Developing Consulting Skills Virtually – Is It Possible? by Dana Robinson Return


“We want to develop the performance consulting skills of our learning consultants. We have no travel budget for this year. How can you help us?”

That is the situation my partner, Dick Handshaw, and I encountered about six months ago. Over the past 3 decades I have developed consulting skills in thousands of people…always in an on-site, face to face manner. With this client we would be working with approximately 20 people, in as many locations, throughout the US. The technology platform supported by the client organization would provide screen access and audio; we would not, however, be able to view each other.

What We Did

With the client’s support we moved ahead to convert what had been a three day, on-site learning program into a developmental experience delivered virtually. Our design was to provide seven content sessions, each two hours in length. Spaced among these content sessions were performance demonstration sessions. In these demonstration sessions six people and a facilitator formed a small team to practice the consultative and questioning skills. All of the performance demonstrations were done on scenarios developed specifically for this client organization. Therefore, the practices occurred in relevant and realistic settings to the participants. In addition, there were frequent quizzes and exercises to affirm the degree to which key concepts were understood. The entire learning experience occurred over a seven week period of time.

What We Did

The learning results exceeded our expectations! The frequent quizzes and, most importantly, the performance demonstrations we observed affirmed these results. The overall results from the practice demonstrations were as strong as those I witnessed over the years of developing this same capability in an onsite manner. Some additional insights:

  1. It is vital that the leader of the team hold people accountable for being present in each session. This means being physically available and also mentally engaged in the learning experience; multi-tasking is not allowed!
  2. Interactivity must be designed into the sessions. In an onsite delivery, spontaneous interaction and discussions are both possible and probable. In a virtual session, spontaneous discussions are not so easy to foster. Creating the context for those discussions to happen is a design need in virtual delivery.
  3. The technology platform, upon which the virtual session is delivered, matters. The greater the capability of that technology the greater the number of options for engaging participants and customizing the experience.

I have learned that developing consulting skills virtually is both possible, and in today’s environment, necessary as it may be the only option. What about you? What has your experience been in developing interpersonal skills in a virtual format? Drop a note to me at dana.robinson@handshaw.com – would love to hear your thoughts.


About the Author

Dana Robinson is a recognized thought leader in the areas of performance consulting and human performance improvement. For almost 30 years as president and founder of Partners-in-Change, she assisted HR, learning, and organizational development departments transition from a tactical focus to one that is performance oriented and strategic. Based in Raleigh, North Carolina, Dana continues to consult with organizations through her work with Handshaw.