NADOI member Dick Russell was my mentor, and one of the things he taught me was how to use what he called the “wow factor” in my obedience classes. He always said the “wow factor” was one of the most important parts of his first night of class. I have continued to use several important parts to that, and I encourage you to try them, too.
As instructors, it is so important that we “hook them,” “set the hook,” and “reel them in.” This is the “wow factor!” The old saying is we only get one chance to make a good first impression, and I believe that is correct. Of course my first class is about filling out paperwork and collecting tuition, but most important is I want those first night students to leave class saying, “wow, did you see that!” I want them to be spurred to call a friend and tell them about their wonderful experience at my class. I want them to go out, no matter what the weather or what else is going on, and train their dogs. The “wow factor” does this for me. If I can achieve the “wow factor,” my students are far more likely to be successful in my class, and my reputation as an instructor will improve.
Why am I concerned with my reputation? Dick used to say that the best advertising was word of mouth. It is one thing to go around town and talk about yourself and what you can do, but it is quite another when other people say those same good things about you and your class.
Another concept Dick used to talk about in his classes, and taught to me, is the “learning law.” All dogs learn by the “learning law.” “Learning law” is just a layman’s term for the learning theory that we all know. Dick would tell his class, in his famous southern accent, that you could take all the fancy jargon of all the dog trainers in the world, put them all together and then condense it into just two sentences: “If a dawg does something and something good happens, he’ll keep doin’ it. If a dawg does something and something bad happens, he’ll quit!” He would call those two sentences our “learning law,” and you could use them to solve any behavior problem or teach any behavior you want to your dog.
Dick built a thriving business because he could say things in a way that made sense to his audience and helped him relate to them. He was animated and quick with funny phrases and ideas. These carefully choreographed points made for smooth transitions and a smooth performance. They were all part of the “wow factor” that he used so well in his classes. I can still hear him saying these things, and even today, 25 years later, I agree with him and use the same things in my classes.
What are some other ways to use the “wow factor” in your classes? One thing I do is to use a student’s dog to demo in my class. Most times these are recently graduated students. You can just leave your own dog at home, or have them out of the way and under control. In addition to doing the demos, I ask these students to show off a little. I will introduce them by saying, “I am the one going around town talking about being a dog trainer. Everyone knows I can train a dog, and I will show you that with your dogs tonight. What I want you to see as well is that I can teach someone else to train a dog.” Then my recent graduate and his dog will take the floor.
It is really fun if you can use a student who may have had a tougher time accomplishing the exercises, or one who had a more challenging dog. One of my favorites went through several of my classes, because he knew if he didn’t succeed, his dog was going to be put down. His dog’s name was Lightning and he really lived up to his name. It makes a big impression on your class when a former student says his dog used to run away from him, but now he is able to stand there with the same dog off-leash. That is the “wow factor!” Find a way to use it and you will keep those students coming back.
©2011 Ganetta Savoy