Overcoming Stage Fright

June 12, 2017

I was thrilled when I learned Hand to Hold had been accepted to participate in Philanthropitch 2017 – until I learned I would only have three minutes and five slides to present our mission, prove we have a cost effective, impactful, scalable model that is capable of expanding nationally, and I would be presenting to seven judges and an audience of up to 900 people including community leaders, venture capitalists, and potential investors. No notes. No podium. Just me and a microphone.

My mind flashed to a memory of my brand new white patent shoes slipping and sliding as I ran around the catwalk of the 1976 Junior Miss Rusk County Beauty Pageant. I did not stop at the designated marks on the stage to wave at the judges. I clutched my ugly red, white and blue carnation bouquet tightly in my sweaty hands and made a beeline for the exit! I did great in the rehearsal, but once the lights went down, my boney little knees buckled and I bolted.

I was determined not to make a repeat performance at Philanthropitch.

I picked out the shoes first. I knew I could draw strength from four-inch heels. I then turned my attention to writing the perfect pitch. The process reminded me of a phrase attributed to French philosopher Blaine Pascal that translates to, “If I had more time, I would have written a shorter letter.” It is damn hard to deliver a powerful, informative, game-changing speech in three minutes flat. But with the help of the Hand to Hold staff and the guidance of the Philanthropitch and Mission Capital support team, we whittled and cut and tweaked and lamented until we got the pitch just right.

And then I practiced. I practiced while on the treadmill. I practiced wearing my four inch heels. I practiced while I drove. I practiced before I went to sleep and before my eyes opened each morning. I begged my friends and family to let me practice for them until one by one they each rolled their eyes and told me they just could not hear it again!

On event night, I admit I thought about bolting a few times. But, there was too much riding on those three minutes. Instead of clutching a bouquet, I held up a nano preemie diaper designed for babies weighing less than two pounds. I walked onto the stage, looked right into the eyes of the judges, and I told them that up to 70 percent of NICU parents experience challenges with anxiety disorders, depression and PTSD. I told them that a parent’s mental health has a direct impact on the baby’s developmental outcomes. I told them that despite new guidelines for mental health services for NICU parents, access to these services is critically lacking. And I told them how Hand to Hold’s simple model has a tremendous impact in the lives of the families we serve. I closed by emphasizing that with the opportunity to participate in Mission Accelerator, a five-month program designed to fast-track the growth and impact of nonprofits in Greater Austin and grants from investors, we could touch the lives of an additional 30,000 families by 2020.

philanthropitch austin hand to holdAnd while my heart may have skipped a beat or two, my feet stayed perfectly planted because this was Hand to Hold’s time to shine. We have a lot to be proud of. We still have a long way to go, but we have and amazing staff, board, volunteers and donors who are dedicated to improving outcomes of NICU families. So instead of slipping and sliding, I walked my four-inch heels across the stage to accept our Ticket of Admission into the 2017 Mission Accelerator Class and collect our $30K in prize money. It was an amazing experience!

Special thanks to Dan Graham of Notley Ventures and Matt Kouri and the amazing staff at Mission Capital and Philanthropitch. And thank you to those who came out to support us, those who voted for us and to my patient friends and family for listening just one more time! Look out world, here we come!

philanthropitch austin hand to hold

Proud Hand to Hold staff members L-R: Sara, Mary, Jennifer b, Kelli, Melissa, and Jennifer H.