Become a “Conference Commando”

I just came back from attending the National Strength and Conditioning Association‘s annual conference. On my return, people ask, “How was the conference?” Hmmn? Let’s talk about what I actually get out of attending a live conference or clinic (Live offers so much more than online).

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Keith Ferrazzi, author of Never Eat Alone, has written about being a “Conference Commando” or, going into a conference with a definite battle plan to get the most out of the conference.

So, what should you get out of a live conference or clinic?

Learn from the sessions. Naturally, the conference sessions are what most people think of when attending an event. This is where a lot of up-to-date information can be found and you should absolutely make sure that the program fits your learning needs.

Choose your presenters. The speakers are another thing to consider. A bad presenter can make it challenging to learn even if the material they are presenting is good. (Attending a session by Tudor Bompa, “the father of sports periodization” comes to mind. I’m sure it was great information, but he put me to sleep and I honestly missed most of what he said.)

Connect with your presenters. Now, beyond those first couple obvious reasons, you should also attend live events to connect with presenters that you liked and that inspired you. Stay after the session to ask further questions or just introduce yourself and thank them for what they just shared. Most presenters really appreciate hearing that and may strike up a conversation with you. Ask if you could email them an additional question or two and if they agree, you now have a new, trusted resource for information. If you nurture that relationship, you may also find yourself with a mentor who can help guide you in your career.

Connect with manufacturers. Most conferences and many clinics will have an exhibit hall or trade show. Here you can see and try new equipment, sample supplements (I often live on trade show protein bars. LOL), and connect with the manufacturers or distributors. Ask them questions about their products. See if they are right for you and/or your business. They will often have conference discounts too, if you’re interested.

Connect with other attendees. I find networking with peers one of my favorite things about attending live events. Discussions between the scheduled sessions about the topics presented, training modalities, business issues, and just getting to know other like-minded people can be so rewarding. Take contact information, connect on social media, stay in touch. Fellow attendees can also turn out to be mentors, general sounding boards, and, as I’ve found to be often the case, lifelong friends.

The key to becoming a “conference commando”, however, is to plan ahead. Go to the conference with a plan. What sessions will you take? What presenters do you want to meet? What products do you want to check out. Finally, plan on where and when you can connect with your peers. Then, execute that plan and come home with far more than just what can be learned online.

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Time to Huddle Up

I was a football offensive lineman (tackle in high school and guard in college). Before a play, we would huddle, or get in a tight circle and lean in to hear the quarterback tell us what the next play was. Then we would line up and execute it. Huddle

I just received an email advertising “Huddles”. They explained that these were  intimate gatherings where professionals could discuss the state of the industry (could be any industry) and come up with strategies to build their business and push the industry forward.

I LOVE THIS IDEA!

As I prepare to go to the NSCA National Conference in Indianapolis, IN, one of the things I look forward to most is the networking in small groups (huddles) with other fitness professionals and talking about the issues and challenges that we all face and coming up with possible solutions. No matter how knowledgable we think we are, we can’t think of everything, and discussions with other like-minded individuals can lead to bigger and better ideas.

This email got me thinking. Why not “huddle up” with the fit pros in your area to help create a stronger message to your community about the importance of living a healthy, fit lifestyle? I know many of you will immediately dismiss the idea because you believe that you would be helping your competition (you would, btw). But, here’s the thing. With a more powerful, cohesive message, coming from several sources, you’re more likely to engage your community and more likely to increase business for all of you. So, it may help your competition, but it will help you too. What’s the result? The result is a more healthy community (which, hopefully, is what we’re in this business for).

Reach out to managers or other key people from local gyms, clubs, studios, etc. You can organize a group marketing campaign, fitness event, or help some charity together. There are all kinds of ways to join forces.

Now, call for a huddle, come up with the play, and then execute it!

Your Career Ladder

Through the almost four decades that I’ve been a personal trainer and health club  manager, I’ve seen a lot of personal trainers come and go. Only a small portion create a sustainable career as a personal trainer. In my opinion, this is because, for some reason, entry level trainers are not thinking about it like other careers. They think that they can jump in, get some clients, and life is good just doing the same old, same old. To really succeed in this industry (well, in fact, any industry) you need to plan long-term. You need to map out the steps your ideal career.

56AD03F9-86C5-4115-9B56-525AAB3F5A65If you look at other careers, what do you see? Someone planning to be a lawyer, maybe they plan to go to a top school, pass the bar exam, get hired by a top company, and make partner by age forty. How about and architect? Go to a top school, work for a top agency, and their own firm by fifty. What these have in common is that they have the end game in mind and steps to take them there. With a specific vision in mind of where you want your career to go, you can break it down to those steps necessary to carry you to that goal.

What is your career end game? Let’s say you want to own your own health club or studio as an example. What things do you have to accomplish to get you there? Start with the major steps and then you can break each major step into smaller (not unlike periodizing a client’s program).

  • Start saving money for your facility (oh, yeah. You better start as soon as you can. It could be $10/week, but start now. This is something that I wish I had known when I began my career.)
  • Get a degree or accredited certification.
  • Intern or get hired by a fitness club to get hands-on experience
  • Seek out opportunities in management (assistant fitness director, manager on duty, assistant manager)
  • Become a general manager
  • Open your own facility

Simplistic? Definitely! It may take 10-20 years to achieve, too. That depends on how ambitious you are. (Shortly after college, I started as a personal trainer at a fairly large health club in Boston and became general manager within two years. Granted, there weren’t as many fitness professionals back in those days, but I was still very career focused.)

The key to reaching your career goal once you have mapped out your ladder is to look for the opportunities to learn and utilize the skills that will take you to that next step. Learn more about training, behavior modification, business, interpersonal communication, professional writing, public speaking, and any other thing that could make you a better rounded professional.

Make the most of your career in health and fitness. There’s nothing more rewarding.