I have always enjoyed in-person learning. While I am self motivated and have no problem learning on my own, there is something about the energy from other people and a person engaging you, challenging your perspective and making you think a little bit harder than you otherwise might that is rewarding. When I began my career in the fitness industry many years ago, there were certifications, but very few weekend learning opportunities. Fortunately, I stumbled upon yoga pretty quickly, a world where weekend workshops are the norm.
Throughout those early years, I frequently found myself driving up the Bay Area to learn from traveling teachers. I live in a small community which, at the time, had very little to offer in the way of weekend learning opportunities.
As my career continued, I found myself wondering where the workshops were for other fitness disciplines? Were fitness professionals and personal trainers not interested enough to merit weekend workshops, or were people simply not doing them?
Things slowly started to change, but most of the workshops in the beginning were under the guise of a system. And so I learned a variety of systems as I tried to hone my skills and figure out the most effective way to help my clients, people who weren’t professional athletes, but were looking to improve health and well being. I became disinterested with yoga, and began playing with the movement world, a group that also regularly held workshops without the promise of a certification or more letters to be added behind your name.
Around the same time, I finished graduate school and began holding my own workshops. They were, for lack of a better word, utter failures, largely because no one in my town (other than my clients), knew who I was. I didn’t teach for a large gym, I didn’t go to local events (I always traveled to learn), and I’m not exactly the world’s most outgoing person- I prefer to run in the early morning when no one is up, and I created the gym I want to go to, so my workouts are performed alone, in a space that I find quite pleasant.
I also wasn’t affiliated with a system. In the process of furthering my knowledge, I learned several different systems, but I never felt like any system was perfect for every one, so I took what I wanted and let the rest go. I read research and books, tried things out on my clients, and continued to hone my skills.
One of the things I learned while I was in graduate school was that if I read research and wrote about the practical application, I understood the concepts better. There were still gaps in my understanding that I desperately wanted to reconcile after matriculating, so I began writing monthly blogs on my website. Like with everything else in my life, they weren’t popular or well read, but I kept writing, with the sole intent to further my knowledge.
I tried again to hold a workshop geared towards fitness professionals. This time, a couple of people came. I also discovered that it sparked my interest in the subject matter. I became a better practitioner, just by the mere act of teaching others.
Passion, unfortunately, only goes so far and doesn’t do much to spread the word or improve workshop attendance. One of the easiest ways I have found to improve my credibility (other than writing), is to go to workshops. Connecting with people, sharing ideas, and figuring out where gaps are in my knowledge improves quality connections. Plus, how can you expect people to feel comfortable paying for your workshop when you aren’t willing to pay for other people’s workshops?
Social media is great for this, too. Responding to people, liking other people’s posts, and generally reminding people you exist make you more familiar. In the marketing book, “Contagious,” author Jonah Berger writes, “…we need to make our products and ideas more public. We need to design products and initiatives that advertise themselves and create behavioral residue that sticks around even after people have bought the product or espoused the idea.” In the world of fitness and movement, you are your product (unless you are inventing the next great Thighmaster, in which case, kudos. I wish I had your ingenuity). Visibility and emotional connection, then, is up to you.
(As an aside, “Contagious” is a good read, short and digestible with timeless points).
The most successful systems and/or workshops in the fitness industry are built on at least three of the six steps laid out in “Contagious.” Berger refers to these six steps conveniently as STEPPS: social currency, triggers, emotions, public, practical value, and stories. Let’s look at a practical example.
I was introduced to FRC in 2014 through a friend who is better than I am at Youtube. He was following Dr. Spina’s Youtube videos and his words resonated with him enough that he traveled somewhere to take the weekend certification. This was well before FRC was the “in” certification to obtain. Because I trust the friend’s opinion, FRC immediately held social currency for me and, based on what the friend shared, I could tell it had practical value.
I started following Dr. Spina and shared some of his stuff on my Facebook page because I thought it was interesting. He actually commented, thanking me for sharing. I was impressed that he took the time to thank me, and when he came to teach in SF 6 months later, I made sure I went. The tiny bit of interaction appealed to my emotions and made him trustworthy.
