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.

2 thoughts on “Training Tips: Effective Role Play

    • I’m with you Tony – from a learner’s perspective I don’t like role plays much either. One of the biggest reasons is because I often feel they aren’t as realistic as they could/should be. I think I’d embrace them more as a participant if everyone in the role play was given some sort of “motivation” and structure.

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