Mastering Digital Coaching: Finding your flow for the camera's all-seeing eye

by Sally O'Sullivan on Apr 15, 2024

Mastering Digital Coaching: Finding your flow for the camera's all-seeing eye

Social media is flooded with coaches. Funny ones. Serious ones. Sarcastic ones. Technical ones. And for anyone who needs to spend a chunk of their time coaching to camera – whether that’s in the fitness arena or not – it creates a burning issue:

The recipient of your content has an hour, absolute tops, to tune in. So, why should they choose yours? And how can you present your best, most engaging self to the world?

This is obviously harder if you’re new to it, but it also applies if you’ve been coaching to camera for a while. Why? Because it’s so easy to get stuck in a rut; to overlook the habits you may have fallen in to - especially if you have no regular, truthful, unbiased feedback mechanism in place (that excludes your friends/ family/loved ones!)

Of course, who you resonate with comes down to personal taste. There is simply no right or wrong when it comes to personality – only what is right for your recipient. But when it’s your turn in front of the camera, the answer ‘just be yourself’ can feel blasé. So, the topic we’re considering here isn’t just the why, it’s the how.

Yes, some people are a ‘natural’ in front of the camera. But appearing natural can be a learned skill. This is an in-depth process which we cover in our two-day training course at Johnson Digital, but I’ve cherry-picked the top three attributes of great digital delivery to highlight here:

  1. You get a sense you’re watching the real person.

I deliberately didn’t use the word ‘authentic’, even though that’s what it is. Being authentic is a phrase I feel gets bandied around so much that the actual meaning gets lost. Let’s break it down and be specific about its meaning and purpose, here.

As humans, we tend to operate in two modes. The side we show to the world, and the side we really are. We can get so used to functioning in that first mode, the society-facing mode, because we feel we have to do it every day. And that’s okay in general; it can be a necessity for many roles.

The issue when it comes to digital - especially for fitness - is that the camera doesn’t lie. It magnifies everything. Sometimes it’s obvious when someone isn’t truly being themselves, but other times you can’t even put your finger on why you’re not sure about who you’re watching. Something just doesn’t sit right.

Projecting energy and enthusiasm is obviously a good thing, but there’s a line between being your best self, and a caricature. You can get that sense that someone is playacting, and that undermines trust. An attendee at our last internal training course nailed it brilliantly: “the bigger the front, the bigger the back” – if a coach is all show, what have they got to hide?

Then there’s the fact you might be so used to operating in ‘Society Mode’, that even you can’t tell the difference! The key is to find a way firstly to reconnect with who you are at your core, and secondly, finding a way to access it when you’re on camera, with factors like adrenaline working against you.

The very question “who are you, really?” is an unnerving one. But rather than bringing some kind of existential crisis, it’s one that can bring a lot of firm, deep-seated confidence when you can answer it truthfully.

How to do this is a process which takes a bit of humility and willingness to peel back the layers; something we take a deep dive into on our course. It doesn’t matter how long you’ve been in the industry or how many followers you’ve got. What matters is that you’re happy to go there, listen and learn from others who are doing it with you, answer some challenging questions and get down to the nitty gritty of what really makes you tick.

Considering your core beliefs is a good place to start. What are the things that affect how you approach life, generally? And what are your limiting beliefs? What stands in your way to expressing your true self when you coach? Are those reasons valid, when viewed objectively, or are they just the narrative you tell yourself?

Once you’ve done the introspective work and you’ve pinpointed what it is you want to share with the world, you can work on externalising it. Even just having one, strong, clear core value at the forefront of your mind when you speak will change the way you talk, position your body, and look at the camera. It will also dampen any nerves. This won’t happen overnight, but it’s something you can work on every time you coach or post.

When you operate in ‘Real You’ mode, your thoughts and actions are in line with your beliefs and the things you say will land as you intend. This will enable you to project all your charisma through the lens while still coming across as genuine. You’ll recognise your true self when you get into that mode, because it’ll feel natural and right, and in your flow.

  1. You feel they’re speaking to you, personally.

If I look at the mass, I never act. If I look at the one, I do.”

Mother Teresa was right. This is the reason why charities often tell you the story of one person’s plight, rather than listing the problems of a population as a whole. If it’s too big an issue, we can’t get our heads around it. We don’t think we can make a difference, so we don’t act.

But the story of one person? That’s much easier to absorb, and infinitely more motivating.

There are two parts of this idea to unpack for our purposes:

  1. The coach is addressing you like you’re the only person present.
  2. Their motivation lands with you on a fundamental level.

