Posts Tagged ‘actors’

All the world’s a stage …

Thursday, April 3rd, 2014

… wrote William Shakespeare in “As You Like It”. I have used actors in learning and development interventions on a number of occasions over the past 20 years. Actors have assisted me in different ways, such as acting out business scenarios between themselves, and interacting individually with delegates. I have also seen others use them in innovative and powerful ways, such as Olivier Mythodrama where the facilitator or trainer is also a skilled Shakespearean actor. As Sanford Meisner said, “An ounce of behaviour is worth a pound of words”.

Recently I have seen a couple of posts on HR and training forums asking about how to use actors effectively and whether any return on investment evaluation has been undertaken regarding their use. A very successful use of actors late last year led me to reflect on what works and what doesn’t when using this methodology – which is what prompted this blog post. And it’s not just me saying it was a success – the evaluation qualified the value and, more importantly, demonstrated how the use of actors had made such an impact on the transfer of learning to the workplace.

But it doesn’t always go smoothly – and I have witnessed situations several times where there has been little learning or the people running the event didn’t make the most from the opportunity. So how do you make it work well?

These are the key foundation stones – put these in place and you will build on them during the session, and so gain the maximum benefit from what can be both challenging and financially expensive. It can also be a hugely exciting and satisfying way to develop skills!

Lots of delegates have had experience of role playing with colleagues, and the majority of them do not talk about it being a positive experience. This can be for a number of reasons, but the main ones are that the colleagues ‘ham-acted’, the colleague role player attempted to help the delegate, and that the delegate didn’t find it very realistic. Consequently, you will probably find some reluctance or resistance, making it even more important to plan and deliver the intervention effectively.

Choose wisely There are a significant number of actors and groups of actors available, so how do you get to work with good ones? Personal recommendation is always a good start but not always an available option. When I recently required some in another part of the country, I searched the internet. I found several groups and then sought to understand two very significant points – had they carried out this sort of work before, and secondly, would they give me contact details of their previous customers so I could get references? It is important to use actors who have undertaken business or corporate work previously – it is very different to stage acting in that the actors have to be able to think on their feet and deal with the unknown. Your delegates will not be scripted.

Make the scenarios real and relevant You need your delegates to be able to immerse themselves into the role play, to be able to forget about everything else going on around them, to find it realistic. And all this is possible.

The first aspect of this is the writing of the scenario. It needs to be realistic – as close to what the delegate would experience as possible. This can be helped by the use of the same resources as the delegate would use in the workplace – for example real documentation or forms, signed by who they would expect to see them signed by.

Another point that is so easy to include, but sometimes so problematic if you don’t … all the names of people to be played by actors should be non-gender specific – Sam or Pat, for example – then you can be flexible with your choice of actors.

Give the actors context The other side of this is giving the actors as much information or experience as they need in order to be able to be natural. So, if they are required to be members of the organisation, they need to understand the language, the culture, the role they are playing, current internal issues, etc. This will enable them to act, and to act well – reacting realistically to the unexpected paths the delegates are sure to take them along. Good actors will want lots of this – they know how critical it is to the success or otherwise of the role playing. Once they have all this, leave them to play the roles – your starring role is running the de-brief. As John Malkovich said, “If you don’t interfere with me, I’ll always do something really good.”

Make scenarios win / win Creating challenging scenarios will assist in immersing the delegate into the role play. The more they have to think about in the scenario, the less they will be thinking about what else is happening outside of their interaction. Whilst they should be challenging, they must also be ‘winnable’. If there is no way the delegates can bring the matter or situation to a successful conclusion, they will justifiably not see it as a very useful learning experience.

The delegates meet the actors in role, not as themselves The first time I engaged with actors, I suggested that they should be introduced to the group at the start of the event, so that the group might feel more at ease with the role plays. The actors suggested against this as they said it would dilute the realism. I went with their suggestion, and whilst we didn’t test it both ways, I’m sure they were right.

The delegates met the actors when they walked into the room – as one of their staff. The delegates didn’t have to adjust, the actor was their member of staff.

Plan in at least twice as long for the debrief as the interaction The learning comes out in the debrief. To maximise the learning for all concerned you need to explore what happened, why it happened, overlay it with models and theories, explore what could have happened with a different approach, summaries the learning points, action plan … it takes time to do it well. And to make it as effective as possible, you need a good debrief structure …

Structure the de-brief effectively “Actors are all about entrances, but writers are all about exits” (Vincent H O’Neil).  Trainers are about exits, too. All the planning and preparation you have put in will not be maximised if your de-brief is unstructured. Debrief the delegate first – he or she is the person most likely to be affected, and feelings will dissipate most quickly. Affective Domain learning is often the most powerful, so don’t lose it!  Try this model – it has worked very well for me and many others over the years. And as you work through the model, if you ask the right questions, there will be very little need for you to make many learning points – your cast will of players will have made them. You might even think of yourself as the Director!

Using actors can be a powerful methodology, and in order to maximise the return on your investment of time, the delegates’ time and the cost of the actors, it needs to be managed effectively.

Try these tips. Let me know how they work. Are there any you would add?

Paul