‘Speechless’ has fun with PowerPoint 

click to enlarge Edwin Zee
  • “Speechless” participant Edwin Zee incorporated an explosive picture into his impromptu PowerPoint presentation.
Watching PowerPoint presentations is not most people’s idea of fun, but the creator of “Speechless” wants to change that.

Sammy Wegent, the “EmCEO” of “Speechless,” got the idea for the ongoing comedy show — which revolves around making up completely improvised speeches onstage while random PowerPoint slides appear on a screen — from his own experiences with PowerPoint presentations.

“I flip through a lot of PowerPoint presentations every day, and a lot of them are humorous in themselves. We stare at screens all day. People are more used to looking at screens than people,” says Wegent, who works for the game company Zynga.

At the last “Speechless” show, on Aug. 20 at Public Works in The City, speeches started with a dating workshop where the first picture onscreen was of a cross-dressing body builder pushing a nearly naked man in a wheelchair, who was wielding an assault rifle in both hands. Later, during a wedding toast, the speaker had to improvise based on photos that included a man going down a roller coaster on skates. Also, a TED talk included a picture of a man dressed in a suit made of tree branches.

“Speechless” — which started in March 2013 and is produced by Scott Lifton (of “Mortified,” the monthly comic excavation of adolescent writing, art and media) and Anthony Veneziale (improv artist from The Freeze) — originally was aimed at giving frustrated office workers a way to let off steam by mocking corporate culture.

But since the show opened, in a semiregular run at Public Works, Wegent realized it also can be used to help people make better work presentations. He has since started doing corporate training using “Speechless” shows.

“We all are pretty good storytellers,” said Wegent, who wants to encourage office workers to add more personality and humor to their presentations. “‘Speechless’ is living proof because it’s improvised.”

Performers in “Speechless” are a mix of professional comedians and audience volunteers who are often admittedly “totally wasted.” Slides are either found on the Internet or donated by participants. Wegent makes sure all images are in the public domain, and wants to eventually use all user-generated content.

“It’s like someone you work with sabotaged your whole presentation,” Wegent says. “Who wouldn’t want to watch that?” The next local “Speechless” — which made its East Coast debut at Joe’s Pub in New York last week — is part of the 10th San Francisco Improv Festival.



Presented by S.F. Improv Festival

Where: Eureka Theatre, 215 Jackson St., S.F.

When: 7 p.m. Sept. 16

Tickets: $15 to $25

Contact: www.sfimprovfestival.com

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