share something you’re still trying to figure out, and find support in that.
If this is something you’ve done or are thinking of doing and want to share how it went, please reach out! I’d love to hear about it.