Stage presence

Are you nervous? Then be nervous!

The local newspaper came to our Toastmasters club’s open house once and gave us a nice write-up. The opening line read, “Studies show that many people fear public speaking more than death.” That is the biggest exaggeration in the history of the English language!  I’ve never seen such a study, but stage fright is very real. If you search online for speaking tips, the top results deal with anxiety. Why is that? Should nervousness define your experience as a speaker?

Why so negative?

I have never seen a cover of Runner’s World that said, “How to deal with fatigue” or Flex magazine asking, “What do you do when the weight is heavy?” In what other venture do we advertise the downside first? Commercials on television for medications with one benefit and 12 side effects manage to accentuate the positive and hide the negative. What about public speaking? In a craft where optimism is your sharpest tool, people so often begin by describing the worst of it.

This one sentence will cure your speaking bug

Being nervous is the best part of public speaking. Savor it! Most people live without ever having a reason to be nervous about anything. Why would you deprive yourself of that thrill? The presence of an audience, your powerful message, and the high stakes for getting it right should motivate you, not deter you. Your anxiety builds energy in the crowd, generates their sympathy, and increases your appreciation for your audience as they lend their support.

If you are confident in your message, then you should be confident in your ability to share the message. No matter what your emotions are in the moments before you begin speaking, your confidence in your message will keep you on point.

Embrace your anxiety

There’s something special about beginning a speech when you’re too nervous to remember your lines. If you rehearse to the point that you commit every word to memory, your nerves will put your mouth on autopilot. You speak straight from the subconscious mind, and you’ll feel like you’re watching yourself speak. It’s pretty cool.

A nervous speaker generates sympathy from the audience. When they feel like they’re propping you up, they connect to you better than they would if you appear too sure of yourself. When you rely on the audience to build your confidence, you appreciate them more and your sincerity shows. An arrogant speaker will talk down to an audience. They recognize it much more quickly than they see your stage jitters.

We're still standing

The best example that I have seen of this audience support is the 2018 World Championship of Public Speaking. The winner that year was Ramona Smith, a middle school teacher from Cleveland, Ohio. Although Ramona radiates confidence on stage, she presented a story of several failures in her life and likened the experience to being a professional fighter being knocked to the canvas. Her experience in the classroom no doubt fueled her ability to stand tall on stage and yet get down to eye level with her audience. 

In most stories about overcoming obstacles, the speaker will usually lean on a guru to give the advice that saves the day. Ramona used the audience as her inspiration, feeding off of their anxiety to physically lift her off of the floor. It reminded me of the way Hulk Hogan would make his big comeback against a string of 1980’s title challengers. When she got back to her feet, the audience began singing to her in unison, even though she never expected it. She had to present herself as vulnerable in order for that audience to buy into that struggle. An overconfident speaker would have never gotten that kind of reaction.

I'm not nervous, but my character is

If your nervousness overtakes your ability to speak, then include it in your performance. The second place speaker in 2018 was Sherrie Su, who used her anxiety as part of her speech. She begins with her back turned to the audience and talks about life being like the stage, saying, “but sometimes it’s scary.” The quiver in her voice sold the idea. No amount of acting can replace the genuine trepidation of public speaking. She turns around, faces the audience and says, “I’m a little scared right now.” Sherrie had only spoken English for eight years at the time, which added to the tension. She talked about overcoming anxiety in her life by turning around facing fear. The topic can sound cliche, unless the speaker reinvents it. Sherrie added sophistication by eliciting empathy from the audience to lift her up.

If you are so nervous that the audience can see it, then use that tension in your speech. Begin with a story about someone who is nervous, or when you are nervous. As your confidence grows, the character’s good fortune improves.


Nervousness is pardonable, not excusable

Just note, it’s one thing to be nervous, tell people that you’re nervous, and then overcome it as you speak. It’s another issue to completely cop out and say that you’re too nervous to speak. When I was in high school, the guest speaker at a wrestling awards banquet opened his remarks with, “Guys, um, I’m not a very good public speaker.” He’s a big shot in the sport to this day but I’ve never been a fan, thanks to the 20 minutes he stole from my life.

Tie a yellow sweater 'round that pencil neck

Much like the fitness industry, the speaking profession is loaded with bad advice. I am looking right now at a list of public speaking tips online, and tip number one is … brace yourself … “breathe.” Below that stellar list is advice from a Harvard speech professor. Are you ready? “Nervousness is normal.” Well golly gee willikers, how did I miss that? This is what a $20 billion worth of research grants has come up with? This explains why the University of Alaska Anchorage, my almost alma mater, kicks their asses in the national debate competition every year.

Toastmasters does not put speaking tips in a list, as they know that public speaking is not so simple. Nervousness, however, is very simple. We like it. It’s the best thing about public speaking. Embrace anxiety, and use it to your advantage on stage.

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Writing process

“Set” the mood for your story

Greetings from my living room couch

We bought the couch a few years ago as a luxury item, but now it sits as the lone, worn-out piece of furniture in a living room that can fit about 15 people. Normally I would be sitting across from the TV, but I could never hear it over the traffic outside, so we moved it into the bedroom. Now all I have is a 3x3 foot painting of a floral design on a 12 foot wall. If you stare long enough, you can see the outline of a dog who looks ready to play. We decided to add a little color to that wall by having the bottom half painted turquoise, but the painter only treated us to one coat of paint. An apartment made for comfort and prestige now boasts a squeaky reclining sofa, sloppy turquoise brush strokes on an empty wall, and a perpetual grand prix of motorcycles, buses, and delivery trucks in the street outside.

