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Fitness Fame and Fortune

How to break into the competitive world of fitness presenting.

Petra Kolber, the 2001 IDEA Fitness Instructor of the Year, says the number-one question she gets from convention participants is “How do I become a presenter?” Taking your love of fitness to new levels by sharing your ideas as a presenter is a terrific way to gain recognition from your peers and stay motivated in your career. But getting to the international fitness stage takes more than passion and enthusiasm—it takes years of financial investment, perseverance, business smarts and savvy marketing.

Competition among wannabe fitness presenters is steep. Aprile Peishel, MA, IDEA’s event programming director, shares the numbers: “We receive about 150 applications each year from new applicants and approximately 350 from past presenters. Last year we hired 63 new presenters for our three events. The majority—at least 40 people—came from outside the application process, meaning that these were people we tracked down and invited to fill a certain niche. So in reality we selected about 20 presenters from the 150 new applications submitted.”

How do you get noticed in the competitive world of fitness presenting? The key is to find a need and fill it. Identify something you are uniquely qualified to offer that is missing from today’s fitness conventions. Highlighting your special talent enables you to market yourself in a way that will make you irresistible to event planners. >>

Investigate the Trends

When programming events, fitness convention planners have many goals in mind. They want to meet the educational needs of their attendees and offer them opportunities to earn continuing education credits (CECs), while incorporating branded programming and new equipment trends. In short, they need to design a curriculum that will attract the greatest number of attendees.

It’s no easy task when you consider the changing face of the fitness convention audience. Ten years ago, fitness conferences were largely geared to aerobics instructors, who were constantly on the lookout for new choreography and teaching methods. But if you look around the room at a conference today, in addition to seeing group exercise instructors, you are likely to see personal trainers, massage therapists, chiropractors, physiotherapists, athletic therapists, yoga practitioners and lifestyle counselors. Event planners are seeking lectures and active workshops to meet the needs of all these attendees.

To maintain your marketability, you have to keep looking in the crystal ball to see what is going to be hot in fitness 18 months to 2 years down the road. IDEA’s annual Fitness Programs & Equipment Survey is a great tool for studying fitness trends. (See Resources on page 62.) This survey, which shows what is popular in fitness facilities today, can help you decide what direction to take with your workshop ideas. Another source of helpful information is the International Health, Racquet & Sportsclub Association (IHRSA) annual “Profiles of Success” report. The 2003 report, for example, indicates that 94% of clubs offer personal training, 90% offer step aerobics and 89% offer fitness evaluation. Pilates and personal training in small groups are also filling the gym. Study these and similar trends surveys to get a feel for the qualifications needed by today’s—and tomorrow’s—fitness facility staff. In addition, get on the mailing lists for the big fitness conventions, take a look at the schedules and consider these questions:

  • What specialties are you seeing? Personal training (theory and practicum), group exercise, special populations (kids, older adults, disease and injury management), mind-body fitness, branded programming? Does a particular event steer more toward group exercise, mind-body or sports training?
  • Based on the above fitness trends, where are the opportunities in the schedule for you and your session? Do you need to tweak your ideas to be on the cutting edge?
  • How many presenters on any given program would you consider newcomers, and what is their angle for breaking through?
  • What education and certifications do other presenters have? How do your credentials stack up?

Map Your Route

Once you have studied the trends, carefully plan your evolution into an “edu-tainer,” one who combines education with entertainment to completely engage an audience. Building a good reputation takes investment at the grassroots level. To get that first break, you may need to offer free workshops—at your own club or in a facility across town. As a start you might invite three or four personal trainers to spend an hour with you as you share what you learned at a recent convention. This is a great way to develop your own teaching style.

Fitness industry veteran Mindy Mylrea, IDEA’s 1999 Fitness Instructor of the Year, advocates the bottom-up approach for aspiring presenters. “Donate your time and talent wherever and whenever you can, and be prepared to work for the exposure alone initially,” she advises. “Until you start getting paying contracts, which can take a few years, you need to be prepared to shell out for weekend trips, often without any compensation.” But Mylrea promises, “The [eventual] reward will outweigh the effort.”

