HOW LIVE-STREAMING MADE ME A BETTER INSTRUCTOR
by Sarah Shortt
IMPORTANT REMINDER FOR INSTRUCTORS: Live-streaming Les Mills workouts may ONLY be done via a Club Partner who is licensed to deliver the program you teach.
I’ve never been an early adopter.
I didn’t get my first Smartphone until 2014. I’ve still never watched Game of Thrones. I’ve only just caught up with Squid Game and I didn’t pass my driving test until I was 28 (on the 10th time). My friends were more relieved than I was when those L plates finally came off!
Therefore, you won’t be surprised to hear that I wasn’t initially keen to try live-streaming. It sounded incredibly difficult and fraught with unknown pitfalls, and that’s before you get to the tech. When we got the request to step-up back in 2020, I thought, "Yeah, nah, I’ll be waiting for the club to open, thanks".
But then August 2021 rolled around and, like that annoying acquaintance who drops by without texting first (who DOES that?), COVID made its unwelcome return to New Zealand. This time things were different: every single Les Mills club was going to be running a live-stream timetable through Facebook, and the clubs needed Instructors to step-up. Late adopter that I am, now was my time to shine!
The first thing I had to do was read my own advice on “7 tips to nail live-streaming”, 12 months after I’d written it. Oh, the irony (but I did discover that the tips in it from our Instructors were actually very useful – WINNING!).
After trying various camera angles in my apartment, I came to the devastating realisation that the only way I could make this work would be to completely dismantle my living room.
I realised I didn’t have space.
Foolishly, I was in such a rush to volunteer to teach that I neglected the most fundamental part of live-streaming: a good space to teach in. After trying various camera angles in my apartment, I came to the devastating realisation that the only way I could make this work would be to completely dismantle my living room.
And so, five times a week for the last 12 weeks, I have taken my sofa apart, moved all of my furniture to the lawn, and rolled my rug up into the corner. I’ve got it down to a fine art. The whole process takes me just under three minutes (I know this because I broadcast it live in a class for the amusement of the members).
My cat thinks we’re moving out several times a week.
Unfortunately, my cat Kathy has been most distressed during this process, as she now thinks we’re moving out every other day. As soon as I start playing LES MILLS GRIT® Cardio cover music, she knows it’s time to move. There is much protesting and sulking going on in our household. Which I obviously fix with many MANY treats.
My phone overheated and I put it in the fridge – live on camera.
It was sunny. I got excited. I moved my entire teaching setup outside, and left my iPhone in the sun… halfway through the class the music died and my phone said it would not play nicely until it cooled down. Obviously, I popped the phone into the vegetable bin of the fridge and spent the rest of the class counting the GRIT intervals in my head. Then my video feed died, and I didn’t know if I was still broadcasting to anyone (I was). I finished the class to no music and no idea if I was actually teaching to anyone but my cat.
That was fun.
I cut my knee and had blood pouring down my leg during BODYATTACK®.
Luckily this was at the end of the class, but with about two minutes to go I suddenly realised there was blood all over my floor and a nasty gash in my knee from kneeling on my uneven flooring. I had to carry on like there was nothing wrong, and it was only after the class had finished that some members messaged me privately to check I was okay.
I streamed to the wrong feed.
OMG. The. Worst. Obviously, we’re meant to broadcast in the private Facebook group but, rushing one Saturday, I just clicked “live video” and started teaching. Because I’m also friends with many of the regulars, I didn’t notice anything was wrong. It was only once I’d finished the class and had messages from members tell me that they’d been waiting for me in the group did I realise my error.
In the meantime, I had broadcast my Saturday morning class to all of Facebook. I subsequently got “likes” and messages from: a cameraman I worked with 20 years ago; my mum’s friend; my aunt in America; members from the club I used to teach at in the UK 10 years ago; some actors I used to work with at the BBC; my sister’s friend watching from an airport in Spain. As someone who very rarely posts on social media, I was absolutely mortified.
When Les Mills Auckland City opened up their booking system for the classes, 750+ spots sold out in 8 minutes – that’s faster than an Adele concert!
My iPad reverses the image. My laptop doesn’t.
This was very confusing. On my laptop, “Instructor right” is the same (i.e., you teach as you normally would in class – mirroring the members). HOWEVER, when I’ve taught from my iPad (I’ve used both for various reasons) the image reverses – meaning I need to actually step on my right foot when I say right.
Remember how hard it was to get used to moving on your left foot and now that feels really normal? Yeah, it’s surprisingly hard to go back to teaching with the ACTUAL right foot!
If you’ve just read all the above and are now thinking, “Dear God Sarah, why on earth would you put yourself through it?” here are the surprising benefits it’s brought:
Live-streaming improved my technique
You know how you’re always told that the best way to improve your teaching is to film yourself?
Let’s be honest. Filming ourselves often goes into the “too hard” basket. It’s a hassle to set up the camera in just the right spot – especially in back-to-back classes. If you don’t have a specific reason you need to film yourself, then it easily goes into the other “I’ll do it later” basket.
