Insight from the $300k Entrepreneurs Finals Stage

May 7, 2017

I have a lot of thoughts, memories, and emotions to unpack but I want to get this particular one written down before I forget it.

When I have to speak in front of a group of strangers, like I did on the big stage a few days ago, I try to find "touchstones" in the audience. I look for at least one audience member on my left, in front of me, and on my right. As I speak, I scan across the room and focus on these touchstones, making eye contact. It gives me an anchor to make sure I'm reaching the whole audience. It's something I learned doing slam poetry; with teaching, chances are I know the life stories of everyone in the class so there's less pressure to find an emotional connection immediately.

On the final pitch stage for the Stern Entrepreneurs Challenge, I couldn't find a touch stone on stage left. Those were filled with other competitors and they were probably doing last minute practices or trying to stay calm so no one was really paying attention. That, or the lighting was poor and I couldn't make anything out.

On stage right, I found a pair of women. They were actually on the right edge of the center column of seats. Considering I was already standing on the left side of the stage, they were far enough right for me. I made eye contact with both of them several times; they were always smiling.

In front of me, my touch stone was an older man. He started crying, at first softly and eventually so much he couldn't look up. When I finished, we made eye contact one last time. He mouthed "thank you" and I gave a small smile and a small nod.

When David and I were practicing for the pitch for the first time, he said, "just tell a story. You're really good at telling stories." And that moment, that night, I felt like I was telling a story again, like I was doing poetry all over again. And it felt good.

If the world needs a poem, I'll be that poet. If the world needs a program, I'll be that programmer.