Jackie McNamara is the Founder of Theory of Me, a Cleveland, OH-based group of human performance and health experts who are on a mission to use workshops, retreats, online programs, and coaching to improve the happiness, health, and overall well being of their clients. By using cognitive behavioral intervention, finding purpose, and building a support community, they have been able to transform many lives over the last three years.
Could you give a brief background on Theory of Me?
Theory of Me was started really without the intention of starting a company. I've always been in the world of corporate wellness. I've been doing it now for almost 20 years. I've always been passionate about sports and human performance and well-being; I kind of just wanted to follow that.
The job that I had at the time wanted more content around human performance. And I just started doing some research and did a couple of training sessions to become certified to teach the most basic human performance courses. I loved doing it. It was so interesting to think about all of the untapped human capacity we hold. I became fascinated with the research around it and used the company that I was working for, as my first little pilot. I quickly discovered that the way I wanted to deliver the content was not fit for the company I was working for.
One of my friends owned a wedding planning business out in California, and she invited us out to do a two-hour talk on human performance at the retreat she was hosting. I delivered my spiel and they wanted me to stay another day. And the conversation just kept going.
It took a couple of years to plan it and develop the program to what it is now. The program is a lot of different things involving wellness, mindfulness, sleep, nutrition, aligning your everyday values to your purpose, cognitive health, and accountability.
Have you always been in coaching? Or were you in another industry previously?
My background is in kinesiology and holistic nutrition therapy. My first real job out of grad school was at the Cleveland Clinic. While there, I worked for Dr. Roizen, the chief medical officer. Dr. Roizen was doing health coaching for a startup out of the clinic called, Enforcer, which was all about diet, getting 10,000 steps a day, and the whole physical aspect of being healthy. Through that experience, I became a health coach. More recently though I have focused on emotional health coaching and have become certified in it.
Pre-COVID was it all in person? Did you have any recorded segments?
Yeah, it was all in person. Every client asked us for something more scalable. My mindset was very focused on the content and what we were doing and not so much the technology behind it. That was definitely not one of our strong suits. We were always looking for something but I think it just never felt like it would deliver the content the way that we wanted it to.
What made you think audio would be a platform for you? How were you able to adapt the coursework to audio?
About three and a half years ago, I went to a conference on mindfulness in San Francisco. While there, I attended a session by a gentleman who runs a health technology company in Silicon Valley. His presentation was about how technology taps into the vulnerabilities of the human mind and it can take over our lives; we need to make sure we don't do that. That really stuck with me for a long time. Since then, I've had a really hard time asking people to sit in front of a computer even longer to watch another session.
When you (Brent) were telling me about Avocado and audio learning, I loved the concept. For example, I listen to podcasts and other things when I walk or run or if I'm in the car. To me, that was the way to get away from technology in the vulnerable sense and be able to really get the true value out of it as it's meant to be.
For me, I had to find a way to get that content and make it available on Avocado. That's still something that we're learning to do and get better at. Overall, I think breaking down our big, two-day workshop into small bits, has been the best way for our learners to hear and retain that information.
We built out a cohort feature for you, where you could run a couple of hundred people through a new course each week and then you tied that together with Zoom meetings. How did that work?
We did. That's been an evolution too. We ended up using our Zoom meetings as a kick-off for the cohorts in order to build a connection and solid foundation going into the program. The Zoom meetings would then be followed by the audio learning content, so each participant could go through their journey individually.
How did you decide what content should be live and what content should be recorded?
We're still figuring that out. The baseline of our program revolves around a core language for each of the modules that includes a one-hour live content piece. For example, in the movement module, you get one hour live, but we probably have about 20 hours of content for that module. We pick and choose the content specifically based on our clientele and what we feel would resonate most with them in that one-hour session. Any additional pieces that we can follow up through the audio course are extra, added bonuses.
One of the things that we'll be moving forward with in the future is utilizing human performance ambassadors. Having guests join audio sessions to help us deliver content in a meaningful way. This could be anyone from a doctor to a teacher or a human performance expert. Or maybe even someone who's in the military. These are people we would not have access to if we were at the retreats live and in-person. I think this will be an integral part of the future courses we build.
Ideally, we will be using Avocado to tap into those ambassadors and maybe do interviews with psychologists and experts who have done further research in each of the modules.
Did your course offerings change due to COVID?
I feel like COVID has really brought out the emotional health side of wellness, in our industry, we're always trying to prove the value of mental health. People know it's there, it's just not anything they're willing to invest in. This all changed in April of 2020. Mental health-related courses were the only thing that people were asking for. When things like this happen, people just throw everything they have into it and realize they waited too long.
We do offer some one-off courses because there are definitely clients who will want to just hear about one topic, rather than go through the whole human performance course. Our thoughts are it doesn't drive behavior change to listen to one session, but it might prompt a slight change in behavior or lifestyle. We'll do it and present on those to give a client a taste of what we're about and what our presentation style is like. Overall though, we try to drive the full course.
What challenges do you foresee in the new year for your business?
I think in wellness in general, we struggle a lot with proving that it's beneficial. There's a lot of, yes, this probably contributed to your health or your decrease in medical spending. Unfortunately, there's not a lot of exact numbers. I would love to, and we're considering partnering with a few organizations that offer true individualized results. These would be similar to an Apple Watch, but maybe a step above that. It would involve data such as delving into the details of your sleep, the zones you were in, and how often you were in those zones.
In January, we'll be starting health coaching along with the human performance workshop. I say this because if a client has a smart device that was tracking data during their workshop tenure, that we were able to access, it would be a game-changer. We could physically see the evidence in the form of numbers and charts on the work we’re doing. For us, finding a way to make that happen is our next biggest challenge.
In your opinion, how do we reach more companies like Theory of Me?
I know that there are a lot of different companies who are doing PowerPoint-style deliveries and could easily transform them into audio courses. The content is already living in most of these companies and but they don't have the best way of connecting their employees to it. I'm going into the wellness mindset, but it's a great way to encourage employees to listen and move while they're doing so. Some companies now have walking paths or access to sidewalks, which employees could walk outside while listening to these things.
Even just knowing that this is available is key. It’s also important to be able to sell it as the new way of learning; because it's not tapping into the vulnerabilities of your mind, it's the right way to use technology.
Why should other creators create an audio course on Avocado?
I'm definitely not an expert in this, but I would say, in my mind, it was such a hard concept to understand until I did it. When I did, it felt very easy. There was the anxiety that I was holding because I didn't know what that would take kept me from moving forward. The unknown is so scary.
I tried to make my first session perfect. Then we did our first interview with an expert and what I figured out is, it's more fun if it's conversational. So, just chill out. Deliver it like a podcast where you have questions, you kind of know what you're going to talk about, but the conversation can really go anywhere. My advice would be if it feels intimidating, start with something small or a sample. I think you'll learn pretty quickly that it's something you can completely manage on your own and be fine.
Where to find Theory of Me: