Monday, November 28, 2022

My Biggest Presenting Regret

I can't imagine making it to the Super Bowl, being wide open in the end zone, and dropping what would've been the game winning catch. That type of life event would haunt forever. I have a moment like this. I think about it every day and it angers me. Why wasn't I better? Why was I intimidated? Why didn't I speak up? Granted, I didn't even, if we keep the football story alive, have the talent to be a starter on a high school team at the time, but nonetheless I'm haunted.

It's March 1st, 2010, and I'm awaiting my turn to present at the police academy. It's a big day for me as it's the day I became a full-time presenter and blogger. I'd had never had a full-time job up to this point and it was this that set everything up for the next decade. However, as excited as I am, I am equally as tired as just 48 hours earlier I was attending an Olympic event in Vancouver, and I also just stepped off a red-eye flight and I had been up for well over 24 hours.

It was my 18th career presentation. I'm over 1,050 currently, but this was my 18th career and 13th police presentation. I had never come across "that guy" before. Who is that guy? That guy could be anyone that fits into a stereotypical outline of a guy who just doesn't care, who doesn't get it, and is the worst at their profession. I would meet that guy as soon as my PowerPoint got on the screen.

You're going to get angry. I still am. I write this not to knock police officers as a whole. Since this event I've presented at all levels up to the top levels of the FBI and I have NEVER come across that guy again in my law enforcement presenting career. However, as a rookie, I did, and I crumbled.

The PowerPoint came up and the opening slide read, "Autism and Law Enforcement". This guy, front row and on my left side, said, "autism? What a bunch of spoiled children!" This was before I introduced myself, before I opened my mouth, and in this classroom that had 20 people in it, he became a blackhole of misinformation that sucked in everyone else's desire to learn, and the rest of the room fed upon his negativity. I had lost the room and I hadn't even had a chance to win them yet.

What was I to do? I'm a rookie, a novice, and I have zero confidence. Confront? Absolutely not! I decided, in my almost delirious state of being up for far too long, decided to go status quo. After I introduced myself, and said that I was on the spectrum, I was hoping his heart would turn, but stay to the dark side it did, and each sign, trait, or anything I said was met with a scoff or sneer. When I got to sensory issues he said aloud, "don't you mean you should just man up?" There was no retort from me, just status quo without wavering.

Twenty minutes went on and my confidence, or what was left of the little amount that was, was now a burning crisp of overcooked popcorn. My 50-minute presentation turned into a 35-minute express version, and I got out of there as fast as I could. What was supposed to be triumphant day had turned into a nightmare. What had happened? How could someone's heart be so blackened that they felt they had to disrespect the presenter to their face? Why did I do nothing?

Nothing... this is what has haunted me for a dozen years. I did nothing. I could've challenged him, perhaps won over the rest of the room. Perhaps I could've notified a supervisor. I could've done anything more than what I did. 

I often wonder what happened to that guy, and I do this not out of anger or spite but of true curiosity because I don't understand how someone could be so cruel in that moment. After I had time to think about it in 2010, I vowed to never be walked over again as a presenter, and I haven't. I learned tact, such as the time a director of special education for a large school district was amazed when they learned from me that routine is important for those on the autism spectrum (she didn't know this, or many other traits that are almost common knowledge) and I was nice and cordial about it. I learned compassion when a teacher broke down in tears thinking about how they did everything wrong for a student when they thought they were helping a kid before they knew autism was in play. And I learned how to be someone else's voice when they said, "Could you explain why I... we do..." when referring to behaviors of the autism spectrum. However, I never got the chance to go toe-to-toe with that guy. In 96,000 live attendees at my presentation, I came across "that guy" when he would've been around the 600th person to see me speak. I didn't have a chance, and even though I know this, I'm still angry at myself. Maybe though, the other officers there that day saw me attempt to power through. Maybe they saw me not be confrontational. Perhaps my professionalism in this assault of disrespect resonated with them after the day when they were removed from the black hole he created. I hope so... oh, do I hope so.

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