I was early, which is typical for me, when I arrived at the WDAF parking lot in Kansas City. The nerves were high as this was going to be my first live TV interview in over four years and it was in studio. It was scheduled for just 3.5 minutes and the night before I couldn’t sleep fearing what would take place in what otherwise would be the slimmest of time spans.
The clock ticked ever onward and when it became 8:40 I figured it was close enough to the requested time of 8:45 so I got out of my car and slowly walked towards the door. Thankfully there was a sign that pointed which door to use if one were a morning show guest and I walked in and the receptionist greeted me and I all but locked up. She asked me my name and I had trouble getting out. This was not a good start to the morning and wasn’t helping the nerves!
Why was I so nervous? I’ve given hundreds of presentations to large crowds and a TV studio has just a few people in it and one can’t actually see the audience at home, but the thing is this; at a presentation I have complete control and am captain of the ship. I’m not used to being in the role of just a responder to a question and not guiding the conversation which led to these questions; what would be asked? How would I respond? What talking points did I want to make sure I covered? Would I be more eloquent than I had been with the receptionist in simply stating my name?
Several minutes passed and I was led into the green room. A common theme became people offering me a bottle of water. The receptionist did, the person that led me to the green room did, and every person that walked by did. I declined each time because had I drank anything I don’t think it would’ve stayed down. Yes, I was that nervous.
In the green room the television, naturally, was tuned to Fox 4 WDAF and I was watching the show I was about to be on. This wasn’t calming for the nerves as I could see the arena I was about to enter. With each passing segment mine got closer and closer and eventually a stage manager came and got me and took me into the anchor’s studio. This interview would be done at the anchor’s desk which added to the pressure.
Once inside the studio I was about three segments away and it was an odd feeling to be in there as you’d be surprised at how few people were in there. Actually, there was just the two anchors and the weather lady along with myself and the stage guy that was handling me and the microphone I’d be using. It wasn’t as busy of a place as I had witnessed at WGN four years ago and this somewhat lessened my nerves but when the main anchor, Nick Vasos, talked I realized he was live on the air and I was not more than six feet away. Call it a fish out of water, or any other overused line like that, I felt out of my league and was sure the resulting interview would be catastrophic in nature.
The segment before me was now being aired and it was being shot in the adjoining studio so Nick started talking to me and asked me more about myself and what I did. He had some notes on me but quickly the conversation went off of that and I spoke about the schools I present to along with police and the fact I had been in the area just a few weeks prior in Chillicothe. As I mentioned that the female lead, I think her name was... I'm not sure actually, (it was a blur, I don’t remember) joined the conversation and quickly Nick turned to the camera and Linda joined in and they tossed it to the weather lady and Nick said, “You know what’s Chillicothe is known for, don’t you?” This transition was so quick and I didn’t know if it was appropriate to be talking during the weather report as the weather desk is just about 15 feet away, but I said, “no” and when he came back with, “It’s the home of” and in unison we said, “sliced bread” as there are reminders of that everywhere in that town.
It was time of an ad break and somehow the conversation got to the fact that I flag for two national racing series and Nick asked me about that. It became so conversational that I forgot that I was about to be live to the entire KC metro area.
The commercial was over and it was time. The anchors introduced me in a form that I don’t remember, and I was introduced and the camera panned out to where I was standing which was just to camera left. Thankfully I was right up against the anchor desk and I was able to put my hands on it. This was important because I feared ending up in the positional warfare, which I haven’t talked about in a while, but what that is, to put simply, is that I can end up in a state of not feeling comfortable with the way my body is in the space it’s in and I’ll constantly fidget trying to find the right posture, but being able to put my hands on the desk was relaxing.
There had been a script and the two anchors had told me beforehand what questions would be asked but quickly we went off script which was relieving for me. I do better without a script as I will over-prepare and it became, quite simply, a conversation with two people and myself. If you watched, and I’ll put the link at the bottom, I never break the fourth wall to the audience which, in turn would break the fourth wall for myself, in that I never looked at the camera. Eye contact is difficult, but eye contact with the camera on live TV is even more difficult so I had to make my world smaller.
I had no idea how I was doing and I made a quip about how I talked to my teacher’s about weather over and over at recess and the weather lady cracked up, which couldn’t be seen on TV, but she was laughing rather heartedly and I noticed the woman lead anchor nod which told me someone had told something in her ear which made me concerned because I feared I had done something wrong, but the questions kept going.
Before I could process that it had begun it was over. I was told, on air, that I am “awesome” which was, well, I don’t feel like that and I just do what I do because it needs to be done but as I began to leave the studio both anchors told me I did a great job and as I walked past the control room I heard several shouts of, “great job!” Needless to say it went much better than when I had walked in and tried to simply tell the receptionist my name but there were several factors that got me to what you would’ve seen on screen. The first was that, at the start walking in, I wasn’t in my “Alias”. What this means was that I wasn’t Aaron the Autism Ambassador for Easter Seals Midwest but just a random guy. I didn’t get into my alias until Nick had the mini-conversation before the actual interview. That was a great warmup and when it became time to start I was fully in my alias as you’d see me in a presentation because that’s what it was. It wasn’t, to me, being aired to tens of thousands of people but rather I was giving a 5 minute presentation to two people that certainly appeared to have a genuine interest in what I was saying.
As I left the studio my phone had e-mails, text messages, and messages on Facebook stating I did a good job. I wouldn’t have known because the tension was so high and the time flew so fast that I don’t remember much other than what I have written. I do know, however, I felt at ease and at home in that arena and I’m thankful for the chance to spread autism understanding on the air and I’m thankful to the anchors for making the experience a most memorable one… even if I don’t remember it entirely.
To watch the interview and read the story the station wrote go to http://fox4kc.com/2016/04/25/mo-native-recognized-on-list-of-68-people-with-autism-to-know/