Firstly, when delivering your content digitally, remember that you’re speaking to one person, so classic fitness coaching terms like ‘team’ and the ‘gang’ have no place here, and may even push your target further away. That’s a fairly simple point to rectify, but not necessarily easy if it’s engrained into your coaching vocabulary (try it next time you coach – £1 penalty in the virtual swear box for every cliché).

And secondly, true motivation should hinge on emotional engagement. The kind that taps into something you’ve experienced – a feeling, or a situation, whether inside or outside of your industry, that your viewer can relate to.

To demonstrate this in fitness terms, we’ve all experienced bootcamp-style coaching where the instructor is simply yelling ‘Drive!” “Push!” “Come on!”. Empty words that mean nothing and do nothing (except maybe irritate you, especially if you are already pushing).

But truly effective encouragement is like gold dust in fitness. It’s that touch of magic that resonates at your core and somehow unlocks that last bit you had in reserve.

Again, using this can be a learned skill. I sure as heck didn’t know how to do this at first, because tapping into it requires you to be a little vulnerable and open up. In the early chapters of my fitness career, I was still getting comfortable with who I was as a coach so this all felt a bit beyond me. I wish someone had taught me this back then – it would have saved a lot of self-doubt. I remember going to my favourite instructors’ classes and coming away a little starstruck, with conflicting feelings of elation and insecurity. How could I ever deliver a class like that?

There are various tactics to access this skill. You can tell short stories and drop the punchline right at the opportune moment. You can open up with honest snippets of your own tough or joyful experiences. You can find unique, non-clichéd ways to equate the physical exertions you’re taking your participants through to other areas of life.

Yes, you have to feel it to be able to express it. But if this skill is evading you right now, it doesn’t mean you can’t do it, just that you need a process to help you unlock it.

Other action points on this front:

  • Be open to learning from others. Not just mentors but peers too, no matter how long they’ve been in the industry. Remember that many coaches transition from career number one (or even two), bringing not just transferable skills, but valuable life experience. Fresh eyes and ears are as much of an asset here as solid working knowledge of the role.
  • Attend or watch the delivery of people you know who are excellent at this kind of motivation and ask them how they got so good at it.
  • Be willing to sit down and plan what you want to say to your viewer, and how to say it.
  • Practise, practise, practise until it becomes second nature.
  1. You feel included.

This section relates to coaching on-demand digital workouts, specifically. In other fields, you may well want to tailor your content to your unique audience.

We all have different situations, circumstances and backgrounds. So, when your content is available worldwide, how do you navigate this tricky subject to make sure it’s well-received, no matter how able your participant? How do you show whoever is viewing that’s it’s worth watching and participating right until the end?

The best, most inclusive coaching transcends barriers created by circumstance. It never shames; it empowers – no matter what level. To clarify, by inclusive, I mean the whole sphere of inclusivity, from complete beginner to those with a long training age and excellent fitness levels. (More on the latter shortly.)

You can’t run? Start by walking briskly for 15 minutes three times a week and build from there.

You’re injured or coming back from an operation? Here are the low impact, reduced range or weight options. Listen to your body, move with care and seek professional advice if something doesn’t feel right.

This is a simple approach, but you’d be surprised how often it’s omitted. This could be down to knowledge or experience, but also sometimes, ego. The thought that you don’t want to coach the easier option because you think it might reflect on your own capabilities is widely misguided. You could miss a whole host of potentially very loyal participants simply because you didn’t make your workout accessible.

Then there’s the other side. If someone is super fit, will they get enough from it? Have you given them enough to think about and develop their skills, whether that’s improving performance or movement quality?

This is the minefield of digital coaching. You can’t see your participant. You have no idea about their background, training age, actual age or movement quality.

Of course, if you work for a reputable brand with an online presence, they should insist these are included for safety reasons as well as to make sure your content is challenging enough to encourage training adaptations for all.

But it’s something you might not do as a matter of course if you’re creating your own content.

So, here are three questions to ask yourself to help you cover all bases:

  • Have I clearly set up how the movement should feel? As well as my physical demos, have I expressed it well verbally using external cues / RPE scale?
  • Could my grandma do the scaled version? And have I also included options to challenge a fit, physically literate 20-year-old?
  • Whichever option my viewer is using, what situation or analogy can I ask them to envisage to help them get more out of it?

Wherever you are in your digital coaching journey, have fun finding and expressing yourself.

Click here to find out more about our digital coaching course and click here to book. Our first external version, approved by Active IQ, runs on 24th and 25th April.

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published.