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Nerds descend on Siem Reap

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Yut Chhon claims the stage at Siem Reap’s first Nerd Nite.​​​

INDONESIAN hobbits, techniques used by the fashion industry to predict future trends, and the interconnectedness of “the human brain and the cosmos”, were just some of the topics presented by speakers on Monday, July 11, at the first Nerd Nite Siem Reap, a monthly evening of speed PowerPoint presentations on a variety of quirky topics.

With each speaker limited to presenting 20 slides on a chosen topic, and explaining each in just 20 seconds, Nerd Nite resembles a kind of psychological speed dating that lets the audience glimpse some of the unusual hobbies and interests of a speaker in exactly six minutes and 40 seconds, according to co-organiser Chris Lewis.

“The thing that I like about it is that it introduces all these things about people, people that you know, but things about them that you didn’t know. It’s about broadening conversations between people, getting past the whole ‘where do you work, what you do, how long are you living in Cambodia’ conversation and stimulating a new kind of conversation,” he said.

The 20 slides in 20 seconds formula is borrowed from Pecha Kucha or “Chit-Chat” nights in Japan, Lewis told 7Days, which were originally started by a Tokyo architectural design firm
in 2003, but have since spread to more than 410 cities worldwide.

Originally conceived as a forum for designers to share their work with peers, topics presented at Pecha Kucha nights, or Nerd Nights as they’re known in the US, quickly branched out to cover anything and everything imaginable, ranging from the presenter’s love of food, to explanations of how LED technology works, to name just two of the six talks presented in Siem Reap.

Anyone can volunteer to speak says Lewis, who presented the first talk of the night, an introductory presentation on the origins of Nerd Nite Siem Reap, which he and his wife Stephanie Boegeman  decided to start after attending a more established Nerd Night held in Phnom Penh earlier this year.

“We spelled the name slightly differently to avoid confusion, but other than the branding, it’s pretty much the same, although in Phnom Penh they’re a lot more organised.”

With little over a month between seeing and then staging their first Nerd Nite, Lewis and Boegeman managed to attract a 60-strong crowd to the Siem Reap Hostel, including an eclectic collection of speakers who mostly managed to fit their written remarks into the 20-second window for each slide.

Megan Smith, who talked about Homo floresiensis, a species of prehistoric midgets whose bones were discovered on the Indonesian island of Flores in 2004, says she didn’t feel especially nervous about making sure she kept up as her slides rushed by.

“I was a little bit nervous but I think it helped that I hadn’t actually rehearsed too much. Some of the strongest presenters were the ones who rehearsed the least.”

On the other hand, Smith’s fellow presenter Steve Mojica told 7Days he felt nervous for weeks ahead of his presentation, which was titled “Food an Obsession”, which he described as  “a talk about the joys of food, and how food can consume a person, namely me”.

Mojica’s presentation was quickly followed by a talk on responsible tourism by Yut Chhon and Leigh Morlock, a designer for handbag manufacturer Push Pull, whose “Creative Dumpster Diving” presentation focused on the ways fashion designers pick out seasonal trends.

Chris Lewis told 7Days he believes Nerd Nite Siem Reap will become a regular monthly occasion.

“This is a way of just getting to know people, and finding new things to talk about with people you’ve known for a long time, and it’s all done in a fun and light-hearted way. We’re going to start looking into the location for next month, and of course we’re always looking for speakers.”

Siem Reap’s next Nerd Nite will be held on August 8 with the venue yet to be announced. To volunteer as a speaker contact nerdnitesiemreap@gmail.com

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