Coaching on-line, in groups, without meeting? Whatever next….!


  • Can on-line coaching, with people whom one has not met face to face, be effective? 
  • Can coaching in small groups, on-line, between complete strangers, be effective?

 With the increase in viability and quality of on-line connectivity, on-line tools to support global working are becoming more effective and widely used. However, coaching is generally perceived to require face to face connectivity, and most of the literature and methodology still assumes it to be so.

As someone who has conducted many hours of face to face 1-1 coaching, I have plenty of experience of this methodology. On-line coaching is still relatively new, and there is as yet little documentation to ascertain if coaching on-line can be as effective as that done face to face.

In addition, coaching is generally seen as a 1-1 experience. My own experience with personal development initiatives has shown me that, if the right platform of trust can be established, group coaching, on-line, between complete strangers, can be extremely effective, even more so than face to face 1-1 coaching.

In this context, I thought it might be interesting for me to share some information about a recent coaching assignment I had undertaken, in groups, between strangers, purely on-line, using e-mail and telephone for administrative support, and the on-line WebEx tool for coaching interaction.

Coaching Case study-‘Presenting a case for Perfect Presentation Presence!’

The client was in fact 21 different companies, in 6 different time zones – members of an organisation called PMI – Project Management Institute, India.

Those of you from the Project Management/software professions will almost certainly know of PMI; for those who do not, it is a global membership organisation dedicated to the improvement of Project Management capabilities through training, awareness and socialisation of experiences.

I was recently asked to assist with a tricky challenge: to metamorphose the PMI India National Conference  authors into ‘enticing and inspiring conference presenters’, from ‘excellent and inspiring Authors’. The project was initiated by Raj Kalady, MD of PMI India

The scope was defined as a single direct, on-line interaction, with substantial pre-session information sharing, guidance and logistics support.

As a past speaker at PMI India National Conferences (2013 and 2015) and having worked intensively with the PMI India team, I had some exposure to the organisation and its membership.

Regarding the specific challenge, Authors are invited to submit a paper as an application for an Annual Award. The winning papers are then converted into a PPT and presented at the National Conference. The Conference is a very prestigious event, with participation from major corporates, institutions and government. Despite the very high quality of   submissions, the audiences had in the past been somewhat underwhelmed; excellent theories and inspired ideas, but mostly delivered as if it were to an academic audience at a top University… not an audience of several hundred stressed out Project Managers hungry for practical answers and lunch!

Now I must mention, some of the Authors with whom I was designated to work have presented winning papers for several years – some into double figures. Who was I to tell them to do it differently? Would the Authors participate? Would Authors object to the idea of (voluntarily) sharing their work in a group?

Not without trepidation, we set about creating a voluntary initiative which could offer an alternative approach to selected Authors, and possibly a more enjoyable experience for the audiences this year at PMI India National Conference, Mumbai, November 2016*

The activity is driven by a volunteer group named “Papers Governance Team” that strives to ensure the best papers are presented at the PMI India National Conference, by creating a well governed & sustainable process

I met with members of the “Papers Governance Team” and agreed to set some guidelines for the prospective authors to submit the final round of applications, from where the winning 20 Authors were selected.

Each was then invited to attend a 1.5 hours on-line session, in groups of 4, at a pre-scheduled time.

I devised a set of guidelines for Authors to re-work their presentations, bearing in mind the audience, not just the content.

The idea was that Authors would then share their rework-in-progress during the on-line session, and gain feedback and suggestions from one another, as well as from me.

It was widely expected that only 50% or so would attend the online sessions.

In fact 19 out of 21 attended…a fantastic response based on a purely voluntary involvement.

Factors leading to this:

  • Scheduling by PMI – so that Authors felt the credibility of the process as it was linked to the Author selection process (though it was clearly indicted as NOT mandatory, and was only suggested AFTER the final selection was announced.)
  • Participants were grouped to ensure that there were no competitive clashes between companies represented.
  • Inputs were taken from the Conference Planning Committee who had many years of experience, and we ensured we designed an intervention that was realistic in its ambitions.
  • Rigorous follow up by the Talent Makers team to ensure everyone had received the e-mails with guidelines, had received the appointment schedule, knew how to use the WebEx tool.
  • WebEx ‘rookies’ were invited to attend a mock session to try out the WebEx tool prior to the scheduled appointment.
  • Careful scheduling across 6 time zones to ensure that all could attend the designated on-line session at a reasonable time.
  • A list of FAQs was created and sent to all Authors, providing reassurance on the voluntary nature of the process – concerns such as ‘What if I don’t want to share my work- can I still join the session?’