One great way for aspiring fitness presenters to gain experience is by partnering with certification agencies. Teaching novice fitness professionals enables you to polish your skills and get regular, constructive feedback on your performance from others in your profession. In addition, affiliation with national certification agencies establishes you as a presenter with a certain level of expertise. Finally, while you gain experience and build credibility as a course conductor, you also earn a regular income—though often without compensation for travel expenses.

A fitness professional who is making all the right moves at the grassroots level is Mark Vendramini, owner of Personal Training Plus in Toronto. As a PRO Trainer for Can-Fit-Pro’s personal trainer specialist certification program, he leads dozens of candidates through the course and exam process every year. In addition to teaching the standardized certification courses, Vendramini goes one step further by offering his own 2- to 3-hour workshops for novice personal trainers on topics like business skills, fitness evaluation and program design. He promotes these workshops with a regular e-mail to his past students. “By tapping into the people who have already taken my courses,” says Vendramini, “I generate income doing what I love doing—helping my students get info they need when starting out—and I gain valuable experience in front of other fitness professionals.”

Spending time honing your skills at the grassroots level will help you discover your areas of interest, pinpoint your strengths, and determine what education and training you need to move to the next level. Working with other fitness professionals will also help you evaluate the trends in fitness convention programming and examine how your ideas fit into tomorrow’s educational needs.

Put Together Your Package

The next step is to take your ideas and put them on paper. Have you ever said to yourself, “I would like to be a presenter, but I don’t have the time to put together an application”? The difference between a dream and a goal is applying a deadline. And event planning is a deadline-driven business. Meeting application deadlines is an important part of portraying yourself as a fitness professional.

Writing, editing, printing and packaging your application is more than a 1-weekend project. A rushed application will show in errors, typos and lack of creativity. If you’ve done your groundwork at the local and regional level, you will already have a file of workshops with which you could apply. Now it’s time to take a very critical eye to your offerings and consider the following:

  • If you are presenting fundamental topics, are you offering a new direction or perspective?
  • What is unique about your presentation style?
  • Are you offering practical how-to information?
  • Do you have a new concept or training technique you want to debut?

Take the time to determine your unique selling position. Why offer “Kickboxing 1-2-3” when you could dazzle your audience with “Core Conditioning With a Kick”?

Many established events offer an easily navigable application package online. But as you work your way up the ladder and your reputation grows, presenting opportunities will start to find you! Whether you call it your press kit, your presenter package or your fitness résumé, you need a professional marketing package. To show you at your best, this package should include

  • a long, medium and short biography (150 words, 75 words and 45 words)
  • four or more workshop titles and descriptions
  • an equipment list for each session
  • the number of CECs available for each session
  • details about your education, certifications, presentation history and relevant fitness employment
  • contact information—provided in several places throughout the package

A photograph is optional. You should always have a headshot on file so you can send a hard copy or an electronic copy (300 dots per inch or higher) upon request.

Your bio, titles and presentation descriptions will form the base of the convention brochure or marketing flyer. Have your package ready to go at a moment’s notice; event organizers don’t want to wait a week while you pull your information together.

When preparing your materials, keep your ultimate audience in mind. Create a title and a session description that use wit to spark interest. Which session would you rather sign up for: “Integrated Functionality Through Rotational Training for Enhanced Athletic Performance” or “Use Rotation to Turn Your Training Around”? The latter session, offered by Annette Lang, MS, instantly shows personality in the title. Douglas Brooks, MS, presents “We All Fall Down: Balance Training for Older Adults,” while Michelle Cederberg, MS, offers “Barriers, Obstacles and Excuses. Oh MY! Understanding Exercise Adherence Issues.”

Prepare a Videotaped Presentation

If you are presenting a movement class, one evaluation tool convention programmers use is the videotaped audition. The only practical way to fairly evaluate your work is to see you in a teaching situation. Nothing strikes fear into the hearts of potential fitness presenters like being asked to tape themselves! If you hate the way your voice sounds on a tape recorder, just wait until you see yourself on video!

