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A TED® Talk Approach to Group Fitness

If you’ve ever watched a TED Talk, you’ve spent 18 minutes wrapped in a message presented by a credible, passionate and often entertaining speaker. TED Talk messages are motivating and thought-provoking. Have you ever considered that engaging TED Talks have a lot in common with engaging group fitness classes? If not, this article will change your mind!

The TED Concept and Group Fitness

TED (Technology, Entertainment and Design) Talks are organized by a nonprofit that started in 1984 and is devoted to spreading ideas in the form of short, powerful presentations. The recipe for an intriguing TED Talk easily transfers to a group fitness workout. Think about it: Popular TED Talks are passionate, entertaining and educational. So are successful group fitness classes! People leave smiling and feeling inspired. They take the nuggets of information home and, hopefully, use them to lead healthier lifestyles. TED Talks feel seamless, and they are professionally delivered. Top-ranked instructors make difficult workouts seem effortless through precise, professional delivery. TED Talk speakers often use simple visuals to convey their messages, while winning instructors do the same by peppering their workouts with colorful words and stories. The Greek philosopher Aristotle, father of modern rhetoric, argued that an influential message must be delivered with credibility (ethos), solid organization (logos) and authentic emotion (pathos). Here’s how to put this success formula into action for your next class.

Showcase Your Credibility

Credibility is your invisible label, the “brand” that people think of when they hear your name. Some retail brands are literally people’s names, but in the fitness industry your brand is your reputation, your word and the integrity of your actions. The following are a few ways to showcase your credibility.

Be authentic. An authentic teaching style develops gradually. Take time to find your true voice and develop your own brand. Are you the welcoming educator, the athletic background coach, the fun party creator or the drill sergeant? In order for people to follow and trust you, your persona must align with your personality and experience.

Everyone is different, and if club management is smart, they’ll recruit a variety of instructor brands to populate the schedule and appeal to different member types.

Share your experience and expertise. Members want to know that their instructor values professional development, takes the time to design classes thoughtfully and invests in continuing education. Don’t be afraid to mention a recent trip to a conference and share nuggets of knowledge you gained from it, talk about studying for an upcoming certification, share information about a recent industry publication or refer to examples from years past that highlight your valuable tenure.

Use credible language and imagery. If you’re teaching a specific sports format (rowing, cycling, running or sports conditioning), keep your verbal images authentic to the activity. I can tell when indoor cycling instructors have never been on an outdoor bike by the way they cue terrain or gear changes. If you want to be a believable cycling instructor, get a feel for being on the road while tackling gear changes on hills and shifting your weight when sprinting downhill. If you’re coaching a demanding set of intervals, be sure you’ve done them yourself and communicate the intensity accurately. For example, if you truly are asking your crew to do an all-out “empty the tanks” interval, then don’t follow up with another three.

Convey a Logical Message

When you start a group fitness class, you obviously have a plan, but how you communicate that plan is critical to the member experience. In a TED Talk, you always hear the main theme of the message within the first 2 minutes. It’s usually blended into a story or an attention-getting fact. The theme is shared early on so you get a sense of where the speaker is going with that message.
Here are some ways to solidify the logos, or logical appeal, of your class so that it better resembles the road map of a successful TED Talk.

Plan the first 60 seconds. Always open with energy and enthusiasm. Start with a “hook” that relates to the class theme. This can be a rhetorical question, a statement or a humorous line that gets the attention of members but also connects to your main message. For example, if you’re working on extensive intervals in your cycling class, it would be appropriate to lower the intro music as everyone enters and say, “Endurance is about being able to do the tougher stuff for longer. Good morning, everyone! I invite you to work on some of that tough stuff today.”

Make it about them. No matter what class you’re teaching, a well-planned message should always include the WIIFM (“What’s in it for me?”).

For more ways to convey a logical message, as well as tips on evoking emotion, plus a self-assessment tool, please see “Teach Your Class Like a TED® Talk” in the online IDEA Library or in the March 2017 print edition of IDEA Fitness Journal. If you cannot access the full article and would like to, please contact the IDEA Inspired Service Team at 800-999-4332, ext. 7.

This article is an offshoot of the session “Schwinn® Cycling: Teaching Tips From TED®—Noble to Noteworthy,” which the author co-presents with master trainer Jeffrey Scott. Catch the session at the IDEA® World Convention this year in Las Vegas, July 19–23.


Concerned about your place in the new fitness industry? We have 40 years of experience supporting pros just like you! Let’s create a new wellness paradigm together—IDEAfit+ is the extra edge you need. Once you team up with IDEA, be sure to take full advantage of all the benefits of membership.

Tatiana Kolovou, MBA

Tatiana A. Kolovou, MBA, started her professional journey as a health educator and became an organizational development trainer, public speaker, university professor and executive communication coach. She is a faculty member for the Kelley School of Business at Indiana University and the owner of Ethos Fitness, a boutique fitness studio in Bloomington, Indiana. She is also an ACSM-EP professional and a veteran master trainer for Schwinn® cycling, a Core Health & Fitness brand. Find her courses on LinkedIn Learning or reach her at [email protected]

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