The Professor And His First Lecture

You have to be confident to choose that outfit, though

Public speaking. It’s anxiety-inducing for most of us, which is why most of us are impressed by those who do it well. Our house has one member who does not fear speaking in front of others. In fact, Luke was born with two traits most people lack: self-confidence and a gift for public speaking. When I say born with, I’m not joking. For most people, confidence comes either through racking up a series of successes or repeatedly messing things up and then realizing we survived that calamity successfully. Luke needed neither of those experiences to acquire confidence. He simply had it in spades from the beginning.

From the age of two, Luke’s confidence allowed him to work a room. His toddler birthday parties were a dream. He would open a gift, carry on as if it (a toy, a blanket, a toddler potty, a dollar bill) was the greatest thing he’d ever seen, and then he would run to the gift giver and hug them. It was something else. We couldn’t have trained him to do that if we’d tried. When he was in first grade, we were looking at some of his art work. He looked at me and asked, “Am I pretty good at art or am I amazing at it?” He didn’t even consider that he might be meh at it like I would have. Another time around that same age, while he and his brother were discussing attractiveness, Luke said, “I’m attractive. I’m totally attractive. I’m like 300% attractive.” Well, okay then, I thought. The thing about Luke, though, is you can tell those statements aren’t made because he’s overcompensating for a lack of self-esteem or because he’s an arrogant little weasel. He just knows who he is and he’s comfortable with it. He also knows what he wants and how he will get it. He’s not conceited. He’s convinced.

His gift for public speaking first showed itself in school plays, where he was often given the funniest line and would deliver it and soak up the laughs like a lizard soaks up the sun. He would volunteer to give presentations to his class or other classes. When his voice dropped, his public speaking presence only increased. In junior high, he was chosen to lead tours for school visitors. He quickly became a Lead Ambassador in high school. Then he ran for offices in the Student Senate and the school chapter of the National Honor Society and won. Along the way, he kept killing it at public speaking. All students are required to compete in the Great Debates during junior year, and Luke finished in the top four. During senior year, students are asked to give a 50-minute presentation on a topic of their choosing. Most students think of this as something they have to get through. Luke started considering topics for his presentation his freshman year.

Last night, Luke stood in our living room and did his final practice for his Senior Symposium presentation today. His topic? Mars in Science Fiction. Luke started practicing for us on Sunday. He quickly realized he would run long with the copious amounts of information he had (he calculated he had read 8200 pages of science fiction about Mars over the years), so he presented to us again on Monday night with a reduced format and nailed the timing. Last night he practiced in front of us one last time. He was ready. Here he is in a one-minute practice snippet, which he granted permission for me to share:

It’s not easy to present with a dog wandering in and out and it’s not easy to film when your subject is working the room

Luke’s plans at this point are to become a college professor. That could change, of course, but he is aware that his comfort with public speaking is a gift and something he should find a way to use in his life. When we watched him give his speech, I have to admit that I could imagine him as a professor. He needed no notes. He spoke extemporaneously with little effort, comfortable in his subject-matter expertise. He was excited to give his speech to his classmates today. When he got in the car at the end of the day, he was ebullient. He was still hyped up over his presentation, for which received accolades.

It’s something else to see someone using their gifts. It reminds you that you should be doing something with your own.