2023 coaching trends predictions

On an annual basis, I look at coaching trends that will impact our profession in the near future. 

Some of the trends that I will unpack are ones that I’ve spoken about in previous years, but we are seeing an evolution, deepening and expansion of these trends in the coaching profession, as well as a greater acceptance and adoption of them.

Coaching Trends: Exponential Growth in the Coaching Profession

So first and foremost (I say this every year), the most significant ongoing coaching trend is that the coaching industry continues to explode and be identified as one of the fastest-growing professions.

Awareness of Coaching

The 2022 ICF Global Consumer Awareness Study looked at how consumers were interacting with and experiencing the coaching profession. There are two things that stood out for me, both of which I would categorise as ongoing coaching trends.

Firstly, it was quite interesting to see that there was a fairly low awareness of coaching in the broader consumer markets.  I think that this is a wonderful opportunity for us coaches.  There is so much untapped potential out there in terms of clients who can benefit from coaching.  We simply need to get in front of them.

It also means that we each have an incredible opportunity to present ourselves as knowledgeable on the subject of coaching.  I use the term “knowledgeable” instead of “subject matter expert” as I know that many of you are uncomfortable with being referred to as an expert.  But my attitude is: “If the cap fits, wear it” and if you have expertise in coaching, claim it.

Coaching, Mentoring, Training, Counselling or Consulting

Secondly, there continues to be this trend of confusion between coaching, mentoring, training, counselling and consulting.  This may be a little controversial, but I think that we (coaches) are quite guilty of adding to the confusion and perpetuating it, to our detriment.

Tangled ball of string resembling the coaching trend where there continues to be confusion about the differences between coaching, mentoring, counselling and consulting

Another one of the growing trends in the coaching space of people who call themselves coaches, while what they actually offer is mentoring, training or consulting. I’m specifically talking about the explosion of online courses with group coaching sessions that are run by people who actually have no formal training in coaching as we know and accept it. The reason why I highlight this as one of my coaching trends is that it impacts the buyer’s experience and perception of the coaching profession.

Now, there’s nothing wrong with people creating online courses and offering group sessions. I work with all of my clients to create multiple streams of aligned income (more of that below), but we should call it what it is. If it’s coaching, let’s call it coaching.  If it’s training, call it that, and so on.  I think that the problem is that coaching has more glamour attached to it than terms like training or mentoring, and this is why people with no formal training in coaching are using the term to describe themselves.

Another way that we coaches continue to contribute to this confusion is that we haven’t yet quite settled on any one comprehensive definition of coaching.  So, if we’re a little bit confused as a profession about how we define coaching or haven’t yet settled on any one definition of coaching, no wonder potential clients are confused and conflating coaching with training, mentoring, counselling, consulting, etc.  

What is the opportunity here?  It’s to present yourself as knowledgeable, and as having expertise in the field of coaching, and to show what kinds of tangible results your clients experience from working with you.

Coaching Trends: How We Will Deliver Coaching in the Future

I was very interested to participate in the survey that the ICF is currently doing on the coaching profession, on the future of coaching.  There were a couple of questions that stood out for me in the questionnaire that signalled certain coaching trends that are on the ICF’s radar, in particular, a question about how we deliver coaching.  The options that we were given to choose from were: in-person, audio or video platforms (Zoom, Microsoft Teams), by telephone and, interestingly, via text or instant messaging.

In terms of coaching trends, I’m seeing more and more coaches and mentors selling packages that offer support via WhatsApp, Voxer, Telegram and other applications.  So perhaps, when you’re doing your business strategy and planning, this is something that you need to keep in the back of your mind.  Certainly, I encourage my clients to create as many “touchpoints” as they can outside of each coaching session, as well as additional sources of income, so I would definitely recommend this as a value-add to a high-ticket coaching package.

Coaching Trends: The Fifth Industrial Revolution

Other options that we could also choose from in terms of trends that will impact coaching that the ICF has identified were virtual reality and augmented reality (biological augmentation).  We are very firmly in the fifth industrial revolution, where the human/machine interface is increasing and becoming more and more intertwined.

While the fourth industrial revolution was all about automation and replacing humans with machines, the fifth industrial revolution is more about finding a harmonious co-existence, with a focus on how humans can make the world a better place within an environment that is enabled by collaboration with machines, robots, artificial intelligence, virtual reality, and augmented reality in an ethical and sustainable way.

