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The Creative Edge

Redesign Corporate Learning: Using Improv and Live Role Play for Deeper Learning

Training oftentimes focuses on delivering a large amount of information and misses the mark on giving the participants a realistic experience of how to apply what they are learning.

More and more businesses are using interactive training to teach and assess all types of learning. One of the more successful ways of delivering a corporate training experience is through scenario-based role play exercises. Companies have used this technique to prepare employees for sales meetings, interviews, presentations, or even navigating difficult conversations. By acting out scenarios like these, employees can put their training to the test in situations that are likely to mimic real life. The added bonus is that role play-based exercises can help your team build experience and self-confidence. It is also a great tool for brainstorming sessions, to improve communication between team members, and to see problems or situations from different perspectives.

Interestingly enough, it’s not a new thing. For many years, role play, simulation, and theatre-based learning techniques have been used as a training methodology. It’s allowed teams to build skills, test strategies, and develop safe practice in a constructive environment.

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If you use role playing in your onboarding or training already, you know how useful it can be to help you or your team prepare.

Here are a few pointers to help prepare and have a smooth session:

Prepare

Script out the conversation. Even though it will be an improvised role play, it’s important to know the desired outcome.

Let’s say the scenario is that you’re onboarding new managers and want to simulate some of the difficult conversations they might need to have in their new leadership roles. The role play might consist of the new manager and a designated person playing the team member. Whether you hire a professional actor (more on this in a bit) or use one of the training team members to play the role, the journey of the character they are playing needs to be carefully plotted. It’s important that the person in training knows what s/he wants and what the obstacles are that are keeping him/her from getting that.

AMP Improv Night

Sample role play activity

It is equally important to define the expectations of the trainee (in this scenario that would be the new manager). What would be a “successful” response? What would be the “wrong” way to respond? Knowing these things helps with facilitating a debrief after the role play.

Schedule Properly

Some people find the idea of participating in live role play — and the “stage fright” that can accompany it — stressful. Therefore, starting the training module with this type of interactive exercise could be difficult and less productive than you would want. That’s why we recommend that you equip your trainees with enough information and confidence to help them have the conversation they will need to have.

 

You’ll also want to schedule check-ins with your trainees. You can do these information collection checkpoints during various times throughout the training. For instance, if you want to assess how the training information has been digested, schedule it towards the end of the module. If you want to see where the trainees are in their comprehension before they start their training you would want it towards the beginning.

 

All in all, schedule ice breakers and the time for people to adjust to their setting. You should also have plenty of time after the exercise for a debrief. Often the conversations that happen after the live interaction is the most valuable part of the training.

AMP Improv Night

Sample role play activity

Cast Appropriately

Most of the time, when using role play in training, companies use an actor for the participant to play against. This is both convenient and efficient. Having someone who knows the ins and outs of the training goals and expectations will help when it comes to facilitating and steering the conversation so that the participant’s knowledge is truly tested.

 

The other option — using an actual team member  — has its limitations. Facilitators and/or participants aren’t actors — they can’t keep their motivation straight and, in the end, how many of these exercises end in laughter instead of the effective practice of a new skill?

AMP typically provides trained improv actors when it comes to role playing exercises, simply because they understand the business landscape and how to engage with your audience for maximum learning. We’ve combined decades of experience with sound project management and learning expertise to help clients break new ground when training, onboarding, or developing new projects. Professional actors can, without any personal connection, achieve an emotional intensity that allows participants to be comfortably and safely pushed to competency limits. Also, when enlisting a professional actor it’s vital to follow with an extensive and thorough onboarding and rehearsal process for said actor. At AMP we do most, if not all, of this virtually to save cost.

AMP Improv Night

Sample role play activity

When planning your next interactive training delivery, it’s worth finding a partner to help you explore the option of crafting and catering your specific live role play needs, whether that requires creative hacks, scripting, facilitating or simply plugging in actors to an existing program. Most importantly, don’t forget to thoroughly plan the interaction, schedule the session carefully, and make sure you’re using the right people to play the right roles.

And…break a leg!

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About Matthew Gray

Matthew spent the better part of 15 years in professional theatre acting, directing, and producing. Next, he moved to corporate live events and produced everything from meetings of 50 all the way up to gatherings of 2,000 for a fortune 100 company. He could not be more delighted to be a producer on the AMP team.

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