How is that for a description? What do these features tell you about the room, and about the world I live in? We planned our lives with high hopes, but so far have not accomplished much. You don’t see any tragedy, just short-term futility with a sense of humor. The scene doesn’t spell total defeat, but rather, “You’re not there yet.” Any other features that don’t describe the mood or build anticipation for the coming story don’t belong.

I can also tell a very positive story using the same setting. The room has a lot of charm. I use it as my personal home gym, with plenty of space for agility rings. We have really cool LED recessed lights that glow when you turn them off. The empty room gives an echo that makes music sound great. Even though we have a security door outside the building, the windows are covered with iron bars that I sometimes squeeze through in order to entertain my students during virtual classes.

This second description gives you a much different picture than before. Now you see a playhouse for a 45 year-old man-child, which doesn’t leave much potential for conflict to tell a good story.

When you tell a story, you want to choose the elements that establish the mood. In this case, we begin with setting. If you have a story where the setting matters most, pick only the details that support your narrative.

If the scene is cold, the temperature must play a role in the story. If you’re walking down a long desolate road, then that road must symbolize a long journey, or at least leave you with blisters on your feet. If it’s early in the morning, then the characters have to be tired, or the streets must be empty. The details of the setting must tell the story. If not, then you are only showcasing your writing ability at the expense of clarity. 

If your audience has to memorize meaningless details, then they can’t follow the story.

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Think of the two most successful horror movie franchises

Is there a movie called “Freddy Krueger Kills People?” No. It’s the picket fences of Elm Street that make the story so scary. Due respect to Eddie Murphy, the term Vampire in Brooklyn is kind of a redundancy in terms. Extra cool points if you caught that. Freddy’s rival, Jason Vorhees, needed seven sequels to finally reach Manhattan. Jason took most of his revenge at Camp Crystal Lake, a serene New Jersey summer getaway and his final resting place after he drowned at age eleven. As the song goes, “You’re deep in love, but you’re deeper in the woods.” The setting tells the story.

One more setting

Let’s take this back to the fitness world. Imagine you have an audience of two dozen personal trainers and want to share war stories from the gym. Every piece of equipment has a story behind it. Somebody tried to strip the plates one side at a time from the bar on the squat rack that was in front of a row of mirrors. Someone couldn’t step away from the dumbell rack for that all-important set of front raises. Another client insists on walking on treadmill number 17, even though it’s in front of the TV that has a fluorescent light directly above it. These little details are a story within themselves. 

Your audience relates to you when you paint a familiar scene 

To get some practice, take a look around the room that you’re in right now.

Open your notebook, or a Word document (I prefer to handwrite my ideas first), and describe everything around you. Use the opening paragraph of this article as an example. What would happen in an environment like this?

Write down everything that you see. Include the furniture, the lights, decorations, doors, windows, size, colors, and the noise. What do these details tell you? If you went to work tomorrow and told a story about something that happened in that same room, which features would help you tell the story? What would you leave out?

If you want a next-level challenge, go outside and try the same thing. Look at your property, your neighborhood, or even city. How can the backdrop enhance the story?

And now, the plug

In the FIT Presenter Master Speechwriting Course, we look in depth at setting, including examples from popular songs over the past 70 years. Think of "Under the Boardwalk" by the Drifters. The setting tells the entire story. On the boardwalk, we get the summer heat and the smell of hot dogs, and French fries. Meanwhile, under the boardwalk ... (photo not available).

You can find more uncensored examples of songs that tell a story through setting in the Master Speechwriting Course. I hope to see you there!

Editor's note: The snake-like object that you see at the end of the video is my belt, which got caught on the crossbar. I removed it and slid through the window. We did not, repeat, did not "finish the class" early.

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Professional development

Are you a fitness leader?

What makes somebody a leader in the fitness industry?

Before you dive any deeper into FIT Presenter, you need a pep talk. This industry is so full of egos and inflated credentials that a modest trainer like you might feel unworthy of prestige. People make their names in fitness by flaunting their supposed greatness. While others put their energy into self-promotion and personal branding, you put your energy into helping your clients. You may not have the resume to lead the industry, but you have the character to lead people.

The definition of a leader is very simple. A leader is someone who people follow. That’s it.

Your 20 clients have more faith in you than all 15 million subscribers combined put into their favorite online influencer.

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As we look deeper into what fitness leaders do for people, you need to understand how much you contribute and how close to the top you already are.

The showmanship of this industry can intimidate a humble trainer. People who hang their hats on experience, education, and job titles in many cases lack the key components that unheralded professionals have in abundance.

How many years of experience does a trainer need to be a leader?

The answer rhymes with “Mike the FIT Presenter is my personal hero.” Experience as a number means nothing if a trainer hasn’t learned anything new over the years. Trainers who progress with success will promote their abilities more than their time in the business.

