#23 of 49 – Lose at an Awards Show

Okay, I’ll admit it, this would have been a much more enjoyable adventure had the title been, #23 of 49 Win an Awards Show, but sometimes life doesn’t always turn out as planned. And while the outcome wasn’t what I would have hoped for, the process was incredibly enjoyable and challenging.

The Greater Tampa Chamber of Commerce held their annual Small Business of the Year Awards, and for reasons unbenownst to me, somehow I made it to the top 3 finalists for Outstanding Leader of the Year.

This is where I paint a smile on my face and say, “It was an honor just to be nominated.”

Vincent accepting his well-deserved award

From the moment I knew who the other candidates were, I knew without question that the need to prepare an acceptance speech was futile.  The winner, Vincent Cassidy from Majesty Title Services, was a shoe in; and frankly, deserved the award.  That didn’t mean I wasn’t going to do my best to give each of the nominees a run for the money.  I’m highly competitive. I don’t like to lose, and if I’m going to, I’m not going to lose for a lack of effort, that’s for damn sure.

My company was also up for Small Business of the Year, but we didn’t make it past the preliminary round, which consisted of a 10 minute interview in front of 5 judges.  So for the award show, the only thing I was up for was the most prestigious award of the night.  No pressure.

I was to undergo a 50 minute interview with 3 judges: Two esteemed business leaders from the community, and the previous year’s winner of the award, Maryann Ferenc, the owner of Mise en Place.

I was to be judged on 5 criteria, and had a 50 minute time frame to make my case as to why I deserved such an honorable recognition.  The whole process was incredibly awkward.  Can you imagine having to talk to 3 people of power and have to convince them why you were better than the others in the category?  Ugh. Not my style.  I’m more the self deprecating humorist, which I knew wouldn’t bode well.

So rather than me tell the judges why I deserved the award, my company and I devised a plan.  We would have my team members in my compay endorse me for the award, and I would simply tell the judges a story in each of the 5 required categories that were up for consideration.

We had it all planned out.  Each area of our office was dedicated to a specific category. We had banners for each of the 5 areas  affixed to each door, so they would know that when they walked into that particular office, they would be evaluating me on that specific category.

The last criteria, Community Contribution, was our finale.  And we planned a whopper.  We asked various business, non profit, and educational leaders to come to our office and stay hidden away in our training room so when we walked through the final door we would have 8 – 10 people there to say how I’ve impacted the community.  To my astonishment, and what will go down as one of the most humbling and special days of 2017, I had over 30 community leaders show up to tell the judges I deserved the award.

27 of the people who showed up were clients of KPI and felt great to catch up with them all.

We had everything timed out perfectly:  10 minutes per room; out of which, 8 minutes were for the team members, and 2 minutes for my personal story. We knew we would leave the judges impressed.

We were notified by the nomination committee to be prepared to stick to the schedule and not go long because the judges had a carefully timed plan for the day and would not be deviating from their schedule.  So we arranged for the 30 + community leaders to arrive during the interview process so as not to have them waiting around in a separate room for over an hour.  Our presentation was to go from 10:30 to 11:20 and we were ready!

10:30: No judges

10:35: No judges

10:40: No judges, and mild concern.

10:45: We called the organizers and asked if we had made a mistake or misunderstood.  They informed me the judges were on their way.

10:50: No judges

10:55: The community leaders were starting to arrive, and we knew we were running the risk of having the judges see our surprise finale attendees in the elevator or lobby.  Stress levels starting to rise.

11:00: 30 + Community leaders quietly tucked away in our training room like a group of people waiting for a surprise party, but without the alcohol, snacks, or drunk uncle causing a scene.

11:05: A phone call from one of the judges explaining they were on their way and would arrive in about 15 minutes.

We new that expecting 30 + powerhouses from the community to stay in a room for another hour while we gave our presentation was a ridiculous request.  We decided to re-arrange the presentation so that when the judges arrived, we would immediately escort them into the room of leaders for their endorsement; then present the other 4 points later.  Not ideal, but not a problem either.  Or so we thought.

We knew that all of the business leaders would not be able to say what’s on their mind, so Jodi carefully instructed all but 4 people to simply say their name, their company, and the phrase “Topher deserves this award.”

Then, 4 people, 1 from education, 1 from non profit, 1 from business, and a star-student from UT would speak, giving the judges a well rounded view of the impact I’ve made on the community.  Hindsight being 20/20, we should have known better and realized that strategy would not have worked.  Every single business leader made a small speech on how I had impacted either them personally, their company, or the segment of the community they were involved with.  It was truly inspirational.  And… time consuming.  That 10 minute segment took a little over 40 minutes, leaving me less than 10 minutes to deliver all the other 4 categories.

The remaining portion of the presentation quickly became a comedy of errors. It was like a scene from Benny Hill, where they speed up the camera and make the characters move all around in super speed.  Rushing the judges from room to room, talking as fast as we possibly could to share with them all the information they needed to assess my worthiness in all of the specific areas of interest.  Needless to say, not a very impressive presentation for a guy who makes presentations for a living.

As I alluded to before, I knew there was a snowball’s chance in hell of winning, so I never publicly talked about the awards; not even to my team at the office, about the significance of what it would mean.  But I’ll admit something: I secretly never lost hope and wanted it more than anything.  I wanted it so that I could make my parents proud.  I wanted it because of the significance it might mean for my future political ambitions.  I wanted it for the pride I felt it would create within my company walls, and the pat on the back I would get from my business partner, Daniel Priestley.  And while I never prepared an acceptance speech, I totally had a mentally prepared “Oh, wow!  I didn’t think I would win so I don’t know what to say” speech roughly etched in my brain.

Paul Huszar and the team from VetCor accepting their award

The original awards show was postponed due to Hurricane Irma, which frankly was nice, because it gave me another month of hope in my heart before the anvil of reality crushed me.  The night however, was wonderful.  It was great to run into so many colleagues and friends. Also, one of my clients, Paul Huszar, the CEO of VetCor was up for Small Business of the Year, and I was able to get excited for him  and his eventual victory. He walked on stage and accepted his well deserved award.  That part of the night felt great!

Finally, the last award of the night, the Outstanding Leader of the Year.  It went by in the blink of an eye.  They played the 3  videos featuring each of us. The envelope was opened, and Vincent took his well deserved place on stage and gave a great speech to the ears of about 4o of his employees in the audience, and all the attendees at the Straz.  It was a great night. I loved the entire process and felt honored to had made it as far as I did in the selection process.

In the end, I didn’t get my goal, but I still got to be proud of my entire team rallying for a presentation that required massive flexibility. I got to hang out with my work wife, Jodi, at the awards show, and celebrated the success of one of our favorite clients, Paul Huszar, and friend, Vincent.  Overall, I’d say it was a good night.

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