Thursday, March 27, 2008

11 Ways Trainers Can Create Terrific Role Plays: Part Four


10. Applaud. Praise and validate the role players' work. Thank them for their contributions. Point out where they used the learning points and how it led to a successful outcome. Applaud them for taking the risk of role playing.

11. When "failures" happen, focus on the process rather than the person. When role players don't follow the learning points, say (for example), "Well, that certainly put him in his place. What might be some of the drawbacks to handling it that way?" Discuss the behaviors. Have the role players try the same situation again, with suggestions from other participants. Thank the role players for providing good material for discussion. After all, the whole group will learn from things that don't work out as well as from those that do.

Role plays can be a great teaching tool, with your help. You can design, introduce and facilitate them so learners:

  • Know what they're supposed to be doing

  • Aren't afraid of being judged

  • Feel free to experiment and have fun

With less anxiety and more targeted learning, who knows? Maybe role plays will become your company's favorite learning technique.

Reprinted with permission from Training Today.

Monday, March 24, 2008

11 Ways Trainers Can Create Terrific Role Plays: Part Three

4. Focus on a small, important piece of behavior. Don't try to do too much in a single role play. If you're training people in a process, work it section by section. For example, in sales training, focus on establishing rapport, then on asking probing questions, etc. -- perhaps with different participants playing the salesperson in each section.

  1. 5. Don't be afraid of "negative models." You can inject a lot of humor -- and learning -- into a workshop by asking people to "do everything wrong." For example, in the customer service situation, ask the person playing the rep to come up with three bad ways to handle the complaining customer (such as sounding bored, using sarcasm, and shouting at her), and then let the participants discuss why those approaches didn't work -- the consequences of not using the new learning. You can generate a lot of energy with this exercise, and the humor helps break the ice for further role playing.


6. Take role players off the hook. Tell them, "You're not you in this role play, you're somebody else just like you." Refer to the character by another name, not the role player's name. Creating distance between the character and the self means participants don't have to own any errors they make -- they're not really "their" mistakes. Sometimes it helps to set role plays at a fictional company similar to the real one.

7. Strive for a better -- not a perfect -- interaction. Let participants know that you'll applaud any success, even a small one.

8. Bring a sense of fun to the exercise. Keep it light. People learn better through humor, liveliness, and enjoyment.

9. Share the risk. Let role players work in teams, sharing solutions and coaching each other. Have the team come up to the front, so the person who is actually doing the role play can turn to his team for advice. Have team members replace each other in the role, as in tag-team wrestling, so no one has to do the entire exercise by herself.

To be continued...

Thursday, March 20, 2008

11 Ways Trainers Can Create Terrific Role Plays: Part Two

Here are 11 ways to make role plays work for you. We've divided these tips into the three phases of creating a role play: Design (how you structure the exercise), Instructions (how you explain the exercise to participants), and Facilitation (how you work with the role players as the exercise is taking place).


1. Be specific. Most role plays fail because they're too general, and people don't know what to do. Choose the circumstances of the role play carefully. Fill in lots of detail. For example, if it's customer service training, don't just ask someone to play a complaining customer. Tell the role players exactly what the issue is: "You're a credit card customer who asked last month to have an erroneous charge removed from your bill. You just got the new bill, and the charge is still there." And to the person playing the customer service rept: "Two people are out sick, and you're covering for them, even though you should have gone to lunch a half-hour ago. The last person you talked to hung up on you." This level of detail helps role players believe in the action. They're less likely to be distracted by their own nerves or by others' reactions.

2. Make the role play situation important to the characters. The stakes should be high. For example, a valuable employee is ready to quit because his manager never recognizes his achievements. The manager already has been warned by her boss about too much turnover in her department. When the outcome is important to the characters, the exercise has more energy and interest for the role players and for those watching.

3. Target the learning points. Make sure the situation you choose will make the role players deal with the behavior you want to reinforce. Because new learning feels uncomfortable, most role players will try to avoid acting it out. Close the escape hatches by picking a situation that must be solved by putting the learning points into practice.

To be continued...

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

11 Ways Trainers Can Create Terrific Role Plays: Part One

You know that role plays are a wonderful tool for turning theory into practice. They can answer that crucial question, "How does this apply to me?" By giving learners a chance to try out new behaviors in a controlled setting, they can jump-start the application of new learning back on the job. They get people out of their chairs and into action.

