// Build rapport fast!

The limited time we spend with prospective clients means that making the best impression and establishing a connection with them as quickly as possible is critical, says Kris Tynan.

Every interaction you have with prospective clients should be based upon a relationship of mutual trust and respect. Given the time constraints of a typical appointment, you need to establish professional rapport as quickly as possible. The following nine rapport-building fundamentals will help you do just that.

Get your greeting right. Be ready for your prospect; use their name, smile and take the initiative with a confident (but not bone-crushing) handshake. A welcoming phrase like ‘pleased to meet you’ or ‘welcome to the studio’ also makes a very positive first impression.

When you sit down with your prospect be aware of the desk or table barrier. Position them at 45 degrees to you so that you are still able to write or use a keyboard without the actual desk or table being physically between you.

Ensure your own body language cannot be interpreted as unapproachable, defensive or dominating. Classic examples are crossed arms (defensive and, again, a barrier), hands on hips (aggressive), or leaning back with hands behind your head (superior). For more on this, read ‘What does your body language say about you?’. Simply type ‘Body language’ into the ‘Search the site’ field at www.fitnessnetwork.com.au.

Eliminate any distracting mannerisms you may have. These include things like pen clicking, hair twiddling, fiddling with jewellery or foot swinging or tapping. You may need to ask friends or colleagues for help with this as many people are totally unaware of the behaviours they exhibit.

Give your prospect your full attention. This involves looking at them as they speak and nodding or making appropriate approval noises to show you are listening. Be aware, however, that unlike Western cultures, some societies can view direct eye contact as rude and disrespectful, especially to authority figures such as teachers or one’s elders. This holds true for Japanese and other Asian cultures, Indian, Latin American, Caribbean, African, Maori, Pacific Island and Aboriginal cultures. Therefore, don’t assume that if someone doesn’t look at you they are not interested in what you are saying – it may just be a cultural difference.

A ‘fast track’ to rapport building is to physically match and mirror your prospect’s body language. Focus on the big stuff, like their posture or the position of their arms and legs, i.e. if they have crossed legs, cross yours, if they have one hand up to their face, do the same. If you are new to this you may be concerned that your prospect will spot what you are doing and be offended. In reality, if it is done subtly, the other person will be totally unaware that you have adopted similar body language to them. Matching and mirroring helps build rapport on a subconscious level because it makes the other person feel that you are similar to them in some way – and we all like, and feel connected to, people who we feel are like ourselves.

You are probably well aware that asking ‘open’ questions will elicit more information than closed questions that merely require a yes or no answer. Asking if they have used a gym or had a personal trainer before is good to start with, but following it up with a more open query like ‘Can you tell me about your previous experience using a personal trainer?’ will allow your client to answer more fully.

To gain rapport once they have answered these questions, and to let them know that they have been not only heard, but more importantly understood, get into the habit of paraphrasing or summarising what your client tells you. See examples of paraphrasing in point 9.

Listen to the words your client uses (called predicates) to pick up clues as to which processing style they prefer. Although we all use all three styles, some of us relate better to things in a visual way, some in an auditory way and some kinaesthetically.

Visual predicates include: ‘see what you mean’, ‘get the picture’, ‘watch out for ’, ‘shed some light’, ‘make it clear’, ‘vision is bright’, ‘eye to eye’ and ‘looks great’. People who relate well visually will be able to ‘picture that’, things will ‘look good’ to them and they’ll understand things ‘clearly’. Examples of a visual paraphrase might be: ‘It looks as though you are making good progress’ or ‘You’re not seeing any change in the muscle stiffness you have’.

Kinaesthetic people tap into their emotions and feelings which is a slower process than translating pictures or sounds. They will use phrases like ‘feels okay’, ‘slipped through’, ‘pull some strings’, ‘come to grips with’, ‘stay in touch’, ‘explore possibilities’, ‘not following you’ and ‘gut instinct’. They’ll want to ‘touch base’ next week and they will be able to ‘grasp’ what you mean. Kinaesthetic paraphrasing could be: ‘I get the feeling you are struggling to do the exercises’ or ‘So it’s your gut instinct that you are on the right track?’

Auditory people relate better to words and sound. They use phrases like ‘sounds good’, ‘tell me more’, ‘rings a bell’, ‘speak to me’, ‘voice an opinion’, ‘hold your tongue’, ‘loud colours’ and ‘unheard of’. They’ll ‘hear’ what you are saying and ask you to ‘tell’ them how to do something. Auditory paraphrases might include: ‘It sounds to me that you are still experiencing a problem with this’ or ‘So I am hearing that you are pleased with your food intake but not so happy with the exercise’.

By adopting the processes above and tailoring your behaviour to match the style that best suits each individual you interact with, your prospects will relate much better to what you are saying, enabling you to speedily gain rapport with them – and turn them into clients.

Kris is the author of The Interactive Instructor, a book full of practical advice to enable personal trainers and instructors to communicate with customers more confidently. Two free copies of the book are up for grabs by emailing Kris directly on kris.tynan@xtra.co.nz. The book is available through

Kris Tynan
In her 20 years in the fitness industry, Kris has consistently focused on improving gym floor contact between instructors and members. She was a board member of the UK Fitness Industry Association for five years and is a regular convention presenter and fitness publication contributor. For more information or to contact Kris go to www.lightenup.co.nz