It's not often that people turn up to training courses eager to crack on with role playing.
I don't think I've ever had a delegate arrive buzzing with enthusiasm fueled by the anticipation of a decent bit of role play.
More often they express their reluctance and terror about the very idea.
Yet, despite this widespread fear and revulsion, it's often the bit of the course that gets the best feedback at the end of the day.
So how can we make sure the role play works as well as it can, without scaring the crap out of everybody?
Six Steps to Successful Role Plays
This was the topic of discussion when I interviewed Larry Reynolds (of 21st Century Leader) for the Trainer Tools podcast.
Step 1: use real case studies
This step is about not using pre-prepared examples generated by a well-meaning facilitator, examples that reflect the facilitator's own priorities and experience, but asking the people on the course to develop their own examples based on their own learning needs.
At this stage it's not about role playing, it's about developing some real-life case studies.
This usually means people working in groups of three and writing up the bones of their scenario on a flipchart. This might be a factual example from one of the members of the group, or something made up, or something that's a combination of the scenarios of two or three members of the group.
Step 2: choose a scenario to role play
Ask each group to briefly explain their scenario, noting who is doing the talking, how confident they seem, how willing they might be to role play.
You make it clear that we will be looking at each scenario, but some we'll look at in more depth, then pick the scenario that has the most general applicability for the whole course, and one that has the most confident and vocal people.
You now introduce the idea of role play, so you then ask them if they'd be willing to turn their scenario into a role play, under two conditions:
- They get to choose which part to play
- They get lots of help and support from the others on the course
Any other parts in the scenario should be covered by the others in the same team ideally, or, if they're not up for it (although this never happens), any other volunteers from the other groups.
Step 3: set it up properly
Now you've got the scenario and the volunteers, you have to set it up properly.
First explain that it's not real, it's only a role play, but the learning is real - and consequently if they need to invent any facts and figures to keep it flowing, just go for it. It's the process not the content that's important.
The next (and most important) thing is to explain the PAUSE button!
This means that anyone within the role play, anyone watching, and the facilitator can, at any time, press PAUSE.
This is hugely powerful and takes a lot of pressure off the performance - more in the next step.
Third, ensure those watching the role play are clear on their role. They have to be ready to provide feedback at the end, something positive but also something the role players could have done even better.
Lastly, feed in the first line to help them get going - the first step is always the hardest and if you can get it moving, the momentum gathers and it flows more easily.
Step 4: know when to use pause!
This is really about having the intuition to know when and how to use the PAUSE button.
Pressing PAUSE can be particularly useful if someone is stuck for something to say, or if it's going off in the wrong direction. As a facilitator you can press PAUSE and ask the rest of the group for ideas as to how to proceed.
I think it's often useful to press PAUSE fairly quickly to break the ice to show that it's OK to use it, and , if necessary, to boost the confidence of anyone who might be a bit nervous and struggling with early nerves and self-consciousness.
Step 5: know when to finish
As a general rule it's better to keep it shorter rather than longer.
It's not essential for every scenario to fully play itself out. It can be stopped once the main chunks of learning have been established.
As with the previous point, this is a judgement call.
Step 6: manage the debrief
The most important part of the whole process is the debrief.
Ideally you want the observers to give quality feedback to the role-players, covering all the main learning points and including both positive and developmental points, but more often than not, this won't happen.
Start with the observers anyway, ask them to each give one piece of positive reinforcing feedback, then one piece of developmental feedback. This gives you time as a facilitator to think through anything you may need to add in.
You can then give your feedback, and lastly give the role-players time to reflect and comment.
Two last points ...
Ensure all learning is related back to any relevant models or theories from the course, or any particular approach from the organisation (for example, organisation competences).
Do something with the other scenarios. So far we've generated three or four case studies, and only role played one of them.
This may mean you run a second (or third even) role play, or it could mean running a plenary or group discussions, or some other form of activity ... whatever makes most sense given the content of the case study and the energy and dynamics of the day. The main point is that each scenario must be addressed somehow.
... and that's it!
Six steps to making sure role playing on your training course are really successful.
Specialist in Learning & Development, currently working at the UK Foreign Office as Deputy Head of L&D (Europe).
Love of writing and audio, hence being a keen blogger and podcaster (founder and host of the Trainer Tools podcast).
Host of the Trainer Tools podcast (trainer-tools.com), a podcast to share effective training tools and tips across the L&D community.