The Turtle on the Fence Post

Alex Haley, author of Roots, kept on the wall of his office a picture of a turtle sitting on a fence. To him, the image held a powerful lesson. His explanation: "If you see a turtle on top of a fence post, you know he had some help." 

I think that is especially true of the effective presenter. Becoming a competent presenter requires help. To become effective, you need others to give you feedback and advice on how to improve. This is important because you are not in the audience to hear yourself speak; you have to rely on the feedback of those who listen. Certainly, there is benefit in watching yourself on video, but this is not the same as getting actual audience members telling you what they saw and felt as you were speaking.

If there is not an organized method of audience feedback, then choose someone you know who will be in the audience to critique your speech. If there is a person in the audience who has heard other speakers in the past, ask how you compare to previous ones.

Choose a coach to give you suggestions. This can be a presentations trainer or someone who has heard you speak several times and knows your style and topic well. My wife is an invaluable resource for me. She is willing to give me honest and specific feedback since she has heard me speak a few hundred times. She is especially helpful in vocabulary selection. She can revise the structure and word choice of an idea that usually makes me think, "Why couldn't I have thought of that?"  Your person might be a member of Toastmasters who has had a lot of experience in critiquing speakers.

When you hear an excellent presenter, ask that person who has helped him or her along the way. I guarantee the response will not be, "Oh, I just kept trying different ways until I thought it worked."  Instead there will be a particular person or an audience he or she addressed where the feedback “made me change the way I spoke,” or a name of someone “who made me aware of a few things I had not been doing.”

For example, one of the greatest regional speakers in the 20th century was Governor Frank Clement of Tennessee. His speaking was the subject of my doctoral dissertation many years ago. A major influence on his speaking was his sister, Annabelle.

In addition, a major speechwriter for Ronald Reagan who influenced the content of his speeches was Peggy Noonan, now an author and Wall Street Journal columnist.

Outstanding speakers must have help to achieve excellence. Don't become too caught up in your ability to speak. Remember the turtle on the fence post.Turtle on a post

Stephen D. Boyd, Ph.D., CSP, is Professor Emeritus of Speech Communication, College of Informatics, Northern Kentucky University, near Cincinnati. He presents keynotes and seminars to corporations and associations whose people want to speak and listen effectively. Visit his site to read other valuable articles on effective speaking and listening.

Steve Boyd
Steve Boyd
Stephen D. Boyd, Ph.D., CSP, is Professor Emeritus of Speech Communication, College of Informatics, Northern Kentucky University, near Cincinnati. Steve won the Toastmasters International Speech Contest in 1970 and was chosen Outstanding Professor of the Year at NKU in 1984, among other awards and honors. Since retiring, he volunteers with nonprofits, spends time with family, travels, preaches occasionally, and enjoys reading and writing. Contact Steve at (859) 866-5693 or at

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