As I’m writing this it seems most of us in the fitness industry have settled into our new routine of online teaching. A couple of weeks ago everything was a mad blur as we converted our entire in-person businesses over to online. Whether we’re business owners, self employed trainers, contractors, or employees, we all should take a moment to look back over the past couple of weeks and appreciate what we’ve accomplished. We’ve all done so much and we should recognize that. (And if you’re feeling a step behind and still need to get yourself online, read my blog post Zooming to Get Up and Running with Online Teaching)
Now it’s looking like what might have been just a few weeks now could stretch on for months, with some estimates saying it could be up to a year to 18 months before everything is back to normal. Even if we return in a couple of months or so, we need to be prepared for our individual areas to go back to isolation in the case of local outbreaks. And some of us have found that online training could be a great option to keep doing, even once we return to our in-person lives.
So it’s time to start taking our standards for online sessions beyond just the make-do, emergency setup that was just fine for last week, and into a more professional presentation that brings our clients the maximum value in their online training.
That in mind, now is still not the time for most of us to be spending money on fancy professional lighting and sound equipment. Most of us are still concerned with how we’re going to make our rents, mortgages, and keep ourselves and our families fed and safe. And even if you have the funds to order nice equipment, there’s no guarantee you’ll be able to get what you want delivered, since so many businesses are impacted by the crisis.
So how can we create a professional, high quality, high value experience for our online clients without spending unnecessarily?
Use what you have. As we go through what it takes to make your teaching space look good and your client experience as smooth as possible, think about the resources you have already. I’m using just my laptop, with the built in camera and microphone, and it’s working great. From extra lamps around the house, to the online services you already pay for or have for free, most of us already have almost everything we need to make this work beautifully.
Make the most of your light. You’ve probably figured out by now that backlighting doesn’t work on camera. You will appear as a featureless dark blob. So, once you’ve made sure you’re not set up in front of a window, now look for ways you can bring your lighting up another notch. Some people are lucky enough to have professional lights for this purpose, but you don’t need these. I have an IKEA desk lamp that I set up next to my laptop with the shade turned so that the exposed bulb is directed right at my teaching space. I also have a window to the front diagonal of my space. That alone worked fine, but to achieve an even brighter, airier look to the space, I also placed a wall mirror on my other side, out of view of the camera, to reflect light back onto the other side of me. I then went down to the basement and brought up an extra table lamp, took the shade off, and placed it behind and slightly above my laptop. This gives me even more lighting from the front. You could place sketch pads behind your lights so that the blank white pages reflect even more light back onto you and your teaching space.
Frame yourself well. You can start a meeting on Zoom and not invite anyone, just so you can play with angling your camera to get all of you in the frame and cut out anything you don’t want to be seen, like a bookshelf or pile of fitness props. You can also check your lighting on the screen. I’m teaching in a very small space and so in my GYROKINESIS® classes I know I have to slightly adjust the camera angle down when I transition from sitting on the stool to working on the floor. I take this as an opportunity to check in with my students, asking “Everyone doing ok?”. They know to give a thumbs up for “ok” and a hand wave for assistance. So then it doesn’t seem awkward that I’m walking over to the screen to adjust my laptop angle. You’ll most likely want the camera set at an angle so that it’s looking just slightly down on you. This will get more of you in the frame and is also a more flattering angle than from below. I have my laptop on a little box on top of the desk to give it a bit more height.
You want to make sure your clients can see all of you when you’re demonstrating, so make sure you’re not cutting your legs out of the frame, and that your arms can be seen when you reach up overhead.
Consider your sound. It’s challenging with my partner having work meetings over his laptop, while my son meets with his fourth grade class online, all while I’m teaching sessions. And all of this is happening in a very small house.
My miniature poodle (who has a serious barking issue) has been sent to my mother’s house for the duration of isolation so that we can work form home without him disrupting us. We moved the guest sofa bed out of our office/guest room and into the garage to make a teaching space where I can close the door and keep the cats and household noise out. My son has been informed that any kicking of the soccer ball against the walls while I’m teaching will be punishable by loss of all screen time.
