Giving a speech before paramilitary requires courage and baking skills.

It was May, and I was in Portland, Oregon to give a presentation at the FLIR User Conference on behalf of my CAP squadron and our recently acquired FLIR camera. Before me sat a room full of police, paramilitary, military, security personnel and scientists from the United States and several foreign countries. 99 percent were male.

I stood at the podium in front of the room, clicker in hand. PowerPoint presentation loaded. All eyes on me. CAP uniform.

I am way out of my element, I thought. These guys are hardcore. My introduction was about over. I had to find some words to start.

I had heard several days of presentations that demonstrated impressive technical and tactical use of the FLIR. My squadron was new to using the FLIR and we certainly weren’t chasing criminals or dropping bombs. I didn’t know how I could possibly enlighten anyone in this room.

Four score and several months ago…. no, that one was taken. I wasn’t sure how to start, how to catch their attention.

My introduction was over, and the FLIR representative turned the session over to me.

Portland was a fun town. I’d gone exploring by myself the night before, and found a kind of fun hole-on-the-wall pizza joint with a guy behind the counter who seemed really familiar with joints. He was very friendly. I had located the Blue Moon Chocolate store, and purchased several boxes of chocolate for friends. But in the back of my mind during all my solitary evening exploring, I knew this presentation had been looming, and now here it was.

I cleared my throat. What could I do to grab the attention and hold the respect of this kind of a room, when my presentation was basically going to give an overview of CAP and how we were intending to use the FLIR camera but hadn’t really yet?

“Hello,” I said. “My name is Julie Neidlinger. I’m a First Lieutenant in the Civil Air Patrol.”


Lesson 1: The Freshman doesn’t get to brag about her status to the Senior.

I’m dying up here. What does that even mean in a room full of serious military men who have actual meaningful rank?

“I also hold a private pilot’s certificate.”

That got a few nods and murmurs.

Lesson 2: Figure out what gives you street cred.

“The Civil Air Patrol is made up of civilian volunteers.  So, in my day job, I am a pastry chef.”

Whoops and hollers and applause went up from the room, and I relaxed. I knew I could continue.

Lesson 3: Everyone loves donuts.