Eight to ten minutes. What is 8 –10 minutes on the stage? For me, my 8 to ten at presenting at Event Santa Cruz was a pivotal moment. It was a culmination of 5 years of hard work and a launching pad for the next.
I’ve given hundreds of presentations across the country, to audiences ranging from over a hundred to just 3. From big stages to cramped dark, noisy back rooms of restaurants. Once even to a roomful of paroles who were required to be there. All those events were teaching something (usually about using social media for business).
Those events I was hidden behind the material I was teaching. I was more nervous for my Event Santa Cruz presentation than any of the others, because I had not content to hide behind. It would be just me. I was also excited because, while I love what I do (you’d be surprised the depth of human connection that can come from guiding people through building their online presence) I want to do more of the thoughty, philosophical presentations. The ones where I get to stir up motivation & inspiration.
When the a notification of the event and it’s theme came through my inbox my first thought was, “Matthew! How did you not think of me as a presenter?” Then I realized, why would he? I’ve kept what I’m doing, the life I’m trying to create myself under wraps from all but a few people. Partly it’s because I was still trying to figure it out myself. Also, I was building it more outside Santa Cruz. So few people right here in my own village have no idea what I’ve been up to.
Fortunately there were several spaces listed as TBD. I emailed Matthew and offered to speak. With in minutes he replied yes with at least one exclamation point. I noticed that milestone. Three years prior I had a spreadsheet of every MeetUp group and possible organization I could find that had speakers. I was cold calling to book gigs. The convincing, the rejection after rejection. Now my offer to present received a yes, a thank you and an exclamation point. That’s progress!
As soon as he said yes my mind started cranking. What was I going to say? How could I possibly distill my kitesurfing & entrepreneurship adventure into 8 – 10 minutes? I wasn’t a natural entrepreneur. I wasn’t one of those kids selling the coveted decorated pencils on the playground at a premium. In high school I wasn’t the one building things in the garage. For most of my life I’d been a good cog in the machine. Until I wasn’t. Transitioning to entrepreneurship was a hard journey of facing all kinds of fears and demons. Leaving behind the world as I knew it. It was the hardest thing I’ve ever done (so far) and the best. I learned so much about myself, about life, about people, about technology, about business.
For the three weeks between Matthew’s yes and my taking the microphone I gave hundreds of presentations in my head. The second I took the microphone my mind went blank. I had a moment of panic when I stepped into the spotlight and realized I couldn’t see the audience. When I speak I’m used to making eye contact with my audience. Connecting with them.
It was like a big black unreadable pit before me. How was I going to connect? I was shaking so hard I had to hold the microphone with both hands. Then I worried everyone was going to see. Here I was attempting to let Santa Cruz know I’m a speaker and I’m a nervous amateurish wreck!
Just as I knew it would the muscle memory of the hundreds of times I played in my head took over. Ironically my presentation was about being certain in the uncertainty, the only way around fear is through it and the only difference between fear and excitement is breathing. That was supposed to be my last line, my awesome dramatic close. But it came out at the start, probably because I needed to remember it then.
Then a funny thing happened. I started to feel the audience. Some people responded audibly to things I said. Without being able to rely on eye contact I was forced to find and connect with my audience through other channels. I dropped in like those moments on the water. With the speaking I get to invite a hundred people to join me in that moment.