Pretend the audience is wearing no clothes (FastPitch competition)
Sweating, stammering, reading from notes, forgetting your next word, talking too fast. If you’ve ever spoken in public, then your brain might have experienced the often uncontrollable effects of a large group of people staring at you while you talk.
Last Thursday, at the fourth annual FastPitch Competition in the Savannah Morning News auditorium, all of these cringeworthy “mistakes” were on display. I use the word “mistake” lightly because facing the fear of presenting your business idea in public is a huge part of the value of FastPitch.
Those attending saw young and old, student and retiree, those with ideas that exist only on paper and those operating businesses with revenue bravely presenting to the audience, judges and panelists.
The eager owners of these business ideas had applied, been selected and coached, and had made it to the show — a three-minute pitch of their idea to a panel of judges followed by three minutes of follow-up questions.
As if the act of speaking in public wasn’t tough enough, these presenters also had to defend their ideas. What could possibly motivate anyone to volunteer to face one of most people’s biggest fears?
Money? Yes, there was some prize money if you win or place in FastPitch but not enough to quit your job and build your company full time.
Investors? There were a lot of angel investors walking around, listening, chatting and watching. An interested investor could make a big difference to a fledging business.
But there is more to it than these obvious lures.
The real value of FastPitch to the presenters, in my opinion, is the application process itself. They took a risk by applying, then they were coached and obligated to present their business, their baby if you will, in public and defend their assumptions about it. That is a hard thing to do.
The 20 presenters Georgia Southern University, Georgia Tech’s ATDC and The Creative Coast had gathered together were a rare and valuable group from our community.
Having pitched hundreds of times in my entrepreneurial career, the undocumented benefit of every pitch, be it in a formal competition, standing in front of a venture capitalist or even in an elevator, is overcoming your fear and getting feedback.
Pushing a business idea out into the wild is scary but critical for it to survive. The wild is where the pressures of others’ opinions and critical response can shape it. Then the entrepreneur’s job is to take what they hear and learn and apply it to their idea.
This feedback, along with talking to potential or actual customers, is what will push their idea toward the goal of creating a profitable and sustainable business.
But the presenters in this year’s competition aren’t the only ones who benefited from FastPitch. We all did. And we need more of these opportunities for our fledgling business starters and doers in Savannah and the Lowcountry to present their ideas and get feedback.
Anytime we, whether academia, government or private group, make efforts to uncover or attract the hidden entrepreneurs all around us, we show our commitment to finding, shaping, equipping and encouraging the true lifeblood of new jobs and new growth in our community.
Helping people start new businesses, to grab on to their dreams, to take the leap, is one of my passions and one to which I dedicate a considerable amount of personal time. But growing more startups here in our fair city is going to take a group effort.
FastPitch is an amazing addition to the entrepreneurial landscape of people and groups that are growing our job base and, ultimately, our city one pitch at a time.
Radford Harrell runs a small tech company, TalentSoup, serves on the board of The Creative Coast and encourages entrepreneurs wherever he finds them. He can be reached at 912-289-7728 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
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