Over the last 18 months, I have had to learn how to evolve and adapt my teaching style to a virtual platform. I have tweaked and changed things along the way to make the experience personable and meaningful for my clients. I believe I succeeded as my customer base has only increased over the last year, however in all of my efforts I forgot to ensure that I had made the situation good for me! Let me explain why I almost gave it up this summer.
When I was teaching in person classes (over the last 20+ years), I was blessed to have packed venues and a dedicated group of students who rarely missed. These students all had 'spots,' meaning they would file into class and assume the same location on the floor day in and day out. This was a blessing in disguise because it helped me to personalize my group teaching experience. I knew that Sherri was in the back corner and had an issue with her back so I could quickly glance to that area and make sure she was doing things safely, and offer her instant feedback in a way that would speak to her.
At the gym I used to work at, I was responsible for verifying that each student trying to enter my room was registered. Once the verification process was done, the door was locked and class began. There was the odd straggler who arrived late and I would simply ask someone to let them in if I knew they were registered in that particular program, and if there was enough space in the room. I did not have to stop my choreography.
The Zoom experience is completely different. I was able to master the sound issues and in many ways the quality of my teaching has improved ten fold. I can now mirror teach and give directional cues while performing the moves with the opposite limb. I have adapted to the silence which was very tough. I am an entertainer and suddenly there was no laughter at my corny jokes and the zoom boxes were quite small so had to learn how to teach fitness wearing my glasses so I could at least see the smiles. However all of this pales in comparison to what has been the biggest challenge to my menopausal brain. You see when a new client joins the meeting on Zoom, all of the boxes containing the students shift and change locations. So there was no hope in hell that I could memorize and know where to quickly glance to be able to give those personalized cues to Sherri.
My Zoom membership means that I can have up to 99 students in my class and let me tell you, more is not necessarily better! The limits of my technology meant that I now had several screens that I had to scroll through to be able to keep track of Sherri, which would shift so she would not always be on either screen one or two or three. Not to mention that I also had to try to keep track of whether the person entering had paid their membership and were in the right class! Remember that I am jumping around in a fitness class, or in the flow of a dance choreography so I had to build in time to get to my mouse and change screens. The one saving grace is I know my students very well and just learned to give cues that would keep all of them on track.
If you are unaccustomed to teaching fitness over Zoom, you might think that the challenges I outlined above are small, so imagine with me for a second that you are giving a lecture in person.
First you must make sure that every attendee has paid their fee. You welcome them and once everyone is seated, you begin. You crack a joke but hear no laughter and when you look up many of the clients are looking out the window. Five minutes into your speech, the doorbell rings or there is a knock at the door which only you can hear. You kick yourself for forgetting to unlock the door but stop what you are doing and go and let the guest in and as you make your way back to your spot, the entire audience has stood up and shifted their position randomly. Now you cannot see where those people with the heart warming smiles have gone to. You crack another joke and resume your speech. The doorbell interrupts you again but the customer is able to enter without your assistance and you are left to wonder if they have paid their fee. You notice that they are shaving and combing their hair. You quickly let this go however because the entire audience is standing up again and shifting their position so the new person can sit down.
A cute dog walks across the room in front of you, which no one else sees and as you are trying to regain your composure, because you really want to play with the puppy, a toddler is suddenly waving madly, trying to get your attention. As you love kids you wave back and then everyone in the audience is perplexed and wondering if you have lost your marbles. While lecturing two or three people leave their seat to walk to the back of the room to take a drink and one student starts to take off their clothes.
Despite all of this you give the best lecture of your career. A few people make heart symbols with their hands over their chest but you get zero to no feedback and suddenly everyone disappears from the room and you are left in silence. Now imagine that that this scenario plays out ten to twelve hours per week, over the next eighteen months.
As instructors of fitness we thrive on receiving energy from the crowd that is vocal and instant. It is our fuel. This last year I discovered how vital this is to teaching, I am not in this business to be alone and in silence, so I really had to try to make the experience more meaningful for me!
The good news is I have learned to improve my virtual experience by limiting the number of students that have access to each class. I have acquired a much larger screen and now these fewer students are bigger. I am able to interact with them during the class, much in the way that I would in person, because their position rarely shifts and if it does, this takes place on one screen.
I am so thrilled with the success of my Virtual Fitness Studio. Yes, it was a struggle to fix all of the issues but now I can move forward in confidence knowing that everyone, including myself, is getting what they need to be healthy in body, mind and soul.
See you soon.