For the most part, the on-line sessions were all held on schedule, and completed on schedule, and the technology worked well. All participants knew how to log in and joined on time – (not our experience with other such events!) The audio (VOIP) quality was good, and since the group size was kept to 4/5 plus Coach, maximum of 6 persons on line at a time; this allowed for each person to be given dedicated ‘air time’, and ensured the quality of the connectivity was maintained.

The session allowed sufficient time to communicate a shared objective, briefly introduce each other, explain the best practice guidelines and work through each persons’ progress. For the most part, Authors needed time for me to explain the design Guidelines which had been already sent.

This was another learning once again – that, in our information flooded lives, though we have received information, may have even read it, we may not have ‘digested’ it; it is not then a ‘waste of time’ to work through it together… rather it is a necessary and effective use of time to ensure that value is taken from that information, value which can then be converted into actions.

No one objected to sharing their work, all did so voluntarily.

At the end of each session feedback was taken verbally from each participant. This was overwhelmingly positive.

“Really helpful, lots of new ideas”; “interactive use of WebEx for 1.5 hours appreciated”; “it was a huge task, well done”; “immensely useful”; “good insights”; “I will profit a lot”; “I am excited to think about it in a whole new way”; “Excited to set about the task now”; “I love this coaching”; “I have learnt that we need to focus on the message, the content doesn’t matter so much”; “We need to separate what we SHOW and what we SAY”; “it was great to be able to see other peoples’ work and learn from each other” “I understand that I need to focus on the audience ‘WIIFM’ ”; “ I would like to schedule another session in two weeks”; “If I send you my rework can you have a look an revert back to me?”; “Can you do this for my company?”

Several participants have since written their own feedback directly:

“As mentioned during the coaching session, I indeed used some of the diagrammatic tricks in my presentations at a conference in South Africa. Thanks to your mentoring, both of my sessions were very well received, comprehended and appreciated by the audience. I did share your “info email address” with a couple of folks! Great connecting, thank you for your help!”

“The Coaching Session by Valerie was very useful.  I appreciate the PMNC2016 team for taking pains to arrange this. The logistics, preparation, and communication regarding the Coaching Sessions were excellent. Valerie gave us specific inputs to improve our presentations and the whole session was interactive with lot of take-aways. Please pass on my thanks and appreciation to Val & Team and also to your team for organizing this.”

An independent feedback is being taken by PMI India through an on-line survey, (results are awaited).

This coaching was a ‘performance focussed’ intervention, and was a one-time interaction, not an extended interaction over a time period of 6 months or so.

To improve the initiative further next year, we have recommended that two on line sessions be held – one to explain the best practice guidelines, then another one two weeks later to review the re-worked.

Whilst this is only a single example, and the evidence is recorded in a qualitative manner, it seems reasonable to conclude that, based on feedback received so far:

  • On-line coaching can be effective
  • Online coaching for groups who are strangers can be effective

Coaching Case study-‘Presenting a case for Perfect Presentation Presence!’

Of course, whilst we know that participants valued and appreciated the coaching experience, the real proof will be in the pudding: will the presentations actually produce a discerningly different impact on the audiences at the PMI India Project Managment National Conference 2016 than previously? Time will only tell.

About the Author: Valerie Gray is an expert on Behavior Change in organisations and individuals. With 30 years’ experience in UK and India, she coaches CXO level Executives on performance change in the workplace, and her company creates Behavior Frameworks for organisational transformation.

*Note about PMI National Conference Awards:

For further information about the PMI National Conference Awards process, please contact PMI India (

For those who are interested, here are the statistics for this year’s process:

Papers were reviewed by a124 member volunteer review team, empaneled from 23 different countries to review abstracts, papers and presentations.

The entire operation is extensive: For 2016:

  • 394 authors registered
  • 312 abstracts were received from these Authors at Stage 1
  • 240 abstracts were selected for the Papers stage
  • 148 papers came in at Stage 2
  • 58 papers were selected for publishing on the website
  • 16 authors (+ 4 stand by) selected to present at the conference

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