Oliver Cross: An event called Bettakultcha

a4eBS''Emma Harrison, boss at A4e at the premises at Queens House, Queens Street, Sheffield
a4eBS''Emma Harrison, boss at A4e at the premises at Queens House, Queens Street, Sheffield
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Last week, with about 200 others, I went to an event called Bettakultcha, which combines features of Speakers’ Corner in Hyde Park, London, a stand-up comedy night and – which is the opposite of a comedy night – a PowerPoint presentation.

It was, appropriately enough, in Hyde Park, Leeds, at the Brudenell Social Club, and in a format which invites just about anybody – show-offs, comedians, obsessives, conspiracy theorists, enthusiasts, puzzling people – to talk for exactly five minutes on a subject of their choice. The only topics strictly banned are sales pitches.

The tricky bit is that each talk has to be illustrated by 20 slides, each shown for exactly 15 seconds. This means the speakers have to be very well-rehearsed and disciplined and also that the evening flashes by quickly enough to prevent the kind of murderous thoughts induced by most PowerPoint presentations – ‘Human resources challenges in a changing world’ or ‘Northampton: Pearl of the Midlands’ for example.

This particular Bettakultcha evening (others are held on various dates at venues around Yorkshire) also seemed to have an unspoken rule that every presenter should speak in an entertaining manner, even after choosing an unpromising subject.

One young woman spoke about her gap-year charity work in Kenya, which I didn’t expect to enjoy, being queasy about middle-class English slip-of-a-things coming to the rescue of supposedly benighted Africans.

However, this was charming and full of funny lines, as was a talk on the history of tea cups and, which is even more surprising, an explanation of British Standard numbers, including the one that stops us getting fried when we switch on electric lights.

I also liked the talk on female buddy-ship by two young women. It was a bold approach because it doubled the chances of things going wrong and the evening ending in bitter recriminations and possibly violence, which would have contradicted their views on the strength and worth of female bonding.

Still, I could appreciate their strongest point, which was that, while male buddy movies are as common as Katie Price, the last female buddy movie to make any impact was Thelma and Louise, now about 20 years old.

I wouldn’t volunteer to be a Bettakultcha speaker because I don’t like speaking in public or coordinating myself, but think, that apart, that I could give a very good presentation on the undesirability of using modish spelling and punctuation and would-be jive talk, as in the word Bettakultcha.

For example, the long-established and respectable accountancy firms Coopers and Lybrand and Price Waterhouse merged in1998 to form a ‘global professional services’ company called PricewaterhouseCoopers.

Thus, and probably after paying a fortune in consultancy fees, even if they were consulting themselves, they came up with a daft name which had eccentric capital letters and was too long to fit comfortably into any line of type.

So, in 2010, they had a major rebranding exercise, which must have cost a lot because global professional services companies don’t get out of bed for less than the price of a Porsche, and decided to give the company the trading name PwC. Well done lads because, although I imagine there were hours of expensive discussions about whether it should be a big or a little W, you came up with a slightly less stupid name, eventually.

And some time ago I was among the first to say that I didn’t trust Emma Harrison’s A4e (Action For Employment) company, now assailed by allegations of fraud and excessive profiteering, on the grounds that I didn’t think an organisation concerned with helping the young into jobs and learning should adopt half-witted text-speak.

And I would, if my five minutes wasn’t up, also talk about how annoying the use of the symbol @ instead of the word ‘at’ is, although many businesses think it makes them look cutting-edge rather than about 20 years behind the times and very hackneyed indeed.

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