Plus, it’s SCARY.
You might think you just delivered the BODYCOMBAT® class of your career. Everything felt amazing. You even remembered that weird four count transition that you’ve been having nightmares about for the last week. The music was rocking. YOU ARE BODYCOMBAT! But then you watch your video back... hmmmm, you probably could go a little lower in that squat. Make that jab a wee bit sharper. And dear God, stop saying “So guys” at the start of every cue. Suddenly, the class of your career has shone a spotlight on at least four things you would change next time you teach.
Now imagine you get to have that experience 4 times a week, for 12 weeks.
I discovered my knees go out at weird angles in a high knee run. Sometimes my hips are too high in a hover. And I make a weird sighing sound when I’m tired which IMMEDIATELY had to go. Yes, watching myself was slightly painful and I did sit down with a notebook on several occasions to give myself in-depth feedback.
But you know what? It really has helped me become a better Instructor. Now I can watch my videos with very little self-criticism, because I know I’ve done the work and I can see how much sharper my movements are. I’d like to add that I’m broadcasting in the Les Mills Auckland City page – where the standard is set by Program Directors and Masterclass Presenters like Tash Vincent. I want to be at that level.
After 12 weeks of painful video feedback and self-assessment, I can now watch myself and smile. I even laugh at my own jokes (I live by myself; if I don’t find them funny, who will?)
Possibly the biggest win out of this whole experience is that, finally, I know THAT member’s name.
Live-streaming improved my connection with members.
Nothing can replace the real-life connection you have with members in class, but live-stream offers the unique ability for us to have an ongoing dialogue with them.
I frequently advertise my next class on the Facebook page, and to make that post stand out I have shared the following: photos of my cat; a photo of me as a child spitting out a sandwich I was obviously hating; research on why HIIT gives us amazing results; an interview with some BODYATTACK® legends; more photos of my cat… you get the gist.
The point is that it allows me to (a) show a different side of my personality and (b) get a conversation going with members before the class even starts. Then, once we’re in the live-stream, I encourage members to chat with me during the class. Are they feeling challenged? Do they love this song? Is their WiFi cutting in and out (actually, don’t tell me about that!)? Once the class is over, they can comment and tell me which tracks they want again next time.
Live-stream allows everyone to have the mic – not just the Instructor. I love the conversations that occur between the members in the chat during the class. It's bringing us all closer together.
Live-streaming improved my connection with other Instructors.
How often do you get to connect with the other Instructors in your club?
If you teach before or after someone else, you might have a bit of banter in that 60-second transition, but it’s very fleeting. If you’re like me, there may be a few Instructors you catch up with on a regular basis, but mostly it’s just names on a timetable.
The live-stream community has allowed me to watch other Instructors’ classes and cheer them on. I’ve had long conversations with other teammates about the challenges of live-streaming. And now I know what everyone’s homes look like – Rachael Newsham’s garage and Susan Renata’s living room are now as familiar to me as the sets on my favorite Netflix shows! It’s been incredible to feel the support from the rest of the community. One Instructor was thrilled after her first live-stream that Rachael Newsham and Kylie Gates had “liked” her class. How often does that happen in-club? That connection and sense of support from the rest of the team has been incredible.
Live-streaming made me appreciate real-life classes.
As New Zealand begins to emerge from lockdown, we are now able to have outdoor classes with a limited number of people. You know how the Q3 Releases were broadcast from the carpark rooftop? Yeah, that’s where we’re currently teaching our outdoor classes (it’s bright!).
I know many others will relate to this, but after months of just teaching to a screen (and my cat) it feels INCREDIBLE to be back training with real life humans. The Les Mills 2021 Global Fitness Report revealed that members find live classes twice as appealing as live-stream options, something that was evidenced when Les Mills Auckland City opened up their booking system for live classes, and 750+ spots sold out in EIGHT MINUTES! Proof that it’s harder to get into a BODYPUMP® at Auckland City class than an Adele concert!
Live-streaming helped me finally learn THAT member’s name.
Possibly the biggest win out of this whole experience is that, finally, I know THAT member’s name.
You know the one – they’ve been coming to your class since the dawn of time. They probably told you their name yonks ago, but obviously you forgot it because, HELLO, you didn’t know they were still going to be coming to your class 100 years later. It’s far too late to ask it now and they know your name because you say it every class, plus it’s on the timetable (such an unfair advantage).
But… with live-stream I now have the ability to stalk (in a non-creepy way) every single member that comments on my posts, which means I can finally learn the name of that member who shows up every single week without fail. It’s Maria!
In conclusion… live-streaming is an extremely useful skill to have.
Everyone is super excited to get back to live teaching and it’s hands-down the best format. But in a world where 80 per cent of gym members plan to continue using digital workouts as part of their training post-pandemic, keeping our skills sharp with the odd live-stream class might well bring us benefits both in and out of the studio.