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Roleplaying for Training and Development
The benefits of well-structured, well-delivered roleplay sessions are compelling, but it’s not surprising that so many of us have a feeling of apprehension when hearing the word ‘roleplay’. Most of us have experienced roleplaying with varying degrees of success, sometimes as an in-house session, or delivered by external practitioners. Some of us may have been fortunate, and will have gained something useful from a positive experience – others may not have been so lucky.
My approach – whether I work on my own or with my larger team of actor associates – is to ensure that the scoping and diagnostic process develops scenarios that are well researched, relevant and credible; that the training or assessment outcomes are clearly defined; and the wider team is effectively briefed to deliver a successful outcome for every participant, depending on the bespoke requirements of each client.
Creating an appropriately focused but relaxed environment to enable participants to be themselves, and perform at their best, is critical – whether one-to-one or in larger groups, we all have the right to be well supported, treated with respect, and encouraged to try new things without fear of failure. That way, it is much more likely that skills practised in the training room will be quickly transferred and practically applied to the workplace.
Roleplaying for Assessment and Recruitment
When roleplaying for assessment and recruitment, there is an additional critical requirement for the process to be fair, consistent and measurable. With that in mind, the clarity of briefing and key assessment criteria are paramount, as well as the experience and professionalism of the acting team. Written or verbal feedback can be provided to assessors or facilitators in response to pre-determined, evidence-based criteria, such as behavioural styles, capability KPIs, or critical factors in individual scenarios that led to successful or unsuccessful outcomes.
Forum theatre is an interactive session – typically lasting about an hour – in which two or more actors play out a scripted scene which may have an unsuccessful outcome. The audience is then invited to interact with one or two of the characters involved to understand more about motivations and behaviours, what worked and what didn’t, and they are challenged to offer guidance or coaching to bring about a better outcome. The scene is then replayed from the beginning using the coaching suggestions from the audience, and is now entirely improvised by the actors according to the advice given, while the audience has the power to stop or rewind the action when something doesn’t have the desired effect.
As the scene is replayed, critical success factors such as body language, verbal content, attitude and behavioural style can all be highlighted, debated and then tested in a wholly safe and highly entertaining environment.
Clients have told me that they love the dynamic, humorous and thoroughly engaging nature of forum theatre. They also appreciate the fact that it is entirely ‘safe’ for the audience, whether as part of a 300-delegate conference on developing client relationships or an intimate 6-participant training session on managing difficult conversations.
One-to-one coaching starts with understanding the client’s goals, and combining various practical activities or exercises to provide a tailored, bespoke experience. Every client has their own reasons for wanting to spend time and money developing or enhancing aspects of their communication skills – but all of them will want to take away something that can be applied immediately, and provides long-term benefits. The process should be stretching but also enjoyable – if the balance is successfully struck then our sessions will be challenging and hugely rewarding.
Interactive, practical workshops have been developed for clients in all aspects of communication, from Personal Impact sessions for trainee barristers at the Inner Temple, to a bespoke session on Coaching Skills for British Gas. Depending on the client’s learning outcomes and cultural context, a variety of drama-based exercises and activities can be combined to provide a bespoke workshop experience that will be memorable, enjoyable and support meaningful behavioural change.
Whether for a live performance at a conference or training event, or for training films, I have provided treatments and scripts that have succinctly incorporated key issues, relevant behaviours and key learning points. Sometimes this has taken the form of technically complex, formal scripts that have needed to be signed off by the client and then rendered perfectly by the actors, or alternatively they have been loose frameworks around which the actors are free to improvise. Either way, I am always responsive to the client’s needs, will work within a specified budget, and have the creative flair to deliver successful, entertaining and worthwhile results.