Does a trainer with a college degree offer more than a trainer without one? Of course! Just show me a degree in personal training. Those degrees don’t exist. As for kinesiology and exercise physiology, they represent scientific knowledge but not human connection.


As much as this industry needs exercise science, some trainers hide behind textbook knowledge when they lack people skills.

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They will tell you that a trainer’s job is program design, and that anything else that you do with a client is social hour and not within the job description. They have their Power Point slides ready, thinking that they can amaze an audience with applied functional science. You can run circles around people like that when you tell stories that connect.

A gym owner can certainly count as a leader, but that’s not a guarantee either. Some owners lead and motivate people, while others are simply facility managers. As the industry becomes more corporatized, we see more gyms owned by investors who hire business managers who pay the bills, write the work schedules, and keep the gym clean. The fitness leadership is left to the trainers and the instructors, not the management.

Now let’s look at your credentials 

Maybe you have some of the attributes mentioned above, and maybe you have all of them. Perhaps you own a gym, have a degree in exercise science, and claim years of experience as a trainer. Which of these has the most weight in front of an audience? None of the above!

As you speak to the audience, you don’t have to summon the perfect talking points about business or academics. The stage is the place to step away from the professional and give them your personal side. You may feel nervous about taking the stage, but you should feel relieved. As a public speaker, your ability to connect with the audience is what makes you a leader.

If you have nothing special on your resume, you have nothing special to worry about. In your case, the only thing you have for your audience is exactly what they need. You get to be your audience’s best kept secret.

"You knock science so much, what about your background?"

Personally speaking, my jump to industry leader came early in my career. I was training full-time for less than a year when I got the call to teach the personal training certification course at a career institute. The only criteria to teach was a bachelor’s degree. It didn’t matter that I majored in economics. Had I brought more scientific knowledge to the table, I might have dumped too much information on them and called it a lesson. As a knowledgeable novice, I had no choice but to double down on what little I knew and help them to understand it. I taught that class eleven times before taking up teaching ESL as my full-time profession. Occasionally I give the students a course on fitness terms in English, just to remember the good old days.

Go tell it at the lectern!

As your fitness career progresses, the powers that be will rightly insist that you renew your certification with technical and scientific courses. Don’t overlook the industry criteria. However, the unmeasurable, intangible qualities that you offer are what make you a leader. No matter your experience, education, or status, you are ready to command an audience.

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Professional development

Adventures in Toastmasters

I’ll never forget my first Toastmasters meeting, at the Greatland Toastmasters club in Anchorage, Alaska. 

I had just gotten my first apartment. No more roommates, dorms, or barracks, just me, my four walls and my empty refrigerator. I needed to parlay the milestone with another major step in my life. I moved into the apartment on May 1st and went to my first meeting on May 3rd. I didn’t know much about the organization.

All I knew was that if you ever found yourself on stage, Toastmasters would make the difference between champ and chump.

The 14-story Frontier building in midtown looked like the Empire State Building as I pulled into the parking lot. This must be what it’s like to go on stage to give a speech, I thought. The walk to the building, the elevator ride, and the death march to the conference room took far longer than any walk to the stage and added to the jitters.

I don’t know why I was so nervous. After all, I knew the building well. I had an office there -- where I installed the furniture.

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This time I was there on business. As I pulled open those heavy double doors to the conference room, I soon found that I had no reason to worry.

“Heyyy, welcome!” said the first smiling face that greeted me. I felt like Norm walking into Cheers for the 5ooth time. From that day until I moved out of Alaska, I never missed a weekly meeting if I was in town.

For your experience to be as good as mine was with Greatland, you have to choose the best club. 

My absolute worst experience was at a state-run utility company. That day the club was celebrating their anniversary and had ordered some food. I didn’t know anything about the special event, as I was only a visitor. With just two dollars in my wallet, I handed over what little I had at the club’s vice president of membership’s insistence in exchange for a charity plate.

Mind you that as a club member I have paid for plenty of guests to eat whenever we brought in pizza, snacks, or a birthday cake.

The meeting carried on with the efficiency of any meeting run by state bureaucrats who hate their jobs until his excellency, the company’s president showed up.

“Let’s get something straight,” he said as he burst into the conference room. “Everybody here works for me, right?” 

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He didn’t even know what Toastmasters was but he decided that since it was carrying on in his building, he wanted to observe. After standing in the back and watching what was left of the meeting, Mr. (name withheld, but let’s just say his name rhymes with a word that describes him well) decided to lecture the group about what they really needed to know about public speaking.

He left us with a message that everyone (except the lowly visitor) was to get back to work immediately, and an indication that Toastmasters would have served him well.

This is why choosing the right club is so important. The wrong experience might chase you away from the organization forever. Had this been my first experience with Toastmasters, I would have never gone back to another meeting.

I have belonged to three clubs and visited about a half dozen more, and can tell you that not all clubs are the same. A club typically meets every other week, though some meet every week and others just once a month. They also vary between morning, noon, and evening clubs. Aside from the scheduling, the real variety lies with the attitude of the club.

Don't let the fancy clothes fool you.

If you visit the Toastmasters website, you will see that they promote a formal business image. The organization brands itself with the allure of executive leadership, but the reality in the meeting is much different. People come from all professions, and for a variety of reasons. In fact, a club full of members focused solely on professional advancement and not personal growth is usually a very boring club. I was installing office furniture at the time that I joined, and a year later I was the club president. 

