WOW Leaders Must Have Sharp Platform Skills

“WOW leaders” (i.e., those who are exemplary), set the example by being positive, clear communicators who encourage the same from others.

Effective communication is not always a given—it’s a skill set that can be learned, enhanced, and shared with those you lead. Transparent, fair, and reciprocal communication is vital to the success of any team. If you are a “WOW leader,” as I like to call exemplary leaders, set the example by being a positive, clear communicator who encourages the same from others.

Presentation skills, public speaking, executive presence, or platform skills (no matter what you call it), a WOW leader needs to be good in front of people. In order to inspire others to rise up and go the extra mile, the clarity, passion, and sincerity of your words must be properly communicated. If you deliver a lackluster, insincere, or rambling message to your team or audience, what they’ll hear will be little more than what Charlie Brown and his friends hear when the grownups speak: “Wah, wah, wah.”

If you’re trying to instill motivation, deliver a call to action, or drive home a point, you must keep your platform skills sharp by preparing in advance. You can’t wing it, phone it in, or put the responsibility on the listeners to decode a cryptic, disorganized message. In addition, you can’t behave like a DUD (the opposite of a WOW leader) and rely on your title or reputation to do the speaking for you. People aren’t going to be impressed by your name or your position—they will only respond to what you say and what you do. WOWs aren’t handed respect; they earn it and work hard to keep it.

To develop and maintain exemplary platform communication skills, you must work at it. You must resolve to WOW by identifying what may be tripping you up at the podium or in the boardroom.

Here are some questions to ask yourself:

  • Are you shy, nervous, or afraid to speak in front of others?
  • Is your presentation disorganized or lacking in focus?
  • Is your vocal delivery flat, hesitant, or unclear?
  • Do you have any nervous habits or idiosyncrasies that may be distracting or annoying?
  • Are you disengaged or uninterested in who the audience members are and what they need to hear?
  • Are you being truthful and humble, or just trying to build yourself up with some hidden agenda?
  • Have you adequately prepared what you need to communicate?

Sharpen Your Platform Skills

To overcome some of the obstacles to WOW platform skills, try some of these techniques:

1. Prepare. Make a checklist before a meeting, presentation, or speaking engagement. What is your objective? What is your point? What are the key messages you want people to walk away with? Also keep in mind factors such as the setting, how much time you have, and audience expectations. Write out a rough draft or agenda that includes

your main points and several examples. Also allow time for questions, if appropriate, to reinforce that your message was clearly conveyed. The point is to do your homework before you begin speaking.

2. Read your audience. You’ll need to adjust your tone, pace, style, and even the message depending on the venue and the audience. If you’re speaking to an intimate group of close, familiar coworkers, you can be more informal and direct, but if you’re presenting to a large, mixed group of colleagues, you may need to be more formal and careful with your words. If you’re giving the same speech to several different audiences, ask yourself how they are different, and then adjust as needed.

Will a more logical or emotional approach resonate with a particular group? How much entertainment is expected with the presentation? What is the audience’s level of sophistication or understanding of the topic? Is it a friendly or unfriendly environment? Make sure you adjust your platform skills based on the perspective of the audience.

3. Rehearse. Go over what you’re going to say before you say it. Get in front of a mirror or enlist your trusted advisers or inner circle to listen to a run-through. Better yet, make a “selfie” video of your presentation, then play it back to see how you did. Practice doesn’t necessarily make perfect, but it will help you stay organized, tighten up any weak spots, and, in general, strengthen your confidence and overall performance.

4. Seek feedback. It’s not always easy to recognize your own strengths and weaknesses. To get the best picture of your true platform skills, seek feedback from someone who will tell you the truth and provide you with honest input. Enlist a platform skill coach or someone you admire as a speaker and WOW professional. Chances are, people at the top of their game in terms of executive presence did not start out at the top; they had to work at it and build up to it. By seeking feedback, you may learn some “tricks of the trade” or discover some mechanisms used by those who have already solidified their platform skills.

To be a WOW leader, you must have an acceptable level of platform skills. Your job is to inspire, motivate, and communicate effectively in order to lead effectively. Those to whom you present your ideas, directives, and visions are the same people you depend on to step up and push through barriers and challenges. To get the results you seek, you must deliver a WOW message in a WOW way. Investing in improving your presentation skills is investing in yourself, your people, and the common goals and successes you all endeavor to achieve.

For nearly 30 years, Sheri Staak has worked with and managed more than 1,000 sales representatives in highly aggressive and competitive marketplaces in the U.S. while in key leadership roles at both large privately held and publicly traded global companies. Having led businesses with more than $1 billion in revenue, worked with successful start-ups, and managed turnarounds, Staak’s broad range of experience in both the small business and corporate workplace has provided her with a wealth of knowledge that she shares regularly in her blog, The STAAK Report. Staak has a BS in Marketing from the University of Central Florida and has participated in programs at Thunderbird School of Global Management at the University of Michigan, the Ross School of Business and the Kellogg Graduate School of Management. Her new book, “Tune In to WOW Leadership,” is available on as well as at other fine booksellers. To learn more, visit:, or visit her Facebook page at www.facebook/The Staak