This morning at the Odeon Leicester Square there were hoards of excited young people, video cameras and plans for wizardry and hopefully a little magic
Despite sounding like the crush and excitement for the new Harry Potter the furore the blinding spot-lights on the stage weren’t aimed at Daniel Radcliffe but at a series of young (depending on your view point) entrepreneurs all willing to tell their story to 800 college students
Inspiring students (or attempting to) is no mean feat and having been in this game for a while it was as fascinating as always to observe the additional nerves of usually fiercely strong entrepreneurs at the thought of facing near-on a thousand teenagers ….some of whom had risen from their pits at 5am to travel from far-flung poster-festooned bedrooms
So at 9am on a cold November morning the cattle grids were drawn back and the initial squad of chattering students enter the 800 seater room and cascade towards the front row. For those that have seen students attending conferences you’ll be well aware that sitting in the front row usually corresponds the same type of crushing embarrassment as wearing a jumper you mum bought and yet wave after wave they filed to the front; to my interest and the entrepreneurs added angst.
The 4Entrepreneurs event was run by European Study Tours as their kick-off to Global Entrepreneurship Week (GEW). GEW is a grass-routes movement celebrating and promoting entrepreneurship; a chance to inspire the young, give the hesitant a shove and supply the already entrepreneurial with even more connections and (like the entrepreneurs in the Odeon) an opportunity to give something back by talking about themselves. One thing they love to do assisted by one of the things the do best
As often with these events its as fascinating to watch both the audience of 17yr olds and their reaction as it is the speakers and their feedback from the students. One entrepreneur seemed perturbed by the fact that 3 of the audience were sound asleep during his story; understandable you might think but equally understandable that a 17yr old woken at 5am and seated in a warm cinema should have slid into fairy-land.
Again I was reminded by the strange and elusive alchemy of attempting to inspire students. Talking at them from a reference point that they have trouble grasping, its no mean feat to weave them into your story no matter how apparently gripping and poignant for their future
As the presenter you know, or believe, that you are offering up invaluable pearls of wisdom to eager ears, filling the empty vessels with your essential knowledge – “if only I’d known this when I was their age!”
But the art of fuelling, coaxing and finally sparking the flame of energy within young people is much more elusive than you’d expect. As I watched the audience this morning seated in the gloom I pictured their excitement and enthusiasm as visible sparks. I expect many of those on stage were hoping for a swelling of fiery ambition, the equivalent of dropping a lit match into a large box of its primed siblings but what I really saw were a series of small flashes appearing in fits and starts throughout the audience. No great explosion, no “Eureka” moments, no moment of destinational clarity
But here sits the true value and alchemy of attempting to inspire a group of young people to be enterprising. Today at some small moment in one quiet part of the hall an ember that was already gently burning, or if we were very lucky a spark that didn’t exist before today, got enough fuel to burn a little longer and a little deeper and with the right support and self-belief far more important than what we could offer today will lead that individual on a journey that eventually leads to them standing on stage in front of a swathe of slumped teenagers burning like a fireball with their own passion and attempting their own alchemy.
“If only I’d had this information when I was their age!”