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Massage Today
July, 2007, Vol. 07, Issue 07

Healing Hands, Inquiring Mouth

By Cary Bayer

Last summer, I was at the U.S. Open tournament in New York as Andre Agassi, who had announced his retirement from tennis at the event's conclusion, played fourth-seeded Marcos Baghdatis.

Since the tournament is single elimination, this match could have been the American legend's last. The stadium rocked with excitement. As the match proceeded, it didn't seem the old warrior could beat this young stud.

But then, suddenly - perhaps due to pressure - Baghdatis began cramping. He called for the 10-minute injury timeout players are allowed and the trainer massaged his thigh. The treatment helped but it cramped again later in the match. Since the rules prevent players from getting additional massage on the same injury, this otherwise fast athlete hobbled around on the court in tremendous pain.

He eventually would lose to Agassi, largely because of an injury that was in desperate need of massage. Seeing this warrior giving everything he had while his body was unable to cooperate was painful to watch. All he needed was some continuous massage.

Baghdatis' pain was a perfect metaphor; it reminded me of all the tens of millions of people who walk around every day in pain and in desperate need of massage. Many are too proud to ask for support; some too macho to surrender themselves to the healing touch of your hands.

That's where your mouth comes into play. Mouths usually play little role - if any - in a massage. However, once you discover verbally what your client needs for that particular treatment, the session gets underway. But sometimes your future client needs the help of your mouth before they can get the help of your hands. Be proactive and ask if they would like a massage. It's a perfectly innocent thing to do. You might help prevent someone from "hobbling" around with pain and stress buried deep within the tissues and muscles of their aching body.

Most massage therapists, understandably, focus their time and money in developing their talent for use once they get a client onto their table. But succeeding as a massage therapist also requires getting them to your table. Allow me to tell you about a television commercial that's probably more than 40 years old but sheds a great deal of light on this matter.

I discovered this ancient TV spot when I worked in a previous lifetime at the great New York advertising agency Doyle Dane Bernbach. The commercial opens on a heavy virgin snow. It's about 5 a.m., and all is silent. The only sound you hear is a voiceover asking, "Did you ever wonder how the driver of the snowplow gets to the snowplow?" Then you see a man leave his home, start up his Volkswagen Beetle, navigate through the heavy accumulation and get out of the VW into a parked snowplow. Enough said. That commercial ran with little media backing so it's doubtful you ever saw it unless you watched a TV special about legendary commercials. I've found many people who've seen it just once, yet still remember it. That's because of the power of the provocative question it asks.

If we apply that insight to the marketing of a massage therapist, a paraphrasing voiceover might ask, "Did you ever wonder how the master of the massage table gets their clients to the massage table?"

Word-of-Mouth and Words From Mouth

Motion picture studios spend tens of millions of dollars producing a film, then sometimes nearly as much just to market it. It costs a lot to produce great theatrical previews, television commercials, print ads and so forth. And publicity to get the stars on The Today Show, The Tonight Show and everywhere else they can is expensive, too. While all of this is, no doubt, hugely important, nothing - not even outstanding reviews from the critics - affects a film's success as much as word-of-mouth from those who have seen it talking about it to those who have not.

As massage therapists, you're often encouraged by some consultants to spend time and money developing Web sites and ads (though not by me), write columns (only sometimes by me) and create newsletters (this one I agree with). But none of these are ever as important as the recommendations that come out of the mouths of your clients.

Let me say a little about the words that could come out of your mouth as well. The most effective ones are a simple question like, "Would you like to schedule a (fill in your favorite adjective here) massage?" Each therapist's adjective may vary; some opt for healing or relaxing, others for therapeutic, rejuvenating and so forth. Find the one that best describes your work and get used to speaking it.

Therapists who shy away from asking this simple question when they're in conversation about their work usually do so for two basic reasons: 1) they fear the person will say no, or 2) they fear they will be rejected. While it's true that a possible client might say "no," it's better to hear a bunch of "no's" than never ask the question at all. Why? If you hear a lot of "no's," you've been asking a lot more people than you usually do. That means you'll also hear a lot more "yes" responses. And that means you're getting a whole bunch of new clients. Disregard the negative and focus on the positive. And remember the famous Japanese proverb: "Fall down seven times, get up eight."

I'd like to offer a few words of clarification concerning the fear of being personally rejected. Nobody who rejects your offer for a massage is rejecting you; they're rejecting a massage - at least for now. When you take yourself out of the equation, your emotions don't have to be hurt and that's incredibly freeing. It's just a matter of changing the context in which you hold the asking of this question. If the context is that you're rejected each time you ask if someone wants a massage, then each time your adrenaline will flow and your self worth will be at risk. But once you keep your emotions out of it, there's simply a question - does this person want to get massaged? You have nothing to do with it. It's their choice - and often, what they wants is a massage from you.

Click here for previous articles by Cary Bayer.


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