Yes, machines will continue to replace humans, but they will also enable humans to be better humans.  For example, the proliferation of online study material and resources and the increase in access to the internet means the democratization of learning.  People in previously remote, underprivileged and under-resourced areas will now have access to resources that will enable them to transcend their poverty and/or lack of resources much more easily than before.  It creates the potential for coaching to come into the picture where there previously was none.

What is the opportunity for us?  We can partner with learning institutions to offer virtual coaching to complement online learning experiences.  We can specialize in working with the people who create and supply these resources to develop their emotional intelligence so that they create resources that are ethical and that enhance the well-being (in the fullest sense of the term) of the people on the receiving end.

I also think that the use of virtual reality and augmented reality in the coaching space is going to be an increasing trend to look out for. In fact, we’re already using virtual reality quite comfortably every time we meet with a client via Zoom or Microsoft Teams.

Smart Technology, Wearable Technology and Artificial Intelligence

Artificial intelligence, augmented reality and virtual reality are very much here to stay. So, what are they, and what’s the difference? It’s all higher-grade science, right? WRONG.

Have you noticed how you might search for something on Google, and the next thing you’re inundated with ads on your social media platforms for that exact same thing?  That’s artificial intelligence at work.

Have you watched something you’ve really enjoyed on Netflix or Amazon Prime, and noticed how you were given recommendations of other similar programmes that you might enjoy?  That’s artificial intelligence at your service.

If you’ve got a smartwatch that tracks your heart rate, sleep quality, steps per day, exercise intensity and even your stress levels, you’re using something that integrates (probably) with your phone to tell you that you’ve been sitting for too long and it’s time to get up and stretch your legs, or that you’re exercising in your maximum heart rate zone and you need to ease off.  That’s artificial intelligence working for you.

There will be a increasing coaching trend of using information from Wearable technology

In last year’s coaching trends predictions, I sketched a scenario where a coach (ethically, and with permission) gets a daily report on a client’s vital statistics, such as heart rate and sleep quality.  This would give the coach material for the coaching session, for example:

On Tuesday, you get a weekly report and you know that on a certain day, your client was in a meeting and you can see that their heart rate was extremely high throughout the meeting.  Here are some simple questions that you could ask your client:

  • What happened in the meeting? 
  • What was your client feeling in their body? 
  • What do they think made them feel that way?
  • How could they deal with it differently in the future?

Now, I realise that this didn’t sit comfortably with many of you, so let me sketch an alternative use for this kind of smart technology.  If we leave this kind of information in the hands of our clients to bring to the coaching session at their discretion, does that feel easier for you to get your head around?

For example, your client starts the session by sharing some data showing spikes in their heart rate and fills you in on the fact that this happened during a tense meeting at work.  You can then probe what happened, how they were feeling, and how they reacted, and explore possible strategies for the future should they find themselves in a similar situation.

Artificial Intelligence, Virtual Reality and Augmented Reality

So, back to the definitions of artificial intelligence (AI), virtual reality (VR) and augmented reality (AR) with the help of Wikipedia.

Artificial Intelligence

Artificial intelligence is intelligence that perceives and synthesizes information. It’s machine as opposed to human intelligence, human or animal biological intelligence. Wikipedia gives examples like speech recognition (think of Siri, or “hey Google”), computer vision and translation between languages.

How does artificial intelligence become one of the coaching trends?

AI definitely has its uses in terms of business tools. I use a number of AI apps and programmes to make my business easier to run, for example, otter.ai is an excellent online transcription service that I use to transcribe all of my free training videos and to generate subtitles.  I also use Grammarly to check what I’m writing, and I found a fabulous fun website that will rewrite copy in different tones of voice – formal, humorous, sarcastic.

Here’s a link to some music composed by artificial intelligence (no human involved whatsoever).  Yes, it’s good enough to be a bit scary, and what does it mean for the music profession? That’s another topic for another day. Back to coaching trends…

Virtual Reality

Virtual reality is a simulated experience where we use three 3D displays that track our poses so that we give people a sense of being in an immersive virtual world.  You see this a lot in terms of obviously video games, but virtual reality is being used more and more in medical and military training with simulations.  Surgeons can learn how to perform complicated surgery using virtual reality.

