Using a role play during training is a great way to act out a situation for the purpose of further discussion and analysis. Role-plays can help learners to identify problems, share experiences and discuss possible solutions.
Small training room/classroom.
6 to 12 people
- 5 minutes to introduction to the exercise
- 10 minutes per role-play followed by discussion (3-4 role plays)
- 5-10 minutes for final exercise review and debrief
Role-play Exercise Setup
Before you begin, you will need to select a topic or theme to cover. When selecting a topic, it is important to link these to your training learning outcomes to ensure you maximize your training time. Once a topic has been selected, you should next identify the key points to be covered through the role-play and Identify roles.
Next, prepare some role-play conversations and gather any required materials (props, question cards etc).
When setting up your training room, you should set aside an area to be the stage and a seating area for observers.
Introduce the exercise and define the result you want to achieve as the result of the role play and how these link to the overall training outcomes.
Set the scene by describing the situation and the roles involved. Role-play situations should be carefully selected and be challenging for participants.
Ask for volunteers to play the roles. Alternatively, you and your team could play the roles as a demonstration. Ensure that the role players understand the reason of the role play (the why) and agree to play these parts.
Allow five minutes for role players to prepare for their performance. Observers (other participants) will watch the role-play and will lead the discussion after the role-play has been performed.
Observers should watch the dynamics of the situation, how the role-players attitudes and feelings change, and how they deal with difficult moments.
Provide around five minutes for the role-play to be performed. Once the situation has become sufficiently explored you should stop the role-play.
You should also stop the role-play if:
- The role-play is not serving its purpose
- The role-play becomes heated
- to analyse something in more detail
- to ask role players to share their feelings
Following on from the role-play, use questions then discussion to help participants identify key learning points and link the role-play to your training objectives.
- Ask observers to share what they learned from the role-play.
- Ask role-players (performers) to share how they found the experience and what they learned.
Try to ask questions based on the topic or subject of the role-play and encourage discussion. Finish off by summarising the findings and any key points.
Here are a few example questions:
To the observers
- What did you notice most about the role-play? Can you identify one thing that stood out?
- Why do you think the role-players behaved the way they did?
- Would you have behaved differently in the same situation?’
- Did you notice any problems? What was the cause of the problems?
- Looking back on the role-play, what solutions would you suggest?
To the role-players
- How did you feel during the role-play? Did your feelings change? Why was that?
- What was the most difficult part of the role-play and how did you overcome this?
- Reflecting back, is there anything you would have done differently?
Tips and Guidance
To avoid observer boredom, a role-play exercise should not be too long. I have suggested around 5 minutes for each role-play but don’t be afraid to cut this short if necessary.
Role plays can take place in any setting and are a valuable training technique when used with a focus on the topic or theme of your training workshop.
Another way to identify the subject of a role-play is to ask learners to share any time they have had difficulty in dealing with certain situations and factor this in as the focus when running the role-play.
Role Play Training Method Advantages and Disadvantages
With proper implementation, role plays can be a powerful tool in your training arsenal. Here are some of the advantages and disadvantages (pitfalls) to look out for.
- Role playing gives the learner a safe, low-stress, no-consequence environment to practice techniques before trying them out in their job.
- Can be used for evaluating potential job candidates or to evaluate progress and understanding of training concepts.
- Can be used by management or team leaders to focus on specific skills to see what areas need improvement in their staff.
- Allows team members to learn from other highly skilled colleagues by watching and copying techniques, and receive real-time feedback on their actions.
- Allows learners to learn from both theory and practice, thus getting a more in-depth understanding of the target skill.
Disadvantages and pitfalls
- Many people feel uncomfortable in role play situations and even dread this part of the training.
- Inconsistent feedback from inexpert members can confuse and limit training growth. Effective roleplay facilitators should make use of highly skilled team members (experts in that field) to give constructive feedback to lower skilled members.
- Role play training takes a significant amount of time — preparation, doing the role play, providing feedback, debrief and review — but is often rushed and isn’t given the time it deserves. You can mitigate this by planning ahead and budgeting enough time.
- Many training sessions fail by having groups that are too large, and dilute the amount of learning that could have occurred. Limit your group to 10-12 people (or half that) for best results.
All in all role playing for training is an essential tool for any sales team or manager.
Have you used the role playing method in your own training or development sessions? If you have some helpful pointers, or questions, please share with us in the comments!