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In this issue, we spoke with Lynn Satow, the fitness director of the Shaw JCC of Akron in Akron, Ohio, about virtual fitness.

What role does virtual programming play in your facility and how has that role changed in 2020? 

Before 2020, virtual programming was basically non-existent. The only exception was the YouTube channel our center started to use last fall to highlight training tips and moves initiated by our personal trainers — this is a great tool to engage members. We also thought the Shaw JCC could build a virtual library for members. By April 2020, that outlook changed. We moved to live streaming classes on Zoom, and we continued to build our virtual library with classes, exercise tips and wellness tips members could view on their own time. Virtual personal training, hybrid, in-person and live streaming classes are also now taking place.

How can virtual programming be used to boost participation and retention? 

There is a certain amount of interaction necessary, whether one is doing virtual personal training or participating in a virtual Zumba class. Enabling our favorite instructors to produce these classes has boosted participation, since members miss seeing them in person. It also shows members we still have a lot to offer, even if other services are not offered. Members see value in the various platforms offered and the fact the JCC cares enough to be flexible. For your virtual programs, sell the positive points for these offerings, like the convenience of doing them on your own time, staying safe, and usage when traveling or plans change.

Have you experienced any challenges to running virtual programs and how did you overcome these challenges?

One would be guiding members to register for a Zoom class beforehand. Except for a handful, most grasped the process quickly. The second would be unreliable sound, depending on the device or sound source instructors or trainers use. Third, consistent messaging on social media to build awareness of the classes is key. We purchased an app for registering for classes, including the virtual ones, so it’s convenient for everyone.

Are there any other tips you could offer for effectively offering virtual programming?

Offer a variety of options for your center’s demographics. The prime times you had for in-person programming are still mostly prime time, even with a fair amount of people still working at home. Make it easy to register for the session. If this is new for an instructor or a personal trainer to set up, make sure they run through a few practice sessions and then review. This way, a self-critique enables them to make any changes necessary before they are “on.” Use your social media and website to build awareness of your offerings. Virtual programming is here to stay.

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Bobby Dyer

Bobby is the former editor of Community Rec Magazine.

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