By Sean Gagnon, Special AFS Contributor
If you want to grow your business it’s no secret that you have to keep growing your skill set and that of your team. The skills that got you here will not get you there! It is imperative that we keep learning and progressing as businesses really have only 2 fates - they grow or they die.
When you think about your fitness business there are ample opportunities to keep learning. There is a huge range of education levels within the industry and even more options for certification. Some trainers have advanced degrees, others have no degree at all. Some have multiple certifications and specialties, others have entry-level certification. Wherever you or your team are on this spectrum it’s clear that learning options are limitless.
If you are looking to grow, where should you focus? If you are looking to hire new trainers or instructors what skills should you be looking for? The answer might surprise you! In a recent interview with Linked In CEO Jeff Weiner said that the #1 Skill Gap is COMMUNICATION. According to Weiner people are lacking interpersonal skills!
Linked In conducted a survey of over 4000 professionals across many industries and the results pointed overwhelmingly to the importance of communication even over technical skills. In fitness, technical skills are clearly important. Fitness professionals must know about anatomy, biomechanics, nutrition, recovery, on and on. Each individual we train or serve in our facilities comes with a unique profile and serving up a one size fits all exercise prescription is a recipe for disaster. It’s alluring to look for trainers who have the biggest technical toolbox but if they can’t COMMUNICATE the information clearly to their clients is it really an advantage?
Additionally, it’s important to remember why your members come to your facility, why they stay, and why they leave! Most people coming into a fitness facility for the first time are nervous and uncomfortable. They are not sure what to expect and they are often self-conscious. One of the biggest things that will make them decide to join is whether or not they feel welcome, safe and comfortable on their very first visit. Much of this will come down to the communication they have with you or your staff. Do you take the time to really understand their needs? Do you start rattling oﬀ ‘trainer jargon’? Do you try to impress them with your technical knowledge? This may work for a select few but the majority of new members will be turned oﬀ as you’ve simply reinforced their greatest fear - they don’t belong!
As you look to grow your team or increase the skillsets of yourself and your existing team, start with communication, not technical skills! Here are some tips to do just that.
If you want to grow your business it’s no secret that you have to keep growing your skill set and that of your team.
If I were looking to hire a trainer or instructor today for my facility the first thing I would do in the interview is ask them to go out and meet 3 new people at the facility. I’d take their resume and certifications and place them neatly on my desk. They are supposed to have that stuﬀ! Then I’d tell them to go out and interact with my members and come back to me and tell me what they’ve learned.
Immediately upon making this request I’d learn a lot about the communication skills of my potential hire. Watch their face when you give them the task - do they look excited or scared? Do they look uncomfortable with this idea or do they embrace it? This reaction will tell you all you need to know about how they will interact with your members after you’ve hired them. If they don’t pass this simple test you have to ask if they are the right fit for your team. Looking to level up your existing team? Give them the same test!
Communication is a 2-way street. You must listen first, then respond. Often times though people confuse hearing with listening. They are not the same thing. Hearing is the reception of sound. Listening is an understanding of what is being said.
Far too often people are not really listening, they are considering what THEY will say next! Like anything else listening is a skill and to become a good listener you have to practice. Nothing makes people feel more comfortable than feeling their concerns and needs are understood. That can only happen through listening. Here are a couple tips to improve listening skills.
- Be Present - put your phone away and eliminate distractions.
- Be Empathetic - put yourself in the shoes of the person speaking. For example, remember your first time in the gym!
- Pick up Key Points - listen for a few key things the speaker said and reiterate them in your reply. For example, I heard you say you’re a new grandparent - congratulations. One of your goals is to have more energy to keep up with your grandson. Is that correct?
One of the best ways to test listening skills with your team is simple role-playing exercises. Be the client and give them a scenario to work with. Not only will you get an idea of how well they listen but you’ll also get a peek at their technical knowledge as well!
After you’ve worked on your listening, you have to work on your speaking skills as well. Eﬀective speaking requires you to be clear and concise in getting your message across. Many trainers try to impress clients by using technical words and fancy terms. Know your audience. Often times this type of speak will have just the opposite eﬀect. People won’t be impressed, they’ll be intimidated and will miss your well intended message! Know your audience and don’t over explain! Like most things - keep it simple. If you want to get an idea of the type of communicator someone is, have them tell you a story about their very first client. Give them only 60 seconds to do it and at the end see if you have the full story!
In the business of fitness, we will constantly have to grow our technical knowledge. After all, we are dealing with people’s health and well being. However, if you want to keep them as members for life, really learn to communicate with them which will make them feel comfortable and welcome. That’s why they will stay!
Sean Gagnon is the founder and president of The Abs Company. He received his master’s degree in clinical physiology from the University of Florida. For over 10 years his company has been focused on core-based functional training products for the commercial and consumer fitness markets. The Abs Company products can be found in over 10,000 facilities and millions of homes in over 40 countries worldwide. The company mission is "We Change Lives from the Core”. Sean and his team are proud to do just that every day!