My criteria

You want a club that is professional, but not too formal. You know that a club is well organized pretty early on in a meeting, as they follow a system but are still willing to deviate from it. A good club cares more about getting its members in front of the room than it does about following parliamentary procedure. You want a club that is big enough to offer variety, but not so big that you will never get a chance to speak. Although you want a club that welcomes you, be careful about a group that is too eager to have you join.

Believe the testimonials

Most literature that you see about Toastmasters raves over the experience, and rightly so. The semi-annual dues and bi-weekly meetings are the smallest investments of time and money that will ever do so much for you. Just make sure that you choose the right club based on schedule, rapport, and opportunity.

If you’re tired of dozing off in front of PowerPoint slides in a conference room and can’t wait for your turn, then Toastmasters awaits you.

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Writing process

Grisham or Gladwell?

Do you know how to keep a reader in suspense? 

I suppose you want me to tell you. Sure, I’ll tell you in just one minute.

When you begin a speech, your audience holds their breath waiting for you to speak. As you continue, they wait for the point you’re trying to make. How long do you want to keep them on the hook? Here we look at two ways to resolve the audience’s tension.

Masters of suspense

A modern-day master of suspense is John Grisham. If you ever have a long layover in an airport, a Grisham novel will hold your attention so much that you might miss your flight. He keeps you in suspense, and then you find out exactly whodunit or how they solved the crime. And then it’s over. No more suspense, mystery or conjecture. Grisham novels are a perfect puzzle, and leave you with a perfect picture of the story.

The incomplete puzzle

On the other end of the spectrum is Malcolm Gladwell, a writer for the New Yorker magazine and one of the great modern-day philosophers. Gladwell leaves you with more questions than answers. He calls his style the incomplete puzzle. To understand a Gladwell piece, you have to go back through it a few times to figure out the message. His feature articles won’t entertain you like a Grisham crime drama, but he will challenge your thinking long after you finish reading.

When you present an idea, how much do you want your reader or your audience to know at the end? Grisham and Gladwell each have their own place in your speeches, lectures, and workshops.

First lesson in politics -- dodge the question

Your audience will have complicated questions and expect simple answers. This demands Gladwell’s incomplete puzzle. 

My favorite oversimplified question is, “How many reps and sets should I be doing?” Do NOT answer the question! 

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That is a novice question for people who only do bench press and preacher curls. The question about reps and sets tells me that he reads muscle magazines, but doesn’t train the way bodybuilders do. He doesn’t want the complicated formula that measures time under tension and overall force. He wants a short answer that does not exist (I’m not dismissing women here, only a man would ask that question). 

The best way to satisfy someone’s curiosity is to trigger more curiosity. I like to say, “If that question had a simple answer, we would be done already.” Then you have some leeway to add more information.

Talk about compound exercises that can’t be counted as easily. Add exercises that have more explosive movements. Your answer will disappoint them initially, but if they pay attention to your answer you will empower them to explore the gym with more confidence. 

So, um, like, which machine should I …

The same principle applies for calorie burn. During your tenure as a trainer or coach, someone will ask you, “Which machine burns the most calories?” We all know that the machine that burns the most calories is the one that you use the most, but she (payback, ladies, payback) doesn’t want to hear that. She is looking for a camping spot in the gym and wants you to point her there so she can watch the Biggest Loser on the mini-flat screen TV mounted on the machine. Before you revert to your personal trainer’s safe space and recite averages based on basal metabolic rate, tap into her curiosity. Talk more about performance goals rather than simple calorie burn. Then you can inspire her instead of give an answer that she doesn’t like.

Erase all suspense, and doubt

The Grisham approach works best when telling a story. You want your audience to know exactly what happened and how the story ends. There should be a clear lesson in your story, and your audience should be able to retell the story exactly as you told it. This is the final part of the FIT principle. Transfer the lesson so your audience can reteach it. A clear and decisive ending makes the story more memorable. I read “The Client” over 25 years ago and I can still tell you where Barry the Blade buried the body. Would you like to know?

Use both types

An outstanding presentation blends the conclusive storytelling of John Grisham with the meandering road to nowhere led by Malcolm Gladwell. This way, you leave your audience as curious as they are informed and inspired.

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Stage presence

Master the Q & A

You know my doctor, Dr. Vinny Boombatz?

When Johnny Carson hosted the Tonight Show, guest comedians had to separate their routines into two parts. They performed their stand-up material, and then saved a few jokes for the sit-down segment with Johnny. In some cases, the seemingly “impromptu” conversation got more laughs than the official performance. 

In public speaking, the same format applies. You end your prepared remarks, soak up the applause, and then the real presentation begins.

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Questions, anyone?

Your audience will hopefully have questions before, during, and after your presentation. As your presentation is more of a dialog than the Gettysburg Address, the audience’s questions are every bit as important as your prepared comments.

The Q & A gives you time to add tidbits from your original speech that didn’t fit the central message, casually namedrop people, and pile on your credentials in a less boastful manner.

It might not look staged, but ...

