Role play actors are a good way to liven up training and development sessions and allow employees to try out a new skill before using it in the real world.
When it comes to training, simulation is often a neglected part of the process. Learned skills are not generally tested out before participants put them into practice. Role play actors can fill this gap by letting employees engage in face-to-face simulations of real workplace situations. It allows them to try different approaches, rehearse new strategies and put theory into practice.
An excellent example of involving actors in learning comes from the West Australian Police Academy in Joondalup in the late 1990s. The WA police force were the first organisation in Australia to exclusively use role play actors in their training programs, realising that theory alone wasn’t enough to fully prepare their recruits for the job. In 2002, they opened a state of the art ‘Scenario Village’ located within the academy complex, where actors play out a wide variety of events that police officers may face once they’re on the beat.
According to principal and Superintendent Tony Flack, working with professional actors serves a dual purpose. Recruits get to experience authentic scenarios and the actors then provide an independent assessment of their reactions and progress.
Organisations can also use actors for ‘forum theatre’ – The idea is that actors play out verbal and non-verbal responses that are unhelpful to a particular situation.
Weaknesses, inadequate approaches and handicaps are portrayed in such a way that the audience can easily identify and recognise them. The audience is then given the opportunity to come up with responses they think would be more beneficial. Based on this feedback, the scenario is then adapted and repeated so the effects of the changed behaviour are immediately obvious.
For organisations, this creates a safe way to experiment with desired behaviour within large groups. Subjects such as customer service, effective leadership and soft skills can be visualised in a non-judgemental manner so employees can gain awareness of the importance and effects of different types of behaviour in the workplace.
Professional Role Players
There are two types of role play actors, those who come into the training room and say, “Here I am!” and those who come into the room and say to learners, “Ah, there you are!” The true meaning of a role play actor is to be an all round facilitator of the learning process more than a presenter or an entertainer.
It’s anticipated that the industry of corporate role play actors will continue to evolve. Understanding limitations and how to deal with them is becoming more and more important in today’s fast changing work environment. Actors are schooled in methods that ask essential questions such as “Who am I?”, “What do I communicate?”, “What do I want?” and “How do I interact with others?”
For today’s professionals, these are key questions of incredible importance.
Janine de Muinck is the founder and director of InterACT WA.
Photo from Marry Poppins, copyright held by Disney