Skills & Drills
Be thoughtful and selective in what you talk about when you're teaching.
You're standing in front of a classroom wearing a microphone with 40 people staring at you and 60 minutes to fill. In between instructions and cues, what are you going to say? The drive to overshare politically, personally or otherwise may be strong. Think twice, however. Many great instructors have lost a prime slot on the schedule because they tripped on a verbal gaffe and landed with a foot in their mouth. Use this guide to determine which shares have a green, yellow or red light, and make sure you don't talk yourself out of a good class.
Health News Articles
Staying current on health and fitness news is important. When you're up to date on research, you're empowered to educate people about how the day's workout affects their quality of life. However, you must check your sources carefully and know that the advice you share is backed by legitimate science.
Beware of studies funded by special-interest groups. For example, a study about the bone-building attributes of milk paid for by the dairy industry is dubious. Read between the headlines when health studies make breaking news. Here are good questions to ask: How large was the study? Have other studies found opposite results? Have these results been replicated? In recent years we've seen life-changing health scares fall apart once the initial study was revealed to have been less than legitimate. As a rule of thumb, if research turns well-known health habits upside down, wait for backup before jumping on board.
Avoid sharing health articles written by bloggers expressing more opinion than fact. Your participants may be turned off if you guilt-trip them about shopping at a chain market or preach about the dangers of microwaves. It's better to steer toward the middle of the road than ride on the fringes.
Showcasing A Participant
You couldn't help but notice that Jenny in the back corner has lost about 50 pounds and has moved to the front of the room. You're inspired and proud of her and want to put her in a spotlight. Should you? Sharing a regular participant's success at losing weight, training for or finishing a race, or overcoming an injury is a great way to motivate others and demonstrate how your class can help them reach their goals. However, always check with the participant first to get the all clear, and keep any personal stories strictly classified.
Your Personal Health
Be sure to let your class know about any health concern that will affect your ability to teach class, and explain how you plan to work around it, but focus only on what they need to know. Let's say your arm is in a sling. Describe how you plan to demonstrate arm work unilaterally, and repeatedly remind them to work both arms when necessary. Your back is out—let people know you'll keep the movement patterns basic and cue heavily to ensure that everyone gets the best workout possible. Although it might be a hilarious adventure that landed your arm in a sling or caused your back to go out, save the big story for a night out with friends and keep it out of the classroom. Share just enough to set the stage for a successful workout.
Pregnancy falls in the "green light" category. There's not much you can do to keep this health concern to yourself. The whole village rallies around a pregnancy. Your participants will be full of excitement, advice and stories of their own experiences. You may want to set boundaries about how much of your personal life you share. Keep it professional on the mic. Assure your class you'll deliver a great workout without jeopardizing yourself. Before and after class, keep boundaries firm by cheerfully and consistently steering conversations away from your health, especially if you're getting unwanted advice.
You're so pumped about your new direct-sales endeavor and you have a microphone, so . . . Slow down! Check your facility's policies before you toss out a line. Some gyms might fire you on the spot for promoting yourself inappropriately, while others may have a softer policy. Using class time to extol the benefits of your miracle product is not okay, but setting up a table by the front door may be a welcome idea.
Teaching isn't about following a robotic routine with rote cuing! You're also an entertainer, and breaking out of the mold makes you human and likable, right? Unfortunately, a joke in bad taste can quickly turn the tide. If you decide to pepper class with humor, make sure you keep it short (no longer than a couple of reps), relevant to what you're doing, and on a topic that wouldn't make your mother blush. Most important, never, ever joke at the expense of a participant. It doesn't matter how witty your banter can be—always use humor to lift people up rather than tear them down. If humor isn't your forte, make this a red zone. Why risk it?
Seeking Medical Advice
You have a big group of people in one room; surely someone has had an ailment similar to the one you're currently dealing with. Isn't it okay to flash your mystery rash or describe your insomnia in case someone knows of a magic cure? No, it's not. Don't start class on a personal health note that could trigger negative thoughts and feelings among attendees.
Everyone in that room has a stake in your being able to show up every day and perform at your best. If you simply include a small mention in the beginning about how you will need to modify, without going into detail, you'll usually get heaps of advice by the end of class. Collect all referrals and weed through them at your leisure. If no tips come through, hit up your friends, not your clients.
Long Personal Stories
You have the best disaster date-night story and you're sure that sharing it in class will make the hour of squats and lunges fly. Guess again. Your job is to help participants get the most out of their workout. The moment you go into storytelling mode, people feel trapped and unimportant. Show them their workout is your number-one priority by keeping the focus on them and off your personal life.
If you want to share a personal story, make it short, to the point and directly related to what's happening in class. A succinct story of motivation, commiseration or perseverance can light a fire and build momentum. A long-winded account, on the other hand, may grind your class to a halt.
Even the smallest hint of politics gets a red flag, no matter what. While you may have a group of buddies who like a spirited political debate, you enjoy your point of view, and you couldn't imagine there would be a person in his right mind who would disagree with you, never breathe a word about politics in the classroom. Be more neutral than Switzerland. Even a seemingly harmless political joke can reveal your loyalties and make some of your participants feel angry or alienated. If any of your regulars are connected with you on social media, avoid posting about politics. The studio should be a partisan-free oasis where participants view you as a model of health and fitness, not a political rival.
You're in the middle of class and the woman in the front row asks you pointblank about the latest gym controversy. It's been the buzz all week, you know all the juicy details, and the temptation to dish is great. Do not share! Play your cards close to your chest and feign ignorance. Refer all questions to the manager and get back to jump squats as soon as possible.
If persistent members follow you into the locker room hunting for the story, maintain your strict silence. Treat your colleagues with nothing but professional respect and hopefully they will do the same for you if the roles are reversed one day. If you jump into the salacious mix, it may backfire—with consequences for you if management finds out you fanned the flames. The hot gossip will die soon enough, and your silence will keep the class—and your integrity—intact.
Map to Successful Sharing
The best instructors are the perfect mix of professional, motivational and companionable, and it all comes down to the words that come out of your mouth during class. Remember, everyone in the studio is on his or her own quest for personal health and you're an important guide.
There are certain components you must cue in every class: setting up the movement, fine-tuning form, presenting modifications and motivating the masses. Once these boxes are checked, you may feel scared to share anything more after seeing all the red and yellow lights above. Go through this checklist to decide if you have a green light to share:
- Am I sharing something that is appropriate for this audience?
- Does what I want to share add value?
- Is this share an appropriate length?
Make your shares memorable and impactful by thinking of them as news soundbites that can be delivered within a few repetitions and will stick with people as they leave. Share mindfully and appropriately to maintain a professional, results-oriented environment.