Coaching Session 101: How to Conduct One Effectively (+ Template)

As a coach, strive to continue improving the way you run your coaching sessions. You want to help your clients achieve their goals by asking the right questions and focusing them on the correct action steps.

We all know this isn't an easy task. Each client brings different thinking patterns to the call. One client will respond differently to the same question. That's why you should continue to improve your question-asking ability and coaching techniques.

In this post, we will discuss what a coaching session is, how to run one well, and how to ask questions that most effectively help your clients.

What is a coaching session?

A coaching session is a one-on-one coaching meeting between a coach and a client. The purpose of the meeting is to help your client move closer to their goals. As a coach, you will ask questions, challenge assumptions, and provide support and accountability. 

A coaching session is not therapy. The focus is on the present and future, not the past. You will co-create a plan to help the client achieve their goals. 

What makes an effective coaching session?

A practical coaching session has three main parts.

Think of the first part loosely as a “warm-up”. Build rapport and trust with your client. You want your client to feel comfortable opening up and sharing their thoughts and feelings with you. 

The second part is the meat of the session, where you ask questions and challenge assumptions. 

The third part is the wrap-up. You'll want to summarize the session and assign action items for the client to work on before the next coaching meeting. 

How do you structure a coaching session?

Let's review the guidelines for structuring each one-to-one coaching session you conduct with clients.

1. Identify a goal for the coaching session

Every coaching meeting should have a goal. The goal could be as simple as helping to identify a top priority for the week or month. Or, the goal could be more complex, such as helping the client develop a plan to achieve a personal or professional milestone.

2. Recap of action items and progress

When you're working inside an ongoing client relationship, always open up the coaching session by reviewing the action steps established at the end of the previous meeting. Review the progress made during the last one or two weeks. 

Doing this helps your client feel good about the progress they're making. It also allows you to hold them accountable and follow through on their commitments.

3. Explore the area of opportunity

After reviewing progress, it's time to explore any areas of opportunity. These are usually areas where the client struggles or feels stuck. 

Ask your client clarifying questions about their goals. You might also want to ask them to rate their progress on a scale of one to ten. It can help you identify where they need the most help.

Based on their feedback, ask yourself if they're ready for the ideas and action items you thought through during your planning session. If yes, continue down that path. If not, pivot into brainstorming how to help them overcome obstacles you just uncovered together.

4. Break down obstacles

It's time to help break down any obstacles if your client has hit a wall. Start by asking questions that will help you understand the obstacle better. Then, brainstorm ideas and resources that could help your client get past it. 

Introduce your client to processes you've developed to help overcome the challenges you’re discussing together. For example, if you're a productivity coach, you might have a goal-setting process you walk your clients through.

5. Deliver constructive feedback

One of the most crucial aspects of coaching is delivering feedback that is not hurtful. The first step is to ensure that it comes from a place of respect and caring. Otherwise, the client will likely tune you out or become defensive.

The second step is to avoid absolutes like "always" or "never." For example, instead of saying "you always procrastinate," try "I noticed that you have procrastinated lately." The third step is to give actionable feedback.

6. Tie everything together

After exploring the area of opportunity, breaking down obstacles, and delivering feedback, it's time to tie everything together. Start by summarizing what you discussed during the coaching session. It will help ensure that you and the client are on the same page. 

7. Assign tasks and goals

Establish and assign action steps for the client to complete before the next coaching session. These should be specific, measurable, achievable, relevant, and time-bound (SMART). 

Tie the tasks into the overall transformation your coaching program moves clients through. Keep your client focused on that desired goal, so they feel excited to complete their action items.

Finally, establish a date for the next coaching session. 

Pro tips to make your coaching session effective

As you follow the above coaching meeting structure, use the following tips to ensure positive client outcomes.

1. Identify and apply the right coaching method

You'll develop your coaching style as time goes on. However, never forget that each client is slightly different. The best coaches learn various coaching methods to pull out at the correct time. For example, some clients require more direct coaching while others need a more laissez-faire approach. 

2. Keep track of what they are doing

To be an effective coach, keep track of your client's progress between sessions. You can do this manually or with software. Keeping track of progress with seeing how your client is doing, what's working well, and where they need more help. It also allows you to give better feedback during coaching sessions.

3. Keep the energy going

Your coaching sessions should be full of energy. If you're not excited about coaching your client, it will be difficult to keep them engaged.

4. Set outcomes early

Setting outcomes early in the coaching relationship is crucial. It ensures that you and the client are clear on what needs to happen. It also helps the client stay focused and motivated.

5. Create a positive learning environment

Build the coaching relationship on trust and respect. Keep the environment safe and supportive. It doesn't mean that you avoid difficult conversations. However, it does mean that you approach client needs in a way that's respectful and constructive.   