Where to include a Q&A session is every bit as strategic as planning your own talk. When all goes well, a Q&A session enhances the talk by allowing the audience members to contribute. It boosts interaction between you and your audience, and gives you a chance to cover material that you might have left out. You can tailor the information you share to the specific concerns of each group. However, it can also turn around to bite you.

During a Q & A session, you relinquish control of the room to your audience. What can possibly go wrong?

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The usual suspects

The audience members can contribute or derail your presentation, depending on how you interact with them. As a lifelong disruptive student myself, I can assure you that noisemakers want to be a positive part of the presentation. Here’s a list of the usual suspects and possible solutions to keep the event on point:

The rambler

If the venue is big enough to warrant a microphone, your questioner will likely be nervous when it’s their turn to speak. The question might not make any sense at all, and will also be long-winded. In this case, rephrase their question and confirm before answering. Once you articulate their thoughts better than they can, you win them over. As an example:

“I was wondering, like, a friend of mine wants to lose 30 pounds, and I told her, you know, you’re not really doing the right things, cause she keeps her diet books next to her cookbooks, and …”

You can respond with, “It sounds like you want to know what kind of advice to give your friend.” You will be amazed at how the tension leaves the room once you frame their question. They will look at you like that guy on TV who communicates with dead people.

Captain obvious

Someone might ask a question that you have already answered. One option is to count down from three and have the audience yell, “DUH!” I recommend asking the audience. Let someone in the crowd answer the question. Once you get an answer, offer praise to the person who answered the question. If the questioner looks embarrassed for asking the question, respond with, “I’m glad you asked that question, since it’s a point worth repeating.”

The confronter 

There are a lot of egos in this industry, and someone will take great pride in disagreeing with you. In a sales situation, an objection is a buying signal. In a speaking venue, if an audience member postures up in disagreement, they are giving you an opportunity to win them over. Let’s say your talk is how you prefer functional training over bodybuilding. Somebody in your audience will challenge you and say that functional training is for wimps. The worst thing you can say is, “Well, that’s just your opinion” or “I’m sorry you feel that way.” It doesn’t work in marriage, and it doesn’t work with your audience

Instead, you can say, “There’s no doubt that muscle building works for you. If your clients gravitate to it, and they don’t have the same mobility issues that my clients do, then more power to you.” Turn the objective into an opportunity. That questioner will leave the venue dying for a chance to take your words and make them his own.

Q & A formats

You also have to consider where to put the Q&A in your talk. In a classroom, you can answer questions as you present the same way a teacher does. With a larger audience, you have to be more strategic. The room is too big to answer to a show of hands, and the lineup behind the microphone that you see in university settings can be the kiss of death.

The collection

If you know that there will be a lot of questions, you can take all of the questions at once and take notes as they ask. Then you can answer them in bulk. You can also collect written questions throughout the presentation and answer at an appropriate time.

The break

In a full-day session, you can make yourself available for questions during breaks and then report the answers back to the group. 


If you are using a projector with internet access, you can let your audience submit questions via Menti. You need to set up a free Mentimeter account beforehand. Create a presentation and set for “Open-ended questions.” The audience can submit questions via their smartphones and they will appear on the screen. You can choose the best questions to answer. 

No matter what Q & A format you use, finish with your own closing remarks. Never finish with, “Okay, that’s the last of the questions, thank you very much.” With practice, you can identify the question that segues into your closing. Remember, you always want to have the last word.

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Professional development

How is the weather?

When you meet a client for the first time, how do you decide what questions to ask?

What do you really want to know about the client? Standardized intake forms (three ugly words that should be purged from our industry forever) account for medical history, exercise history (liar liar) dietary habits (pants on fire), and an inventory of specific, haphazard, irrelevant, time consuming goals (I think there’s an acronym for that). But what about the client’s human side? If you want to document their personality, motivations, and attitudes about exercise, you have to create your own forms. Luckily, the assessment tools already exist.

The DISC personality profile

With a few quick questions, you can put your client into one of four personality categories. With that information, you can tailor your approach. Should you hold their hand and tell them they will love the workout? Maybe they want a load of details to be sure that the program is well-planned. In other cases, humor matters most. Another possibility is to simply say, “Okay, now let’s get to work.” Which approach works the best? That depends on your client’s personality.

D -- The driver. This is your type A personality. They like to be in charge and want to get things done. They don’t have patience for details. They think more than they feel.

I -- The influencer. They like to have fun. They would rather persuade people than give orders.

S -- The sentimental one. This person cares mostly about other people’s feelings. They feel more than they think.

C -- The conventional one. This person loves details. They love to follow steps and procedures.

What does that mean to you as a trainer?

Once you determine their personality style, you know the best way to communicate and motivate. 

In the first training session with my client, I always ask, “How is the weather?” Their answer almost always gives away their DISC type.

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A “D” will answer with one or two words. 
An “I” will probably tell a story or describe the scene.
An “S” will tell you that it’s cold and that you should wear a jacket. 
A “C” will give you a meteorologist report.

The first time you discover a client’s personality type, you can not prepare for that Eureka moment. Try to hide your excitement. The communication portal is now open and will stay that way.

Here are some ways to maximize the relationship with each client.

For a "D" personality, let them make as many decisions as possible. Even though they are no-nonsense people and like blunt instructions from a trainer, they also need to feel like they are in charge. As they build confidence and know-how in the gym, give them a chance to select their own exercises.