According to Peishel, IDEA’s selection committee looks for an applicant who teaches the warm-up and a good portion of the class facing the audience. The instructor must have exemplary alignment and technique, as well as masterful communication skills that feature clear, pertinent instructions. Of course the candidate must also demonstrate knowledge in the topic area. If all the above criteria are met, preference goes to those sessions that are innovative—and delivered with intensity, enthusiasm and charisma.

Peishel reveals a true insider secret when it comes to preparing the script for your video: “One of my pet peeves is lazy instruction that features expressions like ‘Take it up,’ ‘Take it around,’ ‘Push it’ and ‘Pump it.’ These mean absolutely nothing,” she says. “I would challenge all teachers to take the word it out of their vocabulary. The quality of their instructional skills will immediately go up a notch.”

Submitting a professional-quality video is not necessary. In fact most event coordinators will not accept a professionally produced video for your application. They are not looking for a high-end production of you on a sound stage. They want to see you in a real-life setting teaching a real class.

Other hints for videotape success:

  • Check the sound quality. Are your voice and the music audible and clear?
  • Check the picture quality. Can you be seen clearly?
  • Teach facing the class 90% of the time. Ballrooms at convention sites typically don’t have mirrors, so don’t use them in your presentation.
  • Exude energy! Ask for feedback during class. Keep participants moving, watch their moves, and give modifications and options.
  • Don’t wait until the week before the application deadline to prepare your video. Anything can go wrong, so make sure you have time to do another take if needed.
  • Before videotaping a class, get permission from your club manager and the participants, regardless of whether they are going to be seen on tape.

Lecture candidates typically do not require a video, but according to Peishel, they are scrutinized just as closely as movement candidates. For theoretical and research-based pre-
sentations, appropriate education and presentation experience are key. Topics on nutrition, biomechanics and exercise science require advanced education.

Paying Your Dues

Watching today’s presenters may inspire you to jump up on that stage, but keep in mind that for every hour they are up there presenting, they have spent hundreds of hours building their reputation. Passion and enthusiasm are not in short supply in this industry. Desire is not enough. The fitness professionals who are able to find a need and fill it, understand the business of convention planning, and present themselves impeccably in writing and in person are the ones who will be the next generation of fitness convention presenters.

Case Study

Michelle Cederberg, MS, Professional Fitness and Lifestyle Consultant, Clagary, Alberta

[Getting Started] Cederberg began her presenting career about 5 years ago by offering her services for free at her local YMCA and at local fitness events. “I would call up the [club] coordinators and say, ‘I have this session I’m developing and I’d like an opportunity to present it at one of your upcoming recertification courses.’ Make no mistake, I went to these gigs as prepared as I would for a speaking engagement, but [the experience] allowed me a chance to get my name out there and hone my speaking skills, which is best done in front of real audiences.” Cederberg is now a presenter at industry events like IDEA Fitness Fusion—Chicago® and Can-Fit-Pro.

[Establishing a Unique Selling Position] Backed by a master’s degree in exercise and functional fitness, with a specialization in exercise and health psychology, Cederberg fills a niche by presenting fitness psychology topics. Her presentations focus on motivating clients, helping them get past their barriers and communicating with different personality types.

[Flood of Opportunities] Cederberg says, “Being a fitness presenter has certainly opened new doors for me. Every conference I go to puts me in front of new markets. I often get referrals to other conferences. I’m being asked to write articles and get involved in other events [both inside and outside] the fitness industry.”

Cederberg’s growing list of appearances has enabled her to join the Canadian Association of Professional Speakers, which has led to new bookings. She also works as an expert on Balance TV’s website and is the personal training expert in Canadian Living magazine’s “Whole Life Makeover” stories.

[Winning Advice] “Freebies are a proving ground for unknown presenters,” Cederberg says. “[But] I don’t view them as opportunities to create a product or learn how to present. You need to practice, practice, practice and do your very best professional presentation the first time you get out there, or you might not get the valuable referrals that keep your presenting business going. I view my early freebies as a truly valuable experience and I’m grateful to the organizations that took me in and took a chance with me. I still do a certain number of ‘pro bono’ sessions every year, and the way I see it, potential clients are sitting in every audience.”

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