6. Providing feedback

Giving feedback is essential to the coaching process. Deliver constructive and helpful feedback. 

When giving feedback, always use "I" statements. For example, "I noticed you didn't complete your action items from our last session." Using this tactic helps avoid sounding judgmental or critical.

7. Understanding through assessment

Conducting assessments is a way to gain insights into your client. It also helps you identify areas of improvement and potential roadblocks. 

There are various types of assessments, including:

  • Personality tests

  • Skills tests

  • Values assessments

Choose the assessment best suited for your coaching program and client needs. 

13 questions for leading a great coaching session

Asking the right questions is vital. The most highly-rated coaches know how to ask thought-provoking questions that challenge their clients. 

Avoid yes or no questions as they don't lead to productive conversations. Instead, focus on open-ended questions that encourage reflection and introspection.

Here are 13 questions to add to your question-asking repertoire. 

1. What do you want to achieve by the end of our session today?

Although you want to plan objectives for each coaching session, never forget to ask this question near the beginning of every coaching call. It will keep you and your client clear on what's most important at this moment. Asking this question also ensures that your client feels listened to. 

2. What was the most significant accomplishment since we last spoke?

Asking your client about their accomplishments helps them reflect on their progress. It also allows you to give credit where credit is due. This question can help keep clients motivated and engaged in the coaching process. 

3. What challenges have you faced lately?

This question gets to the heart of what's holding your client back. It allows you to identify any roadblocks so you can help them find a way around them. 

4. If you could improve only one thing at this moment, what would you choose?

Use this question when you sense that your client feels overwhelmed. By zeroing in on one area, you can help them focus their energy and attention more effectively. 

5. What steps will you take to achieve your goal?

Asking about action steps helps your client take concrete steps toward their goals. It also allows you to hold them accountable for their progress. 

6. What resources do you need to achieve your goal?

This question is for clients who feel stuck. It's often not a lack of motivation that prevents people from taking action, but rather a lack of resources. By identifying these needs, you can help them move forward. 

7. In what specific manner will you know you've finished that action item?

Most people fail to make progress because they lack clarity in what completing a goal looks like. This question will help your client understand it's time to celebrate finalizing each action step you give them.

8. How does that serve you?

Here's a powerful question that can help clients see how their current behavior might be self-sabotaging. It encourages them to examine their motivations and find more productive ways to achieve their goals. 

9. What's your very first step from here? 

Pull this question out with clients who drown themselves in "what if" thoughts. You can help ease their anxiety and increase their likelihood of taking action by getting them to focus on one step.

10. On a scale from 0-10, how likely are you to do that?

This question allows you to gauge your client's level of commitment to taking action. If they're not highly committed (7 or above), you can explore what's holding them back. 

11. What are your thoughts on that?

Asking for your client's thoughts shows that you value their opinion. It also allows you to understand their mindset and adjust your coaching accordingly.

12. When will you start taking action?

Create a sense of urgency with this question. Ensure that your client doesn't procrastinate on taking action. 

13. How will you celebrate completing that action item or goal?

Focusing on the positive is a key part of coaching. By asking this question, you help your client visualize the successful completion of their goal. It's a great way to increase motivation and build momentum. 

If you're new to coaching...or have been doing it for a while...these questions can help you run more effective coaching sessions. By asking the right questions, you can help your clients make progress towards their goals and achieve lasting success. 

Coaching session template

If you're interested in running a coaching session but aren't sure where to start, here's a template you can follow.

Introduction (0-5 minutes)

Review the previous week (or get to know a new client) and build rapport. Ask about their goals and challenges. Set the stage for helping each client feel safe with you.

Goal setting (5-10 minutes)

Help your client identify their goals for the coaching session. Make sure each of you feels aligned with working on those parts of their plan for the next few minutes.

The core of your coaching session (20-30 minutes)

Here's where you do your coaching. Roll out your techniques and strategies for helping clients overcome mental blocks and incorrect thinking patterns. Challenge them to go outside of their comfort zone.

Define commitments and action steps (10-15 minutes)

Discuss concrete steps your client can take to achieve their goals. Hold them accountable for taking action and making progress. Summarize the session, answer any final questions, and schedule the next session.

Reflection (15 minutes)

Schedule time for yourself after getting done with each coaching session. Summarize in your notes what you and your client discussed. Give yourself action items like checking in with your client in a couple of days. Use that check-in to ask about specific challenges you know might stop progress during the week. 


Running a coaching session is about asking the right questions and giving your client the space to talk. By following these simple tips, you can help your clients reach their goals and get the most out of their coaching experience. Use the tips and template we've given you to continue evolving your coaching style.

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