It was 2016, and a London-based portfolio manager requested presentation coaching. I had conducted coachings in London before, but this email specifically noted, “I don’t think anyone needs to travel from the US though. It could be over VC.”
VC, of course, stood for videoconference, and I was happy, yet intimidated, to coach a client in the U.K. from New York.
How would I connect virtually with someone thousands of miles away? How could I build rapport with someone over a screen when presentation and media coaching are such a personalized experience?
Nonetheless, as communications professionals know, adaptation is a key component to being a strong practitioner and counselor.
The virtual coaching went well, and I was able to build a solid rapport with the client.
It seems laughable now—like explaining how I used to load paper into a fax machine.
The explosion of remote meetings brought on by the pandemic has revolutionized the coaching process, and virtual coaching is here to stay. It’s more efficient, less costly and—surprisingly—it fosters more individualized attention.
Virtual coaching is less stressful and time consuming for the client. Rather than an intensive half-day of meetings, virtual sessions allow for breaking up the process into shorter more digestible segments. And follow-up sessions can be done at any time. When there’s a media interview or an event to prep for months later, it’s easy to hop online and reinforce key speaking techniques and messages.
For those of us in the “coaching business,” here are a few tips for this new normal:
1) Shorter, more frequent coachings are the way to go. You’ll gain more with less and hold attention spans longer. Plus, with multiple sessions, you’ll build a strong rapport and a longer-term client relationship.
2) Prepare for a coaching session the way you would for a job interview. Learn as much as you can about the person you’ll be coaching. Hopefully, this is intuitive, but for those newer to the field or who are only used to in-person small talk, a simple LinkedIn search might help begin a more comfortable conversation. For example: “I see you worked as a biologist earlier in your career. Why did you make the switch and how does that experience influence your career now?” Important note here: Ask questions out of curiosity, not just to show you did a Google search and memorized some facts.
3) If possible, get briefed in advance by your communications client counterpart. The in-house PR specialist is your partner and can give key strategic insights about the person you’ll be coaching. For example, a portfolio manager or C-suite executive may be naturally shy or have had a previous coaching session that didn’t go well.
4) Watch for eye contact. If the person being coached starts looking away from the screen regularly, they may be preoccupied with an assignment that just arrived in their inbox. Ask the person if this is still a good time to meet and happily offer to reschedule. Again, with a virtual visit, this can be done easily.
5) Always do time checks. To its detriment, the virtual world makes us more scattered and focused on several tasks at once. As with the above point about eye contact, make sure the person you’re coaching doesn’t feel pressured by their schedule.
As the pandemic continues to recede, many of us look forward to more in-person interactions. To be sure, a virtual visit will never be the same as an in-person one where you can experience your client’s culture and community. However, virtual coaching has its own benefits, and as a new mainstay, it allows us to do more of what we love to do.
Seth Linden is president and partner of Dukas Linden Public Relations, an O’Dwyer’s top ten independent U.S financial PR firm.
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