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How Is Giving a Powerful Presentation Like Leading a Fitness Class?
by Chris King

Even though I had been a professional speaker already for many years when I was asked if I would take over teaching two fitness classes, I discovered that leading an aerobics class was 100 times more difficult than I ever imagined. It was exactly like everything else performed with expertise.

I had been taking classes at the gym for more than twelve years. The excellent instructors made teaching fitness look easy. Well, it wasn't easy at all! I soon discovered, however, that I could learn how to be a powerful fitness instructor by applying what I had learned from speaking and vice versa. In this article, I will share what I have learned from being on both tracks - the speaker track and the fitness instructor track.

Plan a smooth pre-presentation/class preparation. Whether we are wearing the speaker hat or the fitness instructor headband, it is important to set the stage with care. In both cases, I suggest arriving early to make sure that the room, the microphone and sound system, and you are all in smooth working order. No matter how many presentations I have made or make, or how many classes I teach, I find that participants appreciate finding me relaxed, friendly and eager to get started on time.

If we rush in at the last minute, it never fails that the projector doesn't work correctly, the microphone has no sound, or the settings on the tape/CD player have been tampered with and are out-of-commission. By being present early, I also find that attendees to my programs and/or participants in my classes feel comfortable asking me questions - answering them affords the perfect opportunity for establishing rapport early on.

Realize the importance of a strong introduction. I have already written about making sure that you send and bring your introduction with you to a presentation. It is equally important - and many fitness instructors skip this - to introduce yourself to a fitness class. In most of the classes I teach at the gym, I will have at least one new student in each. I always tell the group that, "For those who don't know me, my name is Chris," and then I proceed to describe the structure of the upcoming class.

In a presentation, this is equally important. Always tell your group of attendees what to expect. For a keynote, workshop and/or seminar, let them know the steps to the information, when there will be time for Q & A, when there will be breaks (if any), and how long the presentation will take. I learned how valuable this portion becomes by teaching fitness. New students know what to expect, and by knowing how much time we will devote to different parts of the routine, they know how to pace themselves. I have started doing technology presentations and letting listeners know that there will be a time, part way through, set aside for Q & A helps keep these sessions on track. I always tell them to write down questions that come to mind as I am presenting, so that they will be ready. Then I can answer as many as possible and still keep the control. Otherwise, if you let them just ask questions at any time (which I used to), you never get to the meat of the presentation. And people do like to know what to expect either from your presentation or your fitness class.

Prepare, prepare, prepare and practice, practice, practice. Just winging it, whether you are presenting or teaching fitness, is so obvious to your participants, they will quickly lose respect for you. It says to them that you didn't care enough to spend the necessary time in preparation and practice. Also, if you are not well prepared, an audience member who heckles or interrupts can throw you off completely. The exact same effect will take place in a fitness class if you don't know your stuff (as perfectly as possible). In the beginning of both careers, I experienced both problems. I was trying to be a caring speaker, but didn't know enough to graciously quiet a vociferous woman who kept interjecting her own comments. I soon lost the attention of the other listeners who knew her and had already heard enough of what she had to say.

Then, in my fitness classes, if I looked at someone who was way off the beat to the music, I would lose my beat and we would all be in trouble. Now, I know better how to handle both of these similar situations. It is just being so well prepared and practiced that you are in complete control.

Make use of the power of transitions. I actually learned this technique more thoroughly from teaching fitness. Because we are all moving together and performing a series of moves, we need to know ahead what is coming so we can transition into the next portion smoothly and with ease. It is exactly the same when we are presenting to an audience. If we skip from one topic to another without giving our listeners a bridge to cross into the next portion of our presentation, they will miss part of what we are proposing. They haven't made the jump with us, so are still contemplating the last point or points we made.

As speakers, we need to segue into the next point with a pause, a short story, or a connecting phrase. In a fitness class, I usually announce, "On the count of eight, we will …" and then I count down, "eight, seven …" The neat part is that several students will often count down with me, and everyone is ready for what is coming. In both cases, the transitions give participants confidence, because they have less chance of feeling "out of it."

Interaction helps more than you can imagine - even if it is "corny." Yes, most people love to interact with the presenter and/or instructor. I just gave a presentation to a group of technology focused people and started with a quick "call and response" poem accompanied by one of my drums. This got everyone's attention, and even though it was a bit "corny" they all chimed in and warmed up.

In my fitness classes, I encourage everyone to "sing and make noise" which helps us breathe. I also have the whole group end the sessions with vigorous clapping for the whole class - including themselves - because we have worked so hard. The response is overwhelming and I know from their enthusiasm that they enjoy this part.

Show them you care. I have mentioned this before, but it is worth repeating. The instructor who has a full class and the presenter who is remembered and asked back time and time again is the one who sincerely cares about his or her participants. Today, your audience members and your students know right away if you care about them more than you do about yourself. I have witnessed both fitness instructors and/or presenters that obviously are more concerned about how they are doing. Neither lasts, so if you are not willing to have true and sincere concern for attendees, it may be harsh, but I suggest you look for a different career.

Don't be afraid to try something new, even if it is intimidating at first. I know that I have also mentioned this previously, but it is imperative to add new material to our presentations and new moves to our classes. It isn't always easy, I know. I have just started two new class formats at the gym and am struggling, but I know that this makes be a more valuable instructor - and more fun, too. And, once you have mastered those changes, you will have more confidence and the ability to change even more. Try it!

Because of teaching fitness, my speaking skills have jumped many plateaus. Yes, but don't worry. I am not necessarily suggesting that you start teaching fitness classes (it took me quite a while to get my Certification and become as comfortable as I am today). But, I do suggest that if you belong to a gym or recreation center, take some of the classes offered. Then, write down which were the best instructors, what they did that was different from the others, and then use some of those techniques in your presentations. It will give you a whole new perspective on presenting.

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