Coaching in the workplace virtual conference

From 24-26 June, the AC and Institute of Coaching hosted a joint online leadership and coaching conference, comprising more than 30 sessions across three subject tracks. Soraya Shaw shares her reflections on attending the event

If your experience of the pandemic has been anything like mine, I am sure you have felt a rollercoaster of emotions, including a strong need to be with those who make you feel secure and valued. This was a defining theme of the AC Coaching in the Workplace conference, which created a sense of belonging and left me with a strong feeling of being part of the coaching community.

Being one of the original AC founding members, I’ve always enjoyed the conferences – not only for updating my practical knowledge but also to make contact with colleagues. Having been out of the AC community loop for the last few years while studying, on receiving the conference announcement email and seeing that it was a virtual event, I felt that it was just what I needed to reconnect with the coaching community and the latest thinking.

From the perspective of attending a conference, the planning and hard work involved certainly paid off. It was well organised, and while there were a few expected technology hiccups they were quickly resolved and, overall, the event ran smoothly and the sessions were well directed.
The three strands of the conference stayed true to their daily subject content, so I felt that I was gaining the knowledge and experience that was relevant to me for the days I attended. Highlights for me included hearing from Jeffrey Hull and his thoughts on the changing face of leadership from alpha to beta, and being introduced to the more systemic, dynamic and collaborative workplaces that are needing leaders that can engage and communicate across diverse groups – something which is especially relevant in the age of Covid.

Richard Boyatzis is a bit of a hero of mine, so to hear him speak was another highlight. I left his talk with a sense of certainty as to the value of our work in the coaching profession. It reminded me how privileged we are to be accepted into another person’s world, to share their vision and dreams, and to empower them to be the best they can be – not just ‘fix’ something they perceive to be not working. This felt especially relevant to me given the focus of my work in applied neuroscience; taking a vision-based approach supports the current neuroscientific understanding of how we learn and develop, which is showing that our brains excel when we adopt a growth mindset approach.

I highly valued the speaker Q&As I attended; time had been allocated to allow the speakers to expand on the knowledge areas addressed in their talks, so they were much more informative than other virtual conferences I have recently attended and had the feel of a chat more than a lecture.
As ever, the co-coaching groups were rich in experience. Having not been involved in one for a few years, they reminded me of how valuable they are. The coaching circles I attended helped me to re-engage with past colleagues, learn from the wisdom and depth of those in the group, and reaffirm what a warm, resourceful and welcoming group of people coaches are.

A virtual conference is obviously different to an on-site one, and you do miss the social closeness of others. However, the benefits are that the reach of participants and attendees is much wider than it might have been at a face-to-face event, and it was wonderful to meet others from so many parts of the world whom I imagine may not have been able to make it to a local event.

Could it be improved, and what was missing? I think the benefits of the conference being virtual, at least certainly in our pandemic-stricken world, certainly outweighed the downsides of missing the physical presence of others. We are sociable creatures and we thrive on relationships, but virtual can be for the many and not just the few.


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