4 Steps to Better Role Plays

Are role-plays still a valid part of the learning process?

The dreaded role-play! When most people find out that they’re required to do a role-play as part of a training course they groan ‘oh no, do we have to?’ especially when it’s in front of their peers. Most would willingly trade the role-play for a five thousand word essay which is arguably more arduous and less beneficial. Why does the thought of doing a role-play have this effect?


  1. They’re artificial – not like real life, so you don’t behave the same way and don’t give a true account of yourself
  2. The high probability that you will make a mistake under pressure and look foolish or incompetent in front of your colleagues
  3. The embarrassment of being put ‘on the spot’ and not knowing how to respond or ‘freezing’ at the crucial moment
  4. Knowing that you are going to get ‘feedback’ which will inevitably include some criticism or areas that ‘require improvement’

Having been on both sides of innumerable role-plays over the last 25 years – we know they can play a vital part in the learning process. We get surprising feedback ourselves from people who, afterwards say that the role-play was the highlight of the session and the section from which they learnt the most important lessons about themselves.

So how do we ensure that use of role-play has maximum benefit for the participant with minimum cringe factor?


Make them Realistic – do research on the background and context for the role-play; include appropriate technical details, style of language and genuine issues.

Make them Relevant – take examples of activities the participant will face in their job role – and get their input on the context e.g. Handling Complaints, Conducting Performance Reviews, Dealing With Objections, Making Presentations, Selection Interviews etc.

Make them Safe – talk about the methodology you are going to use, and that they can stop, rewind, and try again at any stage, it’s a chance to learn from their mistakes; after all, it’s better to make mistakes amongst your peers than in front of your customers.

Make them Structured – provide a framework with some kind of rationale or logic to the order of events and enough flexibility to adapt to the individual; and explain the criteria for the feedback and how it is designed to help.

Role-plays can be challenging, thought-provoking and fun ways to draw out and develop participants’ interpersonal skills.