Six Ways to Build a Better Training Role Play

Many people find the six dirtiest words in a training setting to be: “Now let’s do a role play!”

There are many reasons people don’t like role play, and many of those reasons are legitimate. Often people don’t have enough context to carry on an effective scenario. Often the role play arrives at a happily-ever-after sort of conclusion that is neat and easy to wrap up in a training setting, but not actually realistic at all. Often people don’t like getting up in front of all their colleagues… and then receive feedback.

There’s gotta be a better way.   Continue reading

20 Reasons to Embrace Role Play


“Ok everyone, we’re going to shift gears now and move into an activity. It’s a role play…”

Before you can finish your sentence, 80% of the room groans, 12% roll their eyes, 5% just sit in silent judgment of you and 3% suddenly need to step out of the room to take an “important” call.

In my experience, people almost universally despise role-play activities. This is an important point to acknowledge as you design your next training segment, but it doesn’t mean we should toss this instructional strategy out.

Here are 20 reasons for L&D professionals to embrace role play:

  1. The training room is a “lab without consequences” and role play allows people to try out new things before they need to actually do those things in a work setting. “What kinds of things?” you ask…
  2. Coaching.
  3. Giving feedback.
  4. Receiving feedback.
  5. Interviewing.
  6. Customer service.
  7. Sales.
  8. Courageous conversations around difficult topics. The list could go on this way, but let’s look at some other reasons, too.
  9. Sometimes things sound so much better in your head than they do when they come out of your mouth. Role play allows you to better align the intent in your head to the delivery that comes out of your mouth.
  10. As my 3rd-grade daughter says: “practice makes progress.”
  11. Sometimes it’s just a lot easier to have learners try your new content or way of doing things on for size (through role play) as opposed to continuing to talk in conceptual terms.
  12. If people don’t like “role play“, then this type of activity allows you to use cool words like “simulation” or “interactive case study” instead.
  13. It gets your learners involved, allowing them no other choice than to stay present and engage with your content.
  14. Which means that if it’s an activity scheduled immediately after lunch, there will be no temptation to doze off!
  15. For presenters who don’t like to be the center of attention, role play takes the attention completely off you… for a little while, anyway.
  16. Role play allows designers to unleash their creativity in the scenarios they outline for their learners to navigate.
  17. By adding their own spin, learners may take your content and concepts to a level you didn’t even know existed, which makes role play a learning opportunity for presenters as well.
  18. If your learners didn’t know each other before a role-playing activity, they sure will know each other afterward!
  19. The buzz and energy and conversations that permeate the room as learners are role-playing can be infectious and carry over throughout the remainder of your presentation (seriously, compare the energy in the room between a lecture and a role play… which seems like an environment that is more alive?).
  20. The de-brief of a role-play is fairly easy to set up (“What was easy about that? What proved to be most challenging?”) yet can lead to so many ah-ha moments, and isn’t that what training is all about?

Looking for something beyond role play? Here are 18 instructor-led training activities you could use to engage your learners in a variety of training situations.

What did I miss? Any other reasons to embrace role play? Let’s hear your thoughts in the comment section!

Know someone who’s reluctant to insert role-playing activities into their presentations? Why not pass this along?

Training Tips: Effective Role Play

What better way to make your audience squirm and moan than by announcing that your next activity will be a role play?

While role playing can be an essential element to skill building and providing meaningful feedback to training participants, too many role playing activities are poorly designed, ambiguous, and can go on forever and/or end too easily and too happily.

The biggest weakness I’ve observed in the design of role playing activities is that only one person is generally given instructions (because that is the person being observed) – everyone else is expected to simply go with the flow.  My favorite way to design a role play is to provide everyone in the scenario with a specific set of instructions so that the scenario remains focused and isn’t too easy to resolve.

For example, if the purpose of a role playing scenario is to demonstrate effective feedback-giving skills, I might provide the person who is supposed to provide feedback with an observation form (click here for a sample observation form) along with instructions to provide feedback to a person who isn’t quite ready to facilitate a lesson in front of a group.

At the same time, I’d provide a separate set of instructions to the person receiving feedback.  These instructions could simply be a list of bulleted points, but at least this person would have a better feel for the role she should play and the type of resistance she should offer during the role play.  Her instructions may look like this:

You are about to receive feedback about whether or not you will be deemed qualified and proficient in providing facilitation services to groups at your organization.  Keep the following points in mind as you receive feedback:

  • You may wish to ask your evaluator his/her qualifications to “deem” anyone qualified and proficient
  • Pay close attention to what the evaluator is telling you – nodding at any feedback that is affirming and shaking      your head in disagreement at any feedback that may seem critical, but do not say anything to the evaluator unless you are asked to speak.
  • If you are deemed qualified and proficient, you will be in the position for a promotion and a raise
  • If you are not deemed qualified and proficient, you may be stuck in your current role and routine, which you’ve been doing for the past 7 years… and you will do anything (within reason) to move away from your current role!

While role plays should not be scripted verbatim, providing additional structure and information for everyone involved can help make the situation more real, thus creating a more effective learning experience.

The Train Like A Champion blog is published on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays.  These brief “Training Tip” posts are a series of quick reference tips that are published while your beloved Train Like A Champion blogger is currently enjoying a little vacation.  The more in-depth posts will resume again later in August.