I’ll NEVER forget going to a dog park a few years ago in the early evening with my sister-in-law.  As we were walking towards the car park, all of a sudden, a whole lot of cars drove in and these young people jumped out, glued to the screens of their phones, and proceeded to race all over the park.  It was a bit freaky to observe, but apparently, they were playing Pokémon, where you have to chase and catch little creatures that move from place to place.  I can think of better ways to spend my time, but it did have a social aspect to it.  They all gathered at the end to compare results and there was lots of social banter.  My jury is still out on that one.

What this does demonstrate is that virtual reality is on the uptake (particularly within a certain demographic) and it’s only a matter of time before it becomes one of the new coaching trends, impacting how we deliver coaching.

I think that we are going to see a far greater uptake of people using virtual reality and interactive learning platforms.  An easy example would be taking a virtual reality yoga class – putting on those VR goggles and immersing yourself in a yoga class where the artificially intelligent instructor is able to correct your posture from signals received from sensors placed around your body.  Take one step back from this scenario, and imagine yourself using VR goggles to experience a 3D guided meditation session where you can see and hear that you’re in a forest next to a stream.

Here are some great ways that we can use virtual reality NOW in our coaching practices:

  • Participate in online virtual reality networking events and seminars as a way of marketing your practice;
  • Recommend virtual reality experience to your clients (like the meditation example that I’ve used above)
  • Turn your smartphone into a virtual reality headset. It can be done, believe it or not. Here’s a link to an article that shows you how.

As far off as it might seem now, virtual reality is increasingly being used across a wide variety of applications. Depending on the type of client you commonly work with, you might want to add this to your list of coaching trends to watch.

Augmented Reality

There’s a brilliant series on Amazon Prime called The Peripheral that clearly demonstrates the difference between virtual and augmented reality.  In it, a group of young people living in the near future earn their living from testing out new virtual reality games (actually, it’s already happening now). 

One of them is sent a headset for a new gaming experience that turns out to be an augmented reality experience.  When she puts the headset on, she is transported into a duplicate physical body in an augmented reality world.  This augmented reality version of her can see and hear (just as we can with virtual reality) but it can also taste, touch, feel and smell.

There are some other twists to the plot and I don’t want to give the game away, but watching it helped me get my head around the difference between virtual reality and augmented reality.

Augmented reality differs from virtual reality in that it incorporates haptics: things like changes in the ambient temperature, vibrations, and changes in pressure – creating conditions that make us physically feel like our experience is real.  Haptics work with our somatosensory systems – the skin, nerve endings and touch receptors.

Simple examples are when a call comes in on our phone and we feel the phone vibrate in our pocket.  Cochlear implants are another example of haptic technology in common use.

Why do I highlight this as one of the coaching trends that we need to keep our eyes on?

Coaching Trends: The Metaverse

Here’s the scary/exciting thing: there is a “metaverse”, a parallel virtual universe where humans like you and me can create an avatar (a digital representation of ourselves) and “live” a “normal” life.  You can get a job in the Metaverse, buy a house, create a business (coaching?), earn crypto currency, and go out with friends.  You just do it via computer.  Yes, I know.  My head spins too when I think about it, but it may become the norm for your children or grandchildren.

It’s certainly a tool that coaches will be able to use in the near future to supplement our coaching.  Remember what I said about creating as many touchpoints as possible for your clients outside of the coaching session so that their whole experience with you is more immersive?  Embrace virtual reality as an opportunity and look for ways that you can use it to retain your relevance, and if it feels just a step too far for you to manage, start exploring possible collaborations with people or companies who specialize in this field.

Augmented reality is a completely immersive and interactive experience where we are almost taken into another world: the metaverse.  The computer-generated content is multisensory. The term “metaverse” was actually first coined in 1992, and the earliest metaverse was launched in about 2003 and called “Second Life”.

Life in the metaverse is not as far-fetched or as far into the future as it sounds.  There are many cases of online addiction, sexual predation, child grooming and virtual harassment are just some of the negatives, not to mention obesity and other health problems.

But, this does mean that there is still a place for coaching practitioners back here in the normal world, working with the fallout and outcomes of spending too much time in a virtual universe.  Potential niche, anybody?

Also, if you were so inclined, you could set up a coaching practice in the metaverse and work with clients in the virtual world.

