Sunday, April 10, 2011

Enhancing Educators’ Presence “On Stage” – Importance of Platform Skills

By: Emily Yantis
As a trainer of peer educators in my practicum experience, I have begun to understand the importance and need for educator “platform skills.”  As a student myself, I have very little understanding of teaching platform skills and have started researching the subject to try and add this to the training plans for my peer educators.  My own knowledge of platform skills comes from my background in theatre and music; having good posture, making significant eye contact, wearing the correct things, managing gestures, etc.  Other than personal experiences, I don’t have much knowledge to train with.

While searching through the various books we have for 625/626, I did find some information.  Eggen and Kauchak (2006) include platform skills and other effective techniques under “Essential Teaching Strategies.”  Teacher characteristics such as modeling and enthusiasm and personal teaching efficacy promote learner motivation and increased student achievement (Eggen & Kauchak, 2006). Some of the most important key factors to teacher effectiveness are communication, organization, and feedback (Eggen & Kauchak, 2006).  Although I find it mighty obvious that educators need to communicate clearly, connectedly, and with emphasis (Eggen & Kauchak, 2006); these qualities may not be natural to educators and need to be taught…but HOW?  Part of the effectiveness of platform skills comes from the educators’ ability to understand their audience feedback (Eggen & Kauchak, 2006).  What skills does it take a trainer to teach others how to feel for audience feedback?  And give their audiences appropriate and helpful feedback in return?

These are just a couple of the questions that have surfaced throughout my search to train undergraduate students about educator effectiveness and platform skills.  Unfortunately, I have not found much to help so far so I look forward to hearing others’ stories about their own experiences enhancing their platform skills and even teaching platform skills to others.


Eggen, P.D. & Kauchak, D.P. (2006). Strategies and models for teachers: Teaching content and thinking skills. Boston, MA: Pearson Education Inc. 


  1. In reflecting upon this blog, I recall my undergraduate sociology class. We discussed a theorist by the name of Charles Cooley. He refrenced "the looking glass self". "The looking glass self" refers to how the sense of self is often determined by how others percieve us. Therefore, when we talk about stage presence or platform skills, a sex educator really has to negotiate his or her style with the audience. The theatrical performance must take into consideration the audience or learner. For some learners a dance and song performance may turn off the learner. In other situations it can help the learner to really understand what is being taught.
    Comedy and Tragedy,

  2. In essence, this response could apply to Rachel’s blog on putting people off, Lindsay’s blog on co-teaching, and Emily’s blog about “On Stage” platform skills. The common theme I pull from all three is experience. I started teaching when I was 23 as an educator for a sewing machine company. I have had 23 years of experience since then in learning how not to put people off, how to ‘perform’ on stage, and I have had a few experiences in co-teaching. I learned from watching others in my field(s) teach and I learned by teaching. Additionally, when a new lesson plan is developed and I step forward to ‘teach’ for the first time, the potential is still there to put people off or to perform badly. This is especially true in a co-teaching situation first time around as real life interferes with the best-laid plans.

    It is only as you deliver your best laid plans to your audience for the first time that you experience what might trip you up or what might trip your audience’s buttons. You learn what works; the unintentional humor that allowed a concept to hit home, what you would do differently next time; slow down to allow for more audience reflection, or when co-teaching; just when to step up and step back. Every time you teach the same lesson plan to the same target audience you increase your knowledge base and your platform skills. You try out new humor and you discover how just by changing the wording of a question you can generate roses versus weeds.

    Teaching is an art: Some people just do it better than others. Some people do it better with younger kids and some do it better with adult learners. All teachers do it better after experience: Even the gifted teacher gets better with experience.

  3. I couldn't agree more with Vicki that teaching is an art. I especially loved that last line - "Even the gifted teacher gets better with experience."

    I had thought that my 15 years of working as a waitress was a disadvantage. I measured myself against many of the classroom peers in our program who have been working "in the field" of human sexuality and felt that my work as a waitress has been a total waste of time. I have been thinking that I should be doing something more relevant to what I am learning.

    Emily, your post has made me think that maybe I've been miscalculating the value of waiting tables. It's true that this profession has made me a bit more cynical and more likely to devalue myself (based on being in a subservient position in which there is a completely unfair power dynamic between myself and the restaurant guests). There is also something very valuable about waiting tables in that it has taught me to speak to total strangers with confidence. It has also taught me another very important skill - ADAPTING.

    I believe that having the confidence to speak in front of a group and also having the ability to adapt to various situations are two essential skills for teachers. It's true that teachers are "on stage" in the classroom and it's also true that this gets better with experience. I'm hoping that my experience with restaurant jobs will help when I'm in front of the room with students. At least I know that the power dynamic will be a little bit more in my favor than when I've worked as a waitress.