“I” personalities like to play games. Your responsibility, and it’s a very serious one, is to make the routine fun. Give every exercise and every machine a special name. Let them jump up and down on the BoSu, just because you can.

“S” personalities feel more vulnerable than most. Give them a chance to do what they do best and offer you comfort. When you need to break the ice or build rapport, tell the client a little something about yourself (just a little something -- remember, the client is not your therapist). Without dumping too much personal cargo, give them a little tidbit about your family or your pets. This will knock you down a peg in their eyes and bring you to their level.

A “C” personality wants details, so give them details. Explain the joint actions and the muscles that you recruit. Give them a nutrition plan with charts and graphs. When you ask a question, expect a long answer.

Why does it matter?

The number one reason your client is coming to see you is that they don’t like the gym. You will never win a client over with useless paperwork. 

Try filling out 20 minutes worth of forms and checklists before your next workout, and see how well you do in the gym!

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Even though we see constant developments in training systems and online coaching platforms, the paperwork has never changed. After all these years, we are still pulling the same useless information.

As a personal trainer, client rapport is your number one marketing tool. 

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More than anything else, our clients come from referrals. In word-of-mouth advertising, your only promotional device is your instant rapport. The client doesn’t want to know the features and benefits that we learned in our Principles of Marketing class. They are not impressed with your ability to decelerate the talus over the calcaneus in three planes while exercising in a closed kinetic chain (that’s why I drop it on you instead). They want a personal connection. We connect through communication. We communicate by speaking to their personality type.

This sounds like a head game

Are we playing Pretty Boy Freud on the training floor by tearing open their psyche? Only if you abuse it. If you say the wrong thing just to provoke a reaction and laugh about it later, this article and this profession is not for you. We use the personality indicator to learn how they wish to be treated. It is no different than varying your tone of voice based on the client’s age, gender, energy level or sense of humor.

Support the mission

FIT Presenter seeks to raise the professional profile of the entire fitness industry through top-level communication. Although this is a public speaking coaching business first, we cover all modes of client outreach in order to get the respect that we individually and collectively deserve.

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Fitness articles

Get off the human hamster wheel

We could see her from the window of the second-floor training studio as she finished up the mile-long walk from her house.

Every trainer knows that look, when the adrenaline spins the eyes around, and in between short breaths, she speaks gibberish that can only translate to “I’m ready.”

Her trainer greeted her with just one word. “Treadmill.”
“But I just walked here. I don’t need to warm up.”
“Ha ha ha ha … Treadmill.”

Yes, this is a true story.

Why didn’t the client want to use the treadmill? For the same reason that the trainer wanted her to use it. Cardio machines require no thought. They offer a low-risk, low-reward health club experience. Novice gym members who care more about calorie count than a new challenge will default to the easiest modalities they can find. The same goes for trainers who care more about their next modeling gig than their clients’ development.

Meanwhile, motivated clients who walk to the gym and their enlightened trainers take chances. They get their cardio training on the open floor.

The cardio machine section is the tourist trap of the gym floor.

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It’s Times Square while the real New Yorkers are eating pizza in Brooklyn, riding the Cyclone, and reeling in striped bass in Sheepshead Bay. It’s the bus tour straight to Machu Picchu for a quick selfie and a long ride home, while adventure-seekers take their time and trek the Sacred Valley. It’s the Alaskan cruise that stops in Anchorage for 45 minutes before whisking you away to a flat, windswept oil field on the north slope while a much happier family camps out by a river on the Kenai Peninsula under the midnight sun on the vacation of a lifetime.

We join the gym to break the monotony in our lives, not to add to it. Get off the human hamster wheel and get yourself a real workout!

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Are you questioning your fitness identity yet?

If you’re reading this article in the gym coffee shop while waiting for your 30-minute turn on the treadmill or the elliptical trainer, perhaps you are ready to take a chance.

Iron sharpens iron, diamonds cut diamonds

In the same studio where the tattooed fake muscle guy sent his client to a conveyor-belt-driven purgatory while he updated his Facebook status, another trainer had an interesting take on aerobic exercise. As this industry grows from the inside out, trainers learn more from each other than from a textbook. The normally quiet trainer said "there is no such thing as cardio. You are either in the aerobic pathway or you aren’t." Mind. Blown. He was right. For the unlearned, “doing cardio” and “doing aerobics” are two completely different exercises. The fact is, they both mean the same thing. The heart doesn’t know the difference. You either call upon your cardiovascular system to provide energy to move, or you don’t. 

"There is no such thing as cardio. You are either in the aerobic pathway or you aren’t."

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Design your own routine

Here are a few pointers to get your cardiovascular routine on your own terms:

Keep your feet on the floor. A lot of videos online present abdominal workouts as cardiovascular exercise. If your body is stationary, you’ll never get your heart rate where you want it, and will only get dizzy when you finally stand up.

Move in all directions. If you’re thinking about jumping jacks, that’s fine for a start. Now you need to include exercises that move you forward and backward, and in rotation.

Play with the toys. There are kettlebells, dumbbells, medicine balls, tubes, bands, and other goodies that haven’t been invented yet just waiting for you. Remember, this should be fun. Try everything.

