Last night hundreds of people flooded the Tempe Center for the Arts for Ignite Phoenix 5, a presentation series that gives 18 people five minutes and twenty slides to talk about their passions. I would have happily joined them, but I was too busy pacing back and forth back stage, sweating the presentation I was about to give.
One of the untold stories from my (somewhat) recent article about Jeff Moriarty is an off-the-record conversation he's had with countless people since founding Ignite. Moriarty has an almost surgical ability to get people to admit where their greatest passions lie whether they are in programming languages for kids, bathroom etiquette or, in my case, miniature models of giant robots from Japan based on the Mobile Suit Gundam anime mega-series. When I started talking to him about building miniature robot models, he noticed that I leaned forward in my chair and my eyes grew wide. He pointed that out to me, adding that Ignite is built for that sort of passion. Mid-interview he asked me to submit to Ignite 5 and I sort of brushed him off. Then after the interview he told me to submit again and got me to promise I would. A few hours before the submission deadline, I put my money where my mouth is.
Who in the wide world of giant robots would have believed that I would be one of the eighteen presenters? Certainly not I.
What followed was about three weeks of prepping Power Point slides, attending a short class on how to present well taught by Ignite representative Brian Carson and, perhaps most importantly, countless time spent thinking about my passion and how I was going to express it to hundreds of people who didn't know a Gundam from a daikon. But a strange thing happened while I was doing all that thinking. I remembered why I was passionate about building plastic robot models in the first place. I remembered Saturday afternoon's spent building Gundam models with my closest friends. I remembered the feeling of satisfaction when I completed my first model kit. All I could think about was building another one.
Backstage, I was dancing around like an idiot trying to get my nerves under control. Peeking through the curtains, I could see hundreds of eyes watching the current presenter work it on stage. Would I be so calm under pressure?
My turn came up. I grabbed my Psycho Gundam prop and headed out on to the stage.
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The thing that makes Ignite such an interesting event is that by its very nature, the presenters on stage aren't selling anything. Ignite is not about pitches, it's about passions and as a result, the audience wants to be excited rather than waiting to be convinced. They want you to succeed.
Time (and the video from last night that will be heading to YouTube soon) will tell whether I "succeeded" or not. What I can tell you is that after I got over being nervous, taking about something I love in front of hundreds of people was an amazing experience. Even more amazing was the response I got during the intermission. People walked up to me with questions. Where can I get a Gundam? How much do they cost? Do they make models for other giant robots? How long do they take to build?
I was floored. There was Ignite working its magic right before my eyes. What was once my singular passion had gripped the hearts of others. Don't get me wrong. I don't think this will revolutionize the popularity of model making in society or make "Gundam" a household name, but for at least a few moments, people who previously had no idea what a Gundam was were trying to find out for themselves.
Chances are you've got something say to the world as well. My advice? Say it. Submissions for Ignite 6 are open right now and Phoenix is waiting to hear where your passions lie.