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5 Strategies to improve Role Play

Today I saw this video on social media.
It's showing a role play simulation taking place during a seminar and boy, did it make me cringe...

Not because of the lovely people doing their absolute best, but because of the lack of roleplay techniques. I guess that when you work a professional role-play actor every day you deal with a lot of people who fear role-plays and had very traumatizing experiences. This made me extremely passionate about making sure role-play simulations are being done correctly.

Because in a world of e-learning, learning bites, blended learning and brain based learning, the simple act of role-play is still one of the most effective and impactful ways of changing behavior.
If... done correctly.

So what can we learn from this video?

1. Roleplay needs to be voluntary. 
In the video we see Stuart being forced to do the role-play scenario. The presenter puts him in front of an audience without any consent. Stuart jokes to the audience "I never signed up for this..." and you can see his discomfort. Even though Stuart is an absolute professional about it, a role-play should never feel unsafe for the participant. And you should never ever force people into it.

2. Roleplay is fun but not to be laughed at. 
The presenter states she looks forward to "seeing Stuart sweat" and the description of the video speaks of a 'Hilarious live role play". Maybe you were laughing yourself watching the video. But role play is essentially about practicing and developing new behaviors. People should feel free to laugh and have fun, but it should not be at somebody else's expense, exposure or failure.

3. Role play needs a purpose 
So why did this role play take place? To "watch the master work?" like the presenter says? Without a clear focus (purpose) it quickly turns into a role-play just for the sake of doing a role play.

If the purpose indeed was to "watch the master work" it would have been more effective to inform Stuart prior to the seminar that they would like to show a demonstration of the right way to sell a car. That way Stuart could have prepared for it.

If the purpose was to improve Stuart's skills on dealing with objections it would have been more effective to ask Stuart what skills he actually wanted to improve. The role play then should have stopped once Stuart has dealt with an objection. The key is then to focus on what Stuart did successfully and what he can improve.

4. Work with professionals
Diann plays the customer in the video. She is absolutely lovely and didn't give Stuart a hard time at all. But role play acting is a true art and it requires a lot more then you initially think.
So what would a professional role play actor have done differently?

Firstly he or she would have laid down the rules. How are we going to tackle this together?

Secondly, they would have provided more learning opportunities. (In this case: objections)

Also, they would have spent less time talking, as a professional role-play actor only speaks a maximum of 20% of the time as it is the participant who needs to shine.

Finally, a role-play actor would have been able to display professional acting skills to create a real-life scenario that comes very close to reality and therefore increases the impact of the learning experience.

5. Follow up
In the video, the role play ends and Stuart is complimented by the presenter that "He sold the car!".
People applaud and everyone goes back to their seats and on with the show.
A missed opportunity!

The most powerful aspect of a role play is the feedback afterward. Providing constructive feedback on the effect of verbal and non-verbal communication during the conversation is the only way people will learn what works for or against them.

So next time you think of doing a role play, think about these five strategies and make sure your role play becomes effective, safe and fun!

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