Coaching Trends: Using AI in our Coaching Practices

What is interesting is that the International Coach Federation sees artificial intelligence and digital coaching as ways of helping us to identify potential new clients to understand our existing client behaviour. If we are able to understand our existing clients’ behaviour, it makes it that much easier for us to build case studies to report on actual, demonstratable and validated results.

At its simplest level, we would be able to track our clients’ success in reaching their goals or in achieving their desired objectives from coaching.  In addition, artificial intelligence will be able to help us discover additional online learning material and resources that are suited to our client’s particular needs.  Remember what I said about increasing our touchpoints with our clients?

Artificial intelligence and increasing automation already help us to automate those tedious and repetitive jobs that occupy time that would better be spent with clients, or on our own continuing professional development.

Using our existing client data and understanding of their behaviour, we can make our marketing more effective and use tools to automate our marketing.  We can also automate the client intake process with simple tools like Google forms, and automatic email journeys sending things like contracts, invoices and so on to help us manage our businesses as smoothly as possible. 

With increasing integration, we can keep everything in one hub: finances, website, emails, and diary management.  In fact, there are already a few platforms that do this, like Coaches Console and Mentorink.  The underlying benefit of these kinds of platforms is that you can create greater engagement with your clients between sessions.  And plus, it just looks professional.

We’re also seeing an increasing number of artificial or AI coaching apps with increasing artificial intelligence, but it currently seems – from all the research that I’ve been looking at – that their greatest application and effectiveness is in transactional work: setting, tracking and achieving goals, rather than transformational work.

Are they a threat?

No. I believe that AI coaching apps democratise coaching, make it more accessible to more people and will do a tremendous job of opening up new markets and also helping us market coaching to potential clients.

Don’t you think that you’re more likely to buy something if you’ve had a positive experience at minimal investment?

I also think that the experience of using an AI coach will whet our potential clients’ appetites, and pave the way for to them wanting to work with a warm body. I think it’s a great coaching trend.

I’ve been saying for the last couple of years that we will never replace the human being which is why I think I think that there is still such an exciting future with enormous potential for coaches and coaching.  We simply need to become more open and flexible around how we weave technology as an enabler into how we conduct our coaching – even using AI coaching apps.

There’s an area where we might see artificial intelligence can play an exciting role, which is as a supplementary offering to personality and behavioural assessments.  Most of us, as a complimentary add-on to coaching, offer different assessments, such as Insights, Lumina, the Enneagram, MBTI, and so on as kick-offs to the coaching relationship.  They’re also useful tools in helping us measure the effectiveness of coaching with before and after assessments.

Currently, what happens is that we get a detailed report that can be used as a starting point for the coaching relationship.  Most of the reports give suggestions and recommendations on areas that can be worked on and further developed.

Some of these tools already have online learning portals, that are directly linked to the individual client’s assessment, and that offer an online learning journey. With artificial intelligence, these portals can become more and more powerful tools to complement coaching as some of the applications of artificial intelligence are in problem-solving and the development of social intelligence.

International coaching bodies have been working on the ethical application and use of smart technology for a few years now.  This is a clear signal to the coaching profession that smart technology, artificial intelligence, virtual reality and augmented reality will become accepted norms in coaching and is a coaching trend to take note of.

Coaching Trends: Coaching and Developing Critical Skills for the Future

One of the things that makes me feel really confident about the future of coaching is the fact that the World Economic Forum identified certain critical skills for the near future (2025). The majority of them fall into the domain of how and where we work as coaches, for example:

  • Creative thinking
  • Leadership
  • Social influence
  • Resilience
  • Stress tolerance
  • Reasoning
  • Problem-solving
  • Ideation.

I don’t know about you, but I saw an explosive trend in the coaching profession of coaches specialising in helping clients develop resilience during the last two years.

Maybe we will see a coaching trend of coaches who will specialize in areas like problem-solving, and reasoning. Remember that potential clients are looking for solutions and the quicker, the better.

Coaching Trends: The Coach as a “Renaissance Man”

During the Renaissance, we saw people with a wide variety of expertise, interests, skills and talents.  Dictionary.com defines a contemporary Renaissance man as “a present-day man who has acquired profound knowledge or proficiency in more than one field.”