Dr. Spina also worked with professional athletes/sports teams. I am sure trainers and coaches that follow that world were exposed to his work through social media around the teams, adding to social currency and practical value.
Around the same time, a couple of people with large Instagram followings became certified. One began tagging #controlyourself and referencing FRC in posts. This was back when Dr. Spina still posted regularly, so the familiarity with him and the system continued to increase.
The same person also began posting about how FRC had helped him. He shared his story, which made the system more relatable.
Things snowballed, and FRC grew, becoming the well-known system it is today. It was brilliant marketing, and no doubt a ton of work.
Eventually, I reached out to someone I met to see if I could write a guest blog for her. She had a much larger following than I did, and I had something to say that I felt fit better on her website than on mine.
The blog was shared many times over, and I picked up new followers and interest. I began posting regularly to Instagram and continued writing for my website.
Growth was painfully slow, but that was okay. I continued to learn and become a better practitioner. I learned to pick up on things very quickly, to see where people were stuck in a rapid way. Still, in the back of my mind, was the desire to share with others the things I was learning, to make their journey more direct and easier than mine.
A few things happened during this time that helped accelerate my reach. I wrote a blog on my site that did well and led to someone from LA contacting me to see if I would teach a workshop at her studio. I started writing for other platforms, which even if it didn’t translate to more followers, it added legitimacy to me, an unknown entity living in a small community. I was also asked to guest teach online classes on a well known yoga teacher’s site. (She found me through the guest blog I had done years before).
Why am I sharing all of this with you? (And no, for those of you wondering, my workshops still aren’t sold out, but there are always at least a few people there and I continue to learn and deepen my knowledge every time I teach one). I share because I think there are easier ways to do this than the way I did it. I also share because I think one of the most important questions you should ask if you are thinking about teaching workshops is why? What is your goal for breaking into the workshop world?
If your goal is fame and money, you either need to a) be extremely well connected b) an expert in something people want to know a lot about or c) affiliated with a person or system that has a much bigger reach than you. Generally speaking, professionals in the fitness industry are hesitant to spend their money on continuing education unless it’s going to help their business in some way. Trending systems and certifications are perceived as valuable enough to invest in because everyone else is doing them and clients notice (maybe) what everyone else is doing. People are also willing to spend money on something or someone that has an emotional impact on them. Participants at many of the systems I have studied have been there as much to learn about themselves as they were to learn about their clients.
If your goal is to share your knowledge and you’re like me, you probably aren’t great at sales and marketing. If, like me, you are also more on the introverted side of the spectrum, it is really important to be clear about your why. I teach the workshops I want to go to. I share the information in a way that would have helped me learn it better, and I feel this internal desire to take the complexity and mystique out of biomechanics, somatics, and movement so people can help their clients move and feel better. I teach concepts, not a system, and I am clear on what I am trying to do. I listen to feedback after each workshop, and I try and make the next one better.
The point is, social media can exemplify the STEPPS and be an excellent tool to grow your brand, if you are clear on your intentions.
What if your desire isn’t to create a huge, well known system? Use what you have available. If you are fortunate enough to work for a gym that has several trainers, use that connection to set up an in-house, educational workshop for other trainers, if teaching trainers is your goal. If it’s clients or members you want to educate, ask to set up something for them. Dean Somerset has written about this before- he held in-service trainings for members at the large gym he used to work for, giving him an opportunity to practice teaching. If you have a friend or acquaintance that owns or manages a gym, see if you can teach something there. I am teaching in San Francisco in about a month; I reached out to the acquaintance that owns a facility there to see if he would host me. The only way to continue getting better at something is to do it regularly, just like exercise and skill development.
I don’t regret any of the workshops I have taught, even the ones where there were only two people. I believe sharing knowledge is powerful, and I also know that I can learn something from everyone. The information and experience of others is worth paying for, so if your goal is to teach be willing to be a student. One thing I can guarantee is that teaching workshops will make you a better practitioner.