As it turned out, Tom Stemberg did not have any reason to be nervous.
The founder of Framingham-based Staples Inc. and longtime Mitt Romney supporter was slotted to be an early evening speaker on the final day of the Republican National Convention in Tampa Thursday. He had never spoken to such a large crowd, or at such an important event. A big concern: Could he get the attention of people just settling into their seats?
“I was a little nervous,” said Stemberg, who waited for his chance in a backstage room with Bob White, the Romney-Ryan campaign chair, and former Massachusetts Lieutenant Governor Kerry Healey.
“People are just coming in and it can be hard to feel you’ve captured their attention,” he said. “But that turned out to be a nonissue. By Thursday night, the audience was involved and engaged from the first moment. This was not like the earlier nights.”
Stemberg — who did not use an empty chair or any other props — spoke for about seven minutes, extolling the candidate who once helped finance the Staples office supply chain as an experienced business leader and criticizing President Obama for not creating enough jobs. After a few minutes, the crowd was shouting out a catch-phrase speechwriters had prepared for Stemberg — “he just doesn’t get it” — to chide the president.
Stemberg, who runs the venture capital consumer fund at Highland Capital Partners in Cambridge, said he became involved in the convention as a scheduled speaker a week earlier and was originally supposed to appear Tuesday — before Hurricane Isaac rearranged plans. Writers helped him prepare a script, which then had to be vetted by campaign officials. Later, he was prepped for his appearance by practicing the speech in front of a wall of teleprompters.
After his appearance, Stemberg stuck around to do television interviews, but passed on convention parties later in the evening. “I just went back to my room and crashed,” he said.