I predict that, as an increasing coaching trend, the top / best / most effective coaches will be able to draw (with expertise) on a wide range of complimentary areas: neuroscience and how it impacts our clients, having a depth of psychological literacy (having a working knowledge of different psychological models and approaches), physiology and its impact on our clients’ productivity – so taking an integrated, somatic approach towards working with our clients, and mindfulness approaches like meditation.

Here’s an example from my personal experience…

Something that I’ve found incredibly useful on a personal level was having my DNA analysed for medical reasons.  My dietician is a natural coach (no formal training) and she uses DNA reports while working with her clients.  The detailed (80 page+) reports are split into a medical report, a wellness/diet report, a sports report and a report on how to age well.

One of the things that the reports show is that I produce more energy at cooler temperatures.  It’s probably why I love walking in the forest so much, and why swimming has always been one of my favourite sports.  You may wonder how useful this is to me in my business.  Well, I now know that I need to keep my office cool, as I’m more productive and more effective.

Coaching Trends: Evidence-Based Practice

As the coaching profession continues to mature, there is more evidence-based research showing the effectiveness of coaching across a variety of industries, and also at different levels in organisations (remember when coaching used to be the domain mainly of leaders, executives and top management in organisations?).  In addition, with a greater number of people becoming aware of coaching and its benefits, potential and existing clients will be able to participate more actively in co-creating the coaching relationship.

I predict that this coaching trend will continue and that we will see an explosion of new research demonstrating the value of artificial intelligence, virtual reality and augmented reality as coaching tools.

I’ve already alluded to how artificial intelligence will play more of a role in helping us to track, validate and predict client behaviour, but to bring it down to a level that we can all identify with, a hallmark of a top coach is reflective practice.  In other words, following a coaching session, top coaches will reflect on what happened, what they noticed, what went well, and what didn’t work.  It helps us develop our skills as a coach, and to recognise patterns in both our coaching practice and in our clients.

Artificial intelligence will be able to help us use this information more effectively. It will be able to do things like aggregate research or articles that could develop our knowledge in a particular area that is relevant to our coaching practice. What do I mean by this?

If I see a trend in my coaching practice that shows me that many of my clients are dealing with imposter syndrome (as so many of our clients are), artificial intelligence would be able to link me to books, articles, journals and research around imposter syndrome so that I can widen my repertoire of skills to help my clients overcome it.

I’ve already seen AI software applications that do this in organisations as part of the learning and development pathway for employees. It’s only a matter of time before something like this becomes available to the coaching profession, and perhaps the professional coaching bodies will be the champions in this instance. It would certainly add massive value to their members.

Wouldn’t that be an awesome coaching trend?

Creating a Successful, Sustainable Coaching Practice

Some final thoughts on creating a successful and sustainable coaching practice.  These are not new, but we need to have three things in place.

Creating Clarity for Potential Clients

tangled ball of string

We need to have a very clear value proposition.  Yes, I’m talking about defining your niche.  Remember what I always say: A confused mind says “NO”.  Coaching is essentially intangible.  Make it as easy as possible for potential clients to identify YOU as their ideal coach.

PLUS we know that our best source of business is word-of-mouth referrals, so make it as easy as possible for your existing clients to refer you to their colleagues, friends and peers.

The Rise of the Personal Brand

More and more, we need to have a strong brand presence.  A personal brand is what sets you apart from the crowd.  It’s instantly recognizable, easily identifiable, and evokes strong emotions.  People were the first brands, and faces were the first logos.  Think about it: which do you associate with more easily (and you don’t have to like the people in these examples): Elon Musk or Tesla, Richard Branson or Virgin, Mo Salah or Liverpool?

Multiple Streams of Income

Creating multiple streams of aligned income.  Remember: we don’t want to confuse potential clients. 

If you want to sell DoTerra essential oils, it needs to complement what you do as a coach.  If you promote a product, make sure that it’s a natural fit with your coaching offering.  So, here you can consider things like online courses, workshops, public speaking, writing a book (or even promoting books that you recommend to clients through an Amazon Affiliate link).  The list goes on.  Ideally, you want to have as many passive alternative sources of income as possible.

If you’d like to chat about these coaching trends and how they can be factored into your business strategy, drop me an email.

Read the 2022 trend predictions here: https://www.nicheintelligence.co.za/2021/12/31/2022-coaching-trends/

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