You’ve been given this advice many times from me, from your Directors, from other sources…. If you need more bodies in your classroom, go out and pull them off of the cardio equipment! Talk to the folks in the weight area and drag them in. Make an announcement on the PA system — that’ll pack the room!
I laugh out loud even as I write these pieces of advice because I know exactly the thoughts and feelings I had at the prospect of trying to persuade someone already into their workout to stop what they are doing and come into my class. My thoughts amounted to something like, “#@&*#@ That!” Yours do too, I’m sure, unless you happen to be one of those unique and quite amazing individuals who could sell running shoes to a paraplegic. In this post, I’m going to attempt to help you find real ways you can talk to strangers and get them to take your class.
Now then, you already know that walking up to a total stranger on a treadmill and inviting them to class is probably going to result in, “No thanks.” Just like you react to cold sales calls on your home phone. However, walking up to someone you’ve seen before and maybe even had a conversation with dramatically increases your odds. But developing rapport doesn’t happen two minutes until class time, it happens over the course of time. You have to be physically present in the gym at the times your potential attendees are at the gym and you have to be willing to get to know them. If you are showing up only to teach and then dashing out, you are going to have it tough. When you are a face no one has seen, any invitation you offer will be met with sketpicism. However, when you arrive early and help at the front desk, spend time in the weight room or take other instructors’ classes, you are on your way to becoming a familiar face. Once people recognize you as a professional staff member, you have overcome the first hurdle.
Striking up a conversation. This gets easier the more you practice. Great practice is to help out at the front desk. It is easy to greet people as they enter the club and you get the bonus of being able to read their names on the Check-In screens. You’ll have a chance to get outside your comfort zone with strangers without going too far at first. Then, it won’t be so strange to talk to these people about your class the next time you see them, because that familiarity barrier will have already been broken.
But how do you approach someone who is out in the gym doing their own thing? I recommend that the first time you approach someone, you do not try to sell them your class. The first time you talk to them, be polite, friendly and ask them about them. Find a way to help them with something. You’ll have to be patient while you look for opportunities to approach new people without coming across as pushy or overbearing. For example, you’re at the gym doing my weight routine an hour before class and see a person who looks a little confused, so you approach and ask, “Can I help you find something?” 9 times out of 10 s/he will tell you what they are looking for. You help them find it, learn their name, and let them go about their business. The next time you see that person, you say, “Hi, <name>. It’s nice to see you again.” They will stare at you in amazement that you remembered and be thrilled that they know someone at the gym. Then, help them out because they don’t remember your name: “I’m Krista. I teach the <some type or some time> classes.” Then, two days later when you see them on the treadmill, ask them how they are doing. Then say, “You look focused here, so I don’t want to break your stride. However, next week, if you are here at this time, you can get a lot more out of your time if you’ll give my class a try.” Give them a schedule too, if it’s convenient. That’s it. Does this work? Yes. Does it mean they’ll come to your class next week? No. You’ll probably have to remind them a few times or provide additional information about the class at some point. But eventually, they come. Here is a true story. I met a woman at my club in this exact way. We bumped into each other repeatedly and each time I’d ask how she was, how her workouts were going. Occasionally, she’d confirm when my class was. It was ONE YEAR LATER that she finally came to my class. That’s an extreme example of late-blooming, but it is also proof that when you do it regularly and with consistency, you can usually count on 10-20% of the people you talk to actually buying what you’re selling.
Also, it is crucial that you take time to be totally prepared every time you teach. Be professional, enthusiastic and treat the people who do come with respect. You have to develop a class worth coming to, otherwise your efforts in recruiting will be useless. Your repeat business is what drives your numbers up, so PREPARE! Take care of your attendees, no matter how many are there.
The bottom line is that you will probably have to come out of your shell a bit to meet and greet strangers, but you can do it. The more you practice, the easier it gets!