Skills Practice, Role Play and their use in Drama-Based Training

Senior Associate, Becky Stoddard explores Role Play, or Skills Practice, as we know it now.

Role Play, also referred to as Skills Practice, is one of the key techniques employed in drama-based training. It is firmly established as one of the most effective forms of training, and it has proven to be extremely successful in its objective – improving and developing skills and competencies for a specific business role (i.e. Leadership Development) or managing a particular industry issue (i.e. Unconscious Bias).

This form of skills practice is superior to more traditional training methods by significantly improving engagement and retention of the learning goals for the delegate.  Many of us have experience of more formal training, where the participant takes a passive role.  While there is some benefit in this form of teaching, it lacks the impact of skills practice, which brings the subject to life, provides an experience that is more memorable and is, hence, of more long-standing usefulness in the workplace.  

How It Works

To employ skills practice, role-plays can be both pre-written scenarios, and bespoke situations, depending on the organisation’s requirements.  With bespoke scenarios, the delegate explains to the actor (also known as a business simulator or role player)  a real-life, challenging work-based situation they are faced with. This is then played out as a conversation where the business simulator takes on the behavioural characteristics of the person the interaction relates to. The actor’s ability to bring to life a person within a scenario, and for that scenario to be used in training, development or assessment purposes is a powerful training tool.  Actors can realistically play a wide range of characters that reflect a company’s profile and can learn complex business briefs. This provides the participants with practical experience by implementing the theoretical skill set learned on a training course. When working with professional role players, participants can focus on their own performance and learn from their mistakes in a safe training environment.

While the visceral nature of role play training leads to a more impactful experience, the other great advantage that skills practice training delivers is the immediate feedback to the delegate on how they managed the situation, which is delivered in a constructive and sensitive way.  

This highlights the many advantages to using professional actors as opposed to keeping it all in-house. RPfT’s trained actors bring an authenticity that would be hard to achieve with colleagues. A skilled actor with experience in business simulation, will be able to simultaneously improvise from an outline brief, present a suitable challenge through credible and believable verbal and non-verbal responses, and then provide the specific, constructive feedback. 

In addition, a professional business simulato also has the ability to offer consistency of performance in order to provide a level playing field for candidates. This is vital within an assessment centre setting or in an interview situation. The actor will react and adjust their performance purely in response to the candidate’s performance.

Virtual Arena

Any discussion on drama-based training that references modernity versus tradition, must also address the virtual arena.  While there is nothing to beat the “buzz” that accompanies the live experience, RPfT along with the rest of the world has been working hard to reimagine our training programmes online.  We have been delighted by the fact that the virtual training sessions we have delivered post Covid-19 have all been phenomenally successful. The sophisticated software available and the use of facilities such as breakout rooms, allows us to replicate all previously used training settings and situations. 

The virtual experience is certainly different, but nothing has dramatically changed about the final destination.  As a team, we have worked hard to ensure that smooth transition to virtual training and to ensure the scenarios stay relevant to remote working.  Each program has been reimagined to meet the requirements of the virtual arena, while maintaining the integrity of the training, continuing to deliver on the learning objectives and still creating memorable and impactful learning experiences.

 

“Whilst transforming the course into a virtual learning experience poses its challenges, I have found that working with RPfT has helped in ensuring that all the courses that we have run, have been delivered effectively.”  Lewis Lee, KPMG

 

In fact, we have been surprised by some of the upsides to our virtual training.  For instance, we have found that many delegates find it less intimidating to be able to partake from the comfort of their own spaces.  There are no geographical considerations to consider when matching the right actors to the right training.  As a result, the environmental impact can be reduced.  Finally, where organisations might previously have needed to hire expensive venues for larger training groups, those costs can now be saved.

In summary, the use of role play with professional actors, whether in the virtual or the physical world, provides a platform that is as close to the real thing as is possible, yet with the opportunity for error, reflection, and replay. Benjamin Franklin famously quoted an old Chinese proverb:

 

“Tell me and I forget, teach me and I remember, involve me and I learn.”