Keep a notebook. You will come up with exercises as you improvise your way across the floor, especially when your adrenaline starts flowing. Write the exercises down, with a short description. You can incorporate them into a routine next time you come back to the gym.

Put away the phone. Because I said so.

Call in the professionals

This is also a great opportunity to look for a personal trainer to help you develop a routine. Find a floor trainer and ask a simple question. “Is there a way to get a cardio workout without using machines?” The answer determines if you have found a good trainer.

If they respond with a long-winded scientific explanation about the glycolytic pathway vs. the oxidative pathway of muscular energetics, thank the trainer for the explanation and move on. The trainer either recycles the textbook out of a lack of confidence to get started (in counseling, we call that intellectualization), or they just like to grandstand.

Another red flag is if the trainer turns his or her back and expects you to follow behind as they walk away from you. If they do that to you the first time, they will do it to you every time. Again, respond with a polite thank you and walk away.

Now, if the trainer gets excited over the question, you may have a winner. Fitness trainers love to work with a client looking to collaborate on a new routine. From a business standpoint, it’s better to take on a steady long-term client. From a passion for what we do for a living standpoint, a good trainer will jump at the opportunity to help you.

In the year 2525

The fitness industry has to change with the times, meaning you can expect to see more technology in the gym. Don’t let it create digital dependency! These days, people can’t find the bathroom without a GPS. They gather food by linking their smart fridge to the personal assistant app that orders the grocery delivery. Now they want to digitize our industry with more machines and digital gadgets. This trainer is not impressed. The greatest technology in the gym is and will always be the human body.

Learn how the body works, and you’ll have no use for any high-priced, high-tech exercise gimmicks that come your way.

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Writing process

Find a counterbalance

As I type this, I am listening on YouTube to one of my favorite speeches ever delivered. 

I suggest you look for the video "Mr. Rogers goes to Washington." The US Senate convened a hearing in 1969 to decide on funding for public television. The Senate Communications Committee was treated to two days of testimonial threats, accusations, rants, and outright begging for $20 million in federal funding. Committee chair Sen. John Pastore was unimpressed. Just before they were ready to vote, along came Fred Rogers, host of Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood and narrator of my early childhood.

 What do you do with the mad that you feel?

In six short minutes, Mr. Rogers turns a gruff veteran senator into the Neighborhood’s biggest fan and secures the funding. He never raises his voice, confronts or accuses anybody. He disarms Sen. Pastore, by appealing to his deep concern for children.

 Any time that I prepare a text, or a speech, I pull up the video of Mr. Rogers goes to Washington for inspiration.

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See a resemblance?

If you ever hear me speak, you’ll notice that I sound nothing like Mr. Rogers. I choose him as a role model because he is as close to my polar opposite as I can find. As you create your identity on stage, you should have someone to emulate. Neither you nor I invented the craft of public speaking. We all have a role model. It could be a professional speaker, a comedian, a preacher, or politician. Once you find that one person, make sure you find a counterbalance.

This is MY neighborhood!

My number one speaking role model is Craig Valentine, the 1999 world champion of public speaking. When I first played his CD of speeches and speaking tips, I said, “That guy!” The energy, the humor, and the inspiration drove me to produce better content, and drove me through many red lights while listening to his CD.

A few years later, I met him in person and realized, “That guy -- is crazy!”

He paces and fidgets and bugs his eyes out more than I do. If I multiplied his intensity by my energy, the audience would spontaneously combust. After the conference, I went home and pulled up a Bob Ross painting video to get my heart rate back to normal.

I love to roast him, but seriously folks ...

Craig is the main reason that I’m writing this blog now. He wrote and taught the World Class Certified Speaking Coach course that launched the FIT-Presenter coaching service. During a recent virtual class, I had a chance to tell him about the time we met, and that I listen to Mister Rogers after every call. Although I've never heard Craig talk about his counterbalance, you can see it in his influences too. He sounds like a gospel preacher on stage, yet credits a middle-aged prim and proper English woman named Patricia Fripp as his greatest speaking coach. If you ever have a Zoom call with Craig Valentine, you’ll see that he has a Martin Luther King portrait and a Bruce Lee figurine behind him.

(I have a dream … to be like water.)

Your influences should be as diverse as your audience. That diversity should include ethnicity, generation, personality, and subject matter.

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How much variety of influence do you have?

As a high school wrestling coach, I can channel Craig Valentine for my locker room pep talk, but in front of the parents, I have to shift into Mr. Rogers mode. As a teacher, I have a more coddling demeanor in front of pre-teen students than I do with adult learners. In my early days as a Toastmaster, I channeled my favorite comedian, George Carlin. His delivery style and emphasis on writing over performance won me a lot of praise from my club. Unfortunately, my only speeches back then were loaded with opinions, a la George. Once I ran out of opinions, I ran out of material. It wasn't enough to draw from the same well every time. I had to look for more compassionate speakers and better storytellers to expand my material. For every emotion that you want to provoke from your audience, look for another role model. The more people you follow, the less likely that you will imitate any of them.

And, for the well-deserved cheap plug:

To diversify your influences even more, visit and

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Fitness articles

Navigate the Stormy Capes

Would you be surprised to know that Greenland is not green?