So why do so many learners hate role plays? You've seen it happen: participants groan when a role play is announced. You can't get a volunteer, so you have to force someone to come up. The role players are too easy on each other, or they give up too soon -- or they just undermine the whole exercise with joking or hostility. What's going on here?

It's simple: they're afraid they're going to make fools of themselves. As a trainer, you know that most people get anxious when they have to get up in front of a group. They're afraid they'll be judged. When that group consists of their peers and co-workers, it feels even riskier. And when they're not sure what they're supposed to be doing, that anxiety goes sky-high.

You can reduce the risk of role plays. You can't take away people's performance anxiety -- but you can minimize it through the way you design, set up, and facilitate role plays. You can create an atmosphere of humor and experimentation, and you can ensure succcess for all participants -- no matter what mistakes they make.

Here are 11 ways to make role plays work for you. We've divided these tips into the three phases of creating a role play: Design (how you structure the exercise), Instructions (how you explain the exercise to participants), and Facilitation (how you work with the role players as the exercise is taking place).

To be continued...

Monday, March 17, 2008

Flying lessons

At Workplace Productions, we create "flight simulators" for new learning: opportunities for people to practice skills in a low-risk setting before they go back to the job. We find it's the most effective way to make the transition from classroom to real life.
One of our favorite techniques is using our interactors (specially trained professional actors) in brief, intense simulations with learners. We do tons of research and create realistic situations that mirror those our participants are going to deal with back at work. They're like role plays on steroids (only legal!), because the interactors know how to keep the simulation on track and don't make it easy for the learner.

But what do you do if you're not bringing us in for a training?

A few years back I wrote an article for the magazine Training Today called "11 Ways Trainers Can Create Terrific Role Plays." I drew on our years of experience working with the form to help people use this great learning tool more effectively with the resources on hand.

With Training Today's generous permission, I'll be posting the article in several chunks over the next few days. I'd love your thoughts on it, so please leave a comment.

Thursday, March 13, 2008

Good words

In the beginner's mind there are many possibilities, but in the expert's there are few. - Shunryu Suzuki Roshi

Cracking the Curse

So what's the cure for the Curse of Knowlege? How do we communicate what we know to those who don't know it -- without getting tied to the railroad track of our own understanding?

The most direct way is through stories.

Stories are how our brains work. We can understand more by a quick anecdote than by dozens of charts and graphs. Stories supply context.

Our expertise tends to assume that others are with us. They're not: we have to take them there. And concrete, emotionally lively stories are the quickest way.

Basically, we unboil the message our knowledge has boiled down. We're using a kind of mental shorthand internally -- but it's meaningless to those who haven't shared with us all the experiences that created our understanding. So we have to talk in terms that we both understand. Add vividness and credibility, and you've cracked the Curse.

I love shop talk of all kinds, and I'm fortunate that what I do allows me to learn a little bit about a lot of different businesses. It's not only fascinating -- it keeps me humble. Listening to a lineman, a university administrator, a shift nurse, I get a glimpse into another person's world. It's clear that they know things I can only guess at.

My best understanding of their workplaces comes through their stories.

My task as a learning designer is to find the common place where our different mindsets can meet. In my experience, it's stories that take us to that place.

Friday, March 7, 2008

Good words

Anyone can do any amount of work, provided it isn't the work he is supposed to be doing at that moment. - Robert Benchley

Tuesday, March 4, 2008

Curses! Foiled again!

The idea from Made to Stick that I find myself quoting the most is the Curse of Knowledge.

That Snidely Whiplash-like phrase means that once we know something, we can't imagine the state of mind of someone who doesn't know it. And it's a curse, all right.

The Curse of Knowledge is what's operating when we sling the training lingo around. We're standing up there, staring at learners who are blinking blankly back at us. They don't know what we're talking about, and we can't figure out what's not to understand. But it's more than just a jargon gap.

When we're under the Curse of Knowledge, we assume that everyone has the same information we have. And the more expert we are in any subject, the further we are from the true mindset of the people we think we're communicating with, because we've been immersed for years in material that may be brand new to our listeners. When we understand something in our bones, it's hard to imagine that others don't get it at all. As Chip Heath and Dan Heath say in Made to Stick, "you tend to communicate as if your audience were you."

I've found it quite useful to be alert for the Curse of Knowledge in my life. I look for signs that I've made assumptions, and that my communication may be foiled again.

How to dispel the Curse? More on that in a later post.

Monday, March 3, 2008

Good words

The creation of something new is not accomplished by the intellect but by the play instinct acting from inner necessity. The creative mind plays with the objects it loves. - Carl Jung