Role Play: Creating Realistic Scenarios

Updated: Feb 21, 2020

Practice is supposed to make perfect, but poor practice makes woefully imperfect. If you’re in a client-facing profession then practice mostly means role play, and role play becomes good practice when you focus on details.

When you role play, you train the mind and body to experience a scenario without actually being in it. To match the real-life meetings, conversations, and calls you will have, you have to try to replicate psychological states and social dynamics from those scenarios. Naturally, the way to achieve this is to be meticulous about recreating the details of the scenario.

To create a realistic role play, recreate your F-O-R-M.

1. Format

  • Phone Calls: If you are role playing for a call, but role play that call face-to-face, you will miss the nuance and timing inherent in audio-only communication. Calls have no visual cues, and you must practice with that impediment.

  • In-Person Meetings: If you are role playing for a formal meeting, and configure the role play as a desk-side chat, you will miss the social routines inherent in a meeting. Meetings have accepted behavior norms (like the handing-out of business cards), and you must practice weaving these norms into overall meeting dynamics.

  • Video Conference: If you are speaking by video conference, it is essential to role play with the actual technology (Skype, Zoom, the same computer, etc.). Things like camera angles, clarity, and microphones can completely change the tenor of your message, and you can’t afford to miss those things.

2. Objects

  • Visual Aids: These objects (printed documents, brochures, presentations, etc.) can help and/or hinder your ability to achieve your goals for a client engagement. If you expect them to play a role in your meeting or call, you’ll do well to have them as part of the role play.

  • Books, Pens, Laptops, Bags: These small objects have an outsized impact on your engagements. Be very deliberate in what objects you use and how you use them; and practice all the motions and gestures of a meeting. Role playing this will help you to see what is unnecessary or distracting

Place the phone on the floor or on one of the unoccupied chairs

3. Room

  • Tables: Tables dictate a lot about the engagement between people. If you will meet at a small round table, practice at one. This will help you practice what it’s like to pass a contract, or use hand gestures, or shake hands and sit down, all three of which are very different at 3 feet vs 6 feet apart.

  • Room Size: This will change the dynamics of your meetings. Imagine a hardball negotiation held in a board room, a breakout pod, a foyer, or a coffee shop. They all have unique dynamics, and it is incumbent upon you to prepare for the likely room size.

  • Seating Configuration: This greatly influences the tone of the meeting. If you know it will be three people on one side with the boss in the middle, set up your role play exactly that way, and note how it feels.

  • Ambiance: If you are making a phone call, recreate the ambiance that will be true of your side of the call. For example, if you’re on a noisy trading floor, you want to gauge the noise levels and prepare with those distractions in play. This is also very often true for lighting and temperature.

4. Mood

  • Number of People: The body count in the room affects the outcomes. You can test this by trying to negotiate a contract 3-3 vs 1-1; it’s a very different experience. Setup the practice with the number of bodies you expect to be present.

  • Roles: The in-meeting roles of each attendee are not the same as their titles. For example, someone senior may lead a meeting, or may hang back, only coming in at the end. Anticipate the roles and factor that into your preparations.

  • Seniority: Account for the seniority of people in the room. Get your role play partners to act their part exactly at the seniority-level you expect to be engaging. This will train you to divide attention appropriately.

  • Personalities: Who are the key characters you’re engaging? Are they bullies? Sweethearts? Passive-aggressive? Have your partners act that way. There is no point practicing for bullying and hard ball questions if you are meeting someone you know to be collegial and warm.

“Le bon Dieu est dans le détail” -G. Flaubert

The Benefits of FORM

When we take teams through role play that has been recreated for FORM, they benefit in two major ways:

1. They prepare and plan for their engagements more purposefully.

The teams start to make observations like:

  • “No more meeting at coffee shops – I can’t hear a thing”

  • “The phone in Gerry’s room sounds terrible – use Kelly’s”

  • “I won’t overdress, it doesn’t work for the message.”

  • “The [Acme] office is freezing – take a shawl”

2. They alter their engagement style, mechanics, and content.

The teams start to make changes like:

  • “I began allowing client-actors in role play to cut me off, because it opened the door to gathering more information”

  • “I stopped putting a paper presentation on the table, which distracted client-actors from my spoken introductions”

  • “Kerri has started sitting perpendicular to (rather than across from) clients at coffee tables since it works for her speaking style”

  • “I’m going to bring junior sales colleagues into meetings to pair off with juniors brought by my senior clients. You can see it work in the role play”

  • “Since the call games, I take all calls on a headset so I can walk while speaking, since I think and speak better that way.”

Planning better and adjusting your approach are common results of proper, detail-focused role play. I encourage every individual and team that has frequent engagements to build a practice of role playing to improve their performance, and for those who have established the practice, I encourage applying this FORM as a way to level-up the experience and increase the benefits.