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10 Role-Playing

Role-playing is typically done in workshops rather than seminars, but we have seen Master_Presenters use this technique in large groups as well. The advantage of role-playing is that the participants can actually see if they have mastered the material or not. In many cases, they find that although their intellectual understanding of the concepts are fine, it is another matter altogether to put them into practice.

There are two major ways in which role-playing can add depth and breadth to your presentation. First, role-playing can help participants determine their understanding of the material and get a sense of their skill at applying the key concepts. Role-playing can serve as a perfect demonstration of a case or a situation where everyone in the audience can observe the skills being taught applied to a real-life situation.

Role-playing can be one of the best ways to learn, but not everyone will want to participate. Therefore, we recommend that you remind your participants that this is a purely voluntary activity and that many people learn better by watching—this is especially true of the reflectors in the group.

In role reversal, the person with the problem takes on the roll of their own problem person. There are two main advantages to role reversal. The person with the problem will almost always gain insight into the person he or she is having difficulty with. Second, the person with the problem will be able to experience how different words, arguments and strategies come across from the point-of-view of the other party.

Sometimes in role-playing situations, the person presenting the problem may be the problem. For example, as soon as a strategy is developed, this person comes up with an argument as to why that the intervention will not work. In some cases the person may be right. The situation may be so hopeless that Gandhi, Mother Teresa, or Winston Churchill could not do a better job, and the only real alternative is to live with it.

There are other times, however, when the person who suggests the problem situation vetoes on the spot and has no genuine interest in trying to solve the problem. In fact, the person presenting the problem has a conscious or unconscious vested interest in not solving the problem. And although he complains vehemently about the problem, he does everything in his power to maintain the problem in its present state (homeostasis) similar to the person who is in a bad marriage, who spends all of his time in therapy complaining about the problem, but does nothing to resolve it.

If you, as presenter, find this is the case, you will find that both you and everyone else in the room are getting increasingly frustrated. There is a technique, called alternative endings that has been designed for situations just like this.

For example, Brad had a very lively group of salespersons in one of his negotiating courses. He asked the group to describe what a positive ending would look like and then instructed the participants in the role-playing to act out the positive ending. As you can see, this technique gets everyone out of a negative spiral by focusing on what a positive ending to the story might look like.

One of the problems with role-playing, role reversal, and alternative endings is that you can lose the attention of the participants in the room who are not directly involved with the role-playing. In order to keep everyone involved, to increase the number of ideas, and to enrich both the quality and the quantity of the feedback, Brad developed an enhanced role-play methodology that he calls The Virtual VCR.

The Virtual VCR

The Virtual VCR is a technique used to give the participants immediate corrective feedback as to how well they are communicating and negotiating, as well as a chance to implement that feedback in the immediacy of the situation.

Step 1: Imagine that in the room you are in contains a gigantic VCR and that the open space is where a case study will be performed and recorded on videotape. Each participant and the instructor have remote controls. The remote control has four buttons: Stop, Offer/Ask for Strategic Advice, Rewind, and Play. What this means is that at any time during the role-playing, any person in the room can stop the tape, offer or ask for strategic advice, rewind the tape to the correct spot, and then replay the tape with the participants having been given a chance to try out the "corrective feedback."

Step 2: The second step is to decide on a case. It can be a case that the instructor has prepared, the students have prepared, a case that has been designed on the spot where all of the participants have input, or a case on film that can be stopped so that the participants can continue the role-playing.

Step 3: Assign roles in the case study to the participants. Start by asking for volunteers. If after a suitable period of time there are not enough volunteers, ask some of the participants whom you think would be favorably predisposed to volunteer, but first make it absolutely clear to the class that everyone has the right not to volunteer.

Step 4: Give the participants the "Positive Feedback" guidelines, copies of the 3 3 Feedback Form (see Strategy 7), and start the "The Virtual VCR."

Positive Feedback Guidelines:

  • The feedback must be specific.

  • The feedback must be balanced.

  • The feedback must be positive and constructive.

The course instructor must be a strong facilitator for this exercise to work well. Too much corrective feedback and the participants will lose their feel of the flow of the case. Too little corrective feedback and the exercise becomes just another role-play.


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