Practising for Reality

Contrary to what is widely thought, in a role play situation, employees ‘play’ themselves and are not required to ‘act’. Role Play (in an Educational setting) can be described as the opportunity to practise a specific work-related situation to support and enhance a particular learning or skill.It is an interactive exercise between a participant or candidate and one or more role players.

Role play adds an exciting, challenging and most importantly an experiential aspect to training or development programmes, allowing participants to learn by experimentation, where they can ‘try out’ and be coached in new techniques or approaches in a safe,positive and constructive environment. It involves both intellectual and emotional participation from participants. It accelerates learning and raises self-awareness.

The well-known quote from Confucius: "I hear and I forget. I see and I remember. I do and I understand," explains the reason why role play is so effective. Role Play (or simulation as it is also known) can be used in a variety of ways to support the theoretical content of development programmes or as a vital tool in assessment, Recruitment or high stakes exams.

How Role Playing work

One-to-one role play is usually facilitated by a trainer using professional role players in small learning groups. The scenarios are constructed around the learning outcomes and the role player has a specific background, characteristics and personality. The participant plays him/herself in a given scenario, using the opportunity to work on the new learning and get feedback from the observers, facilitator and role player. Scenarios can also be 'bespoke' , where the participants get to work on specific difficult aspects of conversations/meetings that they anticipate or have experienced where the outcome was less than satisfactory.


The crucial value that the professional role player brings, apart from the ability to play the role authentically, is the ability to give honest, in the moment and constructive feedback to the participants at the end of each role play. This will be based on what they observed, knowledge of the particular learning outcomes and the impact the participant had on them in that meeting. Participants also get the chance to be observers, allowing them the opportunity to learn from their colleague doing and feed back the insights gleaned.

What it can be used for

There are many types of training where role play adds and indeed can be a critical element:
  • Performance Management Programmes
  • Conflict management
  • Leadership development
  • Introduction to management skills
  • Sales
  • Influencing skills
  • Competency-based interviewing skills
  • Mediation skills.
It has successfully been used for managers, business leaders, lawyers, HR managers, sales personnel, hospitality,bankers, doctors, surgeons, and for trainees in medicine, law, policing, nursing, psychiatry and psychology, and in fact, anyone who has to have authentic and challenging conversations in their professional or personal life.

Find out More

Rita Smyth is founder of Role Players for Training, which provides full-time professional actors, using drama-based skills, to facilitate and support learning and development in business, professional firms and executive education, as well as communications training in third level education. Rita worked as a HR professional for 15 years. Full details can be found on



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