Some people have complained that their laptop microphones aren’t high enough quality without an additional microphone. There are several microphone options available to buy, but before you do that try out your other devices. Your phone or your tablet might have a higher quality mic than your computer. So be sure to explore all your options before getting on Amazon and ordering extra stuff. Also, be sure to orient yourself with how to mute or disable your notifications on the device you’re using for class. This way you won’t be getting message dings that your clients can hear while you’re teaching. I’m on a MacBook Pro, and found I can go into preferences and then to notifications, and then set it to “do not disturb” for my regular teaching hours. You can google how to do this for your particular device.
Set up a Zoom meeting with a friend while your house is at its busiest. They can give you feedback on what sounds they’re picking up on their end and what the sound quality is on your mic.
Dress right for the tiny screen. While Zoom offers a really stable platform its still not the most crisp picture your clients are seeing. And they might be watching you on their phones, so that picture might be really small. I’ve found that, even though I have a fairly bright colored mat, if I wear dark colors on the bottom my legs sort of blend in a bit too much. I’ve found that what seems to read best on the screen are fitted, or semi-fitted clothing in brighter colors. Patterned leggings seem to stand out best against the mat. Loose clothing creates too much of a blob effect on the screen, so I don’t wear anything too baggy. Darker tops seem to work fine, but color seems to stand out better.
I’ve never been much for wearing makeup, I usually would throw on a little under eye concealer to cover dark circles and then a little mascara, but I’ve found by putting on a bit of eyeliner and a little lipstick my features and facial expressions seem to come across better on the screen. It’s just a touch, but I think because the students aren’t in the room with me any extra nuances of expression they can read can be helpful.
Pay attention to the look of your space. It may be your home, but too many personal details may be distracting to the clients. Try not to have too much extra in the frame that could be visually busy, and we certainly don’t need to see your laundry basket. I think less is definitely more in terms of items we can see on camera.
Create a seamless, professional feeling experience for the client. This means thinking through from the client’s perspective everything from communication, to booking, to payment, to the class experience itself. It’s easy enough to integrate booking and payment systems such as Acuity and Square. These are what I use. Acuity can link directly with Zoom to generate and automatically provide booking links for your clients. The clients get these in a nice, streamlined looking email confirmation.
Have a friend test out your booking and payment system and show you what they see on their end. I found that the confirmation message that I’d set to go out for teacher trainings, which is how I was originally using Acuity, didn’t make sense for people booking into my online classes. When I saw how it looked on my partner’s confirmation email I knew to go back and adjust my settings and text to be more clear. Payment should be clear and easy. An integrated system is best, like Acuity and Square, so the client simply clicks the booking button on my online scheduler and it takes them to payment, then sends them a confirmation email with the class link for Zoom. I don’t have to do anything, other than making sure I have my settings correct at the beginning.
Be willing to adapt your teaching style. In person I’m very much a hands-on teacher, so I’ve had to make some adjustments to communicate and teach as clearly as possible on a little screen. In my GYROKINESIS® classes I find I give a lot more verbal cueing as the students can’t sense the movement in the room like they would in person. So I call out direction changes more often and speak more loudly when I’m turning away from the microphone. I also find myself slightly exaggerating my gestures as I give directional cues, just so I can be seen more clearly. Another change that’s surprised me a bit is that I do more class preparation ahead of time. Often in an in-person class I plan nothing and just get a feel for the energy in the room when I come in to teach and go with the flow. While I get some sense of that online, it’s not as strong as it is in person, so I feel like I rely more on planning particular themes and variations for each week than I usually would. I’m actually enjoying the change, as I think it shakes up my habits a bit. I think that’s probably pretty healthy for my brain.
I honestly think that even with all the challenges we’re facing in our industry, which are scary, daunting, and very real, this is also an opportunity to expand our knowledge, test our own boundaries, and grow as individuals and as a community. I know that may not be so reassuring when the rent is due, but if we can squeeze every chance at positivity and growth out of this situation then at least not all is lost. And once we've made it through this, we'll know we can make it through anything!