Instructors! 5 Tips on how to shine at your dive shop

By John Bentley

Want to stand out at the dive shop as an instructor? Here are 5 quick tips.

1. Put the adventure first: let the con-ed follow

A great instructor does not upsell con-ed. A great instructor inspires passion that leads to con-ed. Remember, training is just a means to an end for the students; there is a much bigger customer base eager to take a class to start a hobby than take a class as a hobby. If you’re teaching Open Water, talk about the 50ft-70ft deep wrecks you love. Show some video or photos. Your students will quickly ask if they can go. Hello Advanced Adventure and Computer Nitrox.

2. Create educated consumers 

If your student cannot clear their mask at the end of class, did you fail as an instructor? Yes.
If your student buys 20-year-old gear from Craigslist and tries to dive with it, did you fail as an instructor? Yes.

Part of being a great instructor is the ability to create educated consumers. An educated consumer knows the difference between features and benefits and is confident researching and evaluating their purchases of equipment, training, and travel. Students should leave the class knowing which equipment to buy first, and which to buy last. Accomplishing this is easier than most people realize. 

Step 1: is to get out on the show floor during the equipment portion of class. Run the students through the differences between items. Stay focused on their level of diving, but briefly touch on what’s just outside of the course. This should take 30-45 minutes with the correct depth of information.   

Step 2: is to talk about “why” we do things when walking students through gear assembly. We stow things close to our body to prevent damage to the environment and allow quick access. We attach the BCD at the top of the cylinder as a starting point for a comfortable cylinder height. This helps them objectively evaluate things.

Finally, Step 3: encourage independent research, but point them in a good direction. Encourage them to ask other shop customers, divemasters, and club members. Remind them that those individuals have the most relevant information in your area. Traveling to a site you use for training often? Introduce them to other shop staff as resources. When you create the network this way it is unnecessary to say “don’t look on Facebook for gear advice”. You have equipped them with all the tools they need to get good advice on equipment and travel.

There is one giant caveat here. If you don’t know the equipment the store sells (or worse, if you don’t dive it) then you will not be set up for success here. Store managers should bring in equipment sales representatives to train staff on the features and benefits of their brand.

These points apply for shop staff and independent instructors. Renting the classroom from your local store and encouraging students to purchase equipment at that store is a surefire way to start a great relationship with them.

3. Use eLearning

Flipping the classroom isn’t a new idea or term. We, and other educational institutions, have been talking about this for over a decade and it’s part of the design of our eLearning system. A traditional educational model introduces the knowledge and comprehension aspect first in the classroom, and the application is carried out in homework or self-study. The flipped classroom introduces pre-work and utilizes in-person time for application and hands-on work. This is exactly the purpose of the SDI eLearning system. Students can engage in immersive digital content before showing up to class, and the classroom time can be used to assemble/disassemble equipment, talk about destinations, walk the show floor and see gear options, and engage in plenty of other practical hands-on applications. Lecturers and group discussions have a place, and should be well organized, but are limited in the context of eLearning and hands-on learning.

4. Teach diving, not skills

The goal of a certification class is to gain abilities and confidence. The goal is not to do each skill once and get a plastic card. Remember this when teaching. Apply the “why” to each skill in a realistic way. We learn to clear our mask in case it gets foggy underwater. We learn to fin efficiently so we can stay underwater longer and be less tired. 

To create a thinking diver you need to teach neutral buoyancy from the beginning. If you’re not confident or comfortable teaching neutrally buoyant, then enroll in an intro to tech course to dial in your skills, and talk with other instructors who are teaching neutrally buoyant. 

5. Be professional and stay humble

Professional is a weird word with scuba instruction. In fact, what the customer wants is typically the opposite of our standard definition. Divers going to resort environments are there to relax and have fun. They don’t want an instructor wearing chinos and a tucked-in polo. Part of their experience is having a knowledgeable and capable “dive bum” who ditched the corporate world to teach scuba. Don’t agree? The next time you’re on a dive boat in the Caribbean see who gets more tips – the dive bum VS the guy who wears socks on the boat.

As a professional it’s important to charge for your services. Remember to seek fair compensation for your time, value the qualifications you have, and don’t fall into the trap of discount culture.

Diving is a serious activity, but it’s also pretty simple. Remember to stay humble and approachable. Instructors who are approachable will get honest questions and can guide their students to be loyal and knowledgeable consumers. Instructors who can learn and take criticism will grow, provide value to their students, and profit.

There you go! Apply those 5 tips as an instructor to stand out at the dive store. Do you have a specific tip for standing out as an instructor at the dive shop? Feel free to comment below! 

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