In fact, Iceland is greener than Greenland. Apparently Erik the Red wanted his fellow Norsemen to settle the frozen Arctic land mass, so he gave it a more attractive name to stimulate exploration. The same goes for the Cape of Good Hope. Portuguese sailors first named Africa’s southern tip “Capa das Tempestades,” or Cape of Storms, about 600 years ago.  Apparently Vikings and far eastern traders alike knew the value of good marketing, albeit dangerous in its deception. Centuries before the tourists arrived to surf alongside penguins near Cape Town, hundreds of seagoing vessels were torn apart in the tides along that very same coastline.

What about our industry?

Do we have any stormy capes packaged as products of good hope in the fitness game? Oh, maybe just a few.


In the fitness industry, you can tell the truth and make a decent living, or you can lie through your teeth and make a fortune.

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Unlike the misconceptions that we create in our own mind, stormy capes are designed to deceive. The marketers succeed only when the product fails to deliver. They lure their customers with good hope and leave them shipwrecked.

We know that our audience, just like our clients, have pinned their hopes on mythology. For the uninformed, watching infomercials and reading internet pop-up ads count as research. They want to be told that it’s easy to reverse 30 years of inactivity with 30 days of meager effort. They embrace the lie.

As fitness industry professionals, we take on the role of fixing the clients’ hardwiring that believes the gimmicks and the infomercials, and doing it tactfully.

You can’t confront their fantasy with harsh reality. To tell them outright that they are wrong is to say that they have never learned anything. We are not in this business to win arguments. We are here to win customers and clients. Our job is to show them that the hard way is easier than they think.

Now comes the fun part. What do we do about it?

How do we win people over to rational thinking? The first rule is that you can’t save everyone.  I began selling retail exercise equipment when the top fat-burning craze was to pop a fistful of ephedrine and hook up an ab zapper while you watch the Osbornes. People came into the store looking for said-named ab zap technology and we had to kindly turn them away. Did I ever try to lead them toward a multi-stack home gym in lieu of a battery operated gizmo? I suppose. It never worked. What’s the lesson? Let a slug be a slug. If they want the easy fix, let them keep looking.

Now let’s bring in an audience. Imagine that you have invited a group to the gym for a workshop on training for the fitness beginner.

How far down the “there is no Easter bunny” rabbit hole do you want to take them? Start with any misconceptions that interfere with your presentation. If you showcase your cardio circuit and someone confuses the high-quality commercial grade elliptical trainer for a Gazelle, then you have to intervene and defend your reputation. If they want a recommendation for a good diet pill, you have to tell them that there’s no such thing. Pills are not part of anybody’s diet.

What about the dedicated athletes and fitness enthusiasts?

It is easy to dupe a newcomer, but what about the people who supposedly know better?  Can they be lured by good hopes into their own personal shipwreck? Let me answer that question with another question.

What are three ways that the Paleo diet is consistent with the paleolithic era? (Cue the Jeopardy music)

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If you think that prehistoric beings gathered their foodstuffs by following the GPS on their Range Rovers to the Whole Foods parking lot, perhaps you can use a crash course in anthropology. The Paleo app on your smartphone that helps you find the right radishes and free range chicken breasts hardly pays tribute to the homo sapiens who first discovered fire. Aside from the less primitive ways that we find nutrition these days, it turns out that the original paleolithic diet was high in carbohydrates (and protein sources that you won’t find in a high-end supermarket).

Did fitness novices who order gadgets online in the middle of the night buy into the paleo diet? No!

The so-called leadership of this industry endorsed it. When the craze first hit, we were treated to countless social media pics of refrigerators stocked with raw meat, and slogans like “Train like a madman, eat like a caveman.”

Before we had identity politics, we had identity nutrition.

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Let me raise a frosty Dr. Pepper and pound a sleeve of extra-gluten fig newtons before I continue.

Now let’s go back to the audience, this time a more informed public. Are you going to stand in front of a group of musclemen in shrink-wrapped T-shirts alongside loveless hard-bodied women with canvas shoes and purple bandanas and simply say, “I’m right and you’re wrong?” Write me into your will before you try that.

Step number one in the FIT System is to Filter their background knowledge from their misconceptions.

If you want to talk about fitness industry gimmicks, start with their favorite infomercials, then move on to stormy capes that their clients have believed in. Let them prove your point for you. Then they can re-evaluate the crazes that they have previously bought into. During the presentation, the same rule applies as above. The only misconceptions worth addressing are anything that interferes with your presentation.

There seems to be a demolition derby in the fitness industry to find the most gimmicks to present to our clients.

In some cases, the more wrong you are, the more unique you appear to the average consumer. We have to contend with distorted definitions of functional training, phony diet plans like Paleo and Ketogenic, gadgets that promote spot reduction, and celebrities and pro athletes who endorse liquid battery acid and call it an energy drink. We can only rant so long about the truth before our clients stop listening and start fitting us for a tinfoil hat.

This is the life we have chosen.

If you can accept that your clients wake up the day after a workout and curse the day you were born, you can accept that they will also fight you to defend their misconceptions. They fight twice as hard when they have invested money into their cleverly marketed false beliefs. However, if you can help them navigate the rough waters of the stormy capes of the fitness industry, it will be smooth sailing on calm waters as you continue.

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