  4. Reading this post has got me thinking back to class about evaluated experience. In order to build a stronger platform sometimes it is necessary to just get out there and do your best, but be mindful of the results. In order to teach about audience feedback and how to deliver relevant information back to them one answer is practice.

    I did a presentation last week for thirty adolescents and for the first half I was so busy thinking about what I should do and how to work my platform that I struggled. I nearly tanked the presentation in the first half hour. The one thing that saved me was after a tangental comment was made without thinking I made a friendly joke as feedback and the whole group began to laugh. I had successfully connected the participant back to the material, did not offend the youth, and realized that by playing to my strengths (use of humor) instead of trying too hard I hopped right back on the platform.

    Emily I think in working with the peer educators the answer might be to spend time focusing on the strengths of the individual to create a sturdy platform to stand on. As educators we will not be perfect or complete our lessons the same way, but I think if we can utilize our strengths than we can witness a better outcome.

  5. As I have gone through the experience of writing, implementing, and evaluating my own performance in regard to curriculum … I have to say that there is a part of me that thinks that platform performance can’t actually be taught. The concept can be shared. It can be demonstrated. Discussion about the concept can occur. I’m just not so sure that you can teach someone platform experience.

    I feel like it’s similar to the fact that you can’t teach someone swagger. You can demonstrate it. You can talk about how to have swagger. You can discuss what makes someone’s swagger ballin’. But at the end of the day … someone’s swagger is all about who they are as person.

    And as all those who have commented previously, finding one’s teaching swagger is a mixture of examined experience, personality, and the group with which an educator is interacting. It’s as varied and unpredictable as anything within the realm of human variation.

    To take this to a concrete place, perhaps teaching platform performance is more about helping students to connect their presentation/education skills to the greater way in which they interact with the world. (I.e. if you’re a jokester in real life, you’re more likely to be successful as a jokester in the classroom.) Perhaps, teaching platform performance is simply an extension of helping people realize who they are and what they have to offer, not just in a classroom, but in the world.

  6. Hi Emily. This is a tough one. I think Becca put her finger on it in that you can't teach it, exactly. What you might try is using those things you got from the text, but also build in observance time (you watching them teach) and have a discussion about it after. My guess is that as you are training them, they will try to mimic you. Have a discussion about what you do well and don't do well and why. It might help them open up to their own unique strengths.

    ~Rachel Girard

  7. While I agree that a big part of “platform skills” come from experience, I also have a few ideas for possible ways to teach (or practice) these skills.

    1) Videotape! I am pretty confident in my educator skills, but I have never seen myself educate. I would assume that this is true for many educators. One way to enhance someone’s performance skills would be to have them videotape themselves teaching, then they would watch the video and take note of their strengths and weaknesses. This would allow them to see any physical or verbal tics they have that are distracting for the learners. It would also let them hear the volume, pace, and tone of their vocals.

    2) Easy skills teaching: For people who are new to teaching, there can be a lot to remember. One way to practice teaching while easing the pressure would be to teach an “easy skill”. This would be something that most people are familiar with and would require no research. This could be how to tie a shoe, or how to make a peanut butter and jelly sandwich. The point being that, with the content already known by the practice teacher, they can focus more on the “platform skills” of teaching. This lets them practice teaching without the additional stress of new or unfamiliar content.

    3) Bizarro Audience: There’s an episode of the television show Parks and Recreation where one character, Leslie, is nervous for an upcoming date. Her friend Anne takes Leslie out on a practice date. On the practice date, Anne is awful: she’s rude, aggressive, creepy, etc. Just an all-out bad date. At the end, Anne points out to Leslie that she just went on a horrible date and survived. This makes Leslie less nervous about her upcoming real date. So, this same technique could be applied when you are training new teachers. I call it “Bizarro Audience” because it’s the opposite of “Bizarro Don” from 625. Instead of an awful, no good, very bad teacher, there would be an awful, no good, very bad audience. The student teacher would teach a lesson and the rest of the group would be the “bizarro audience”. They could do things like speak out of turn, complain that it’s boring, be rude to their classmates, etc. The student teacher would have to manage these aspects of teaching and would (hopefully) survive. They would also have the benefit of being in a safe environment (among friends) to practice these skills.

    I hope these ideas help, Emily!

  8. Platform skills can make or break a teacher. This is the difference between a teacher who is popular and well-liked vs. one who is considered boring.

    This is one of my biggest fears for teaching. Even though we teach about sex, the content or lesson may be dry and the pressure is on us to perform in order to catch and maintain our students’ interest.

    I actually think that we could benefit from more instruction on how to sharpen our platform skills in our program, just like I appreciated the tips on improving Powerpoint presentations we discussed in 626. These practical skills are necessary for doing our jobs and will improve our teaching competence.