Role-Playing Exercises: Another Immersive Element for Meetings

Want to get your attendees more engaged in sessions at your meetings? Try adding role-playing exercises where they help solve problems affecting your association’s industry.

I spent my first six weeks of journalism school at Syracuse University in what was known as “boot camp.” My fellow graduate students and I were either in class or out in the field writing and interviewing five days a week to build up our “reporting chops.”

Many associations have realized the benefits of adding problem-solving and simulation elements to their meetings.

One highlight of those six weeks was having to report on a mock emergency scenario that was played out on campus, thanks to some coordination between our professors and the school’s public safety department, which was also using it as a training drill.  (You can get a better sense of what it entails by reading about last summer’s scenario.) We were required to report on the events as they unfolded; the assignment included observing, interviewing, attending a press conference, and then filing a breaking-news story 90 minutes later.

Was it stressful? Yes. Did I get an F on this assignment for spelling someone’s name wrong? Yes. But it also was fun—and obviously taught me a hard lesson about double-checking people’s names.

Role-playing exercises don’t have to be limited to the classroom. In fact, many associations have realized the benefits of adding problem-solving and simulation elements to their meetings.

For example, one objective of the 2015 World Hepatitis Summit, sponsored by the World Health Organization and the World Hepatitis Alliance, was to teach the 500-plus attendees how to build a national response plan should an outbreak of hepatitis happen.

To accomplish this, MCI UK, the association management company that manages WHA, placed attendees into that exact scenario. After mock news reports—scripted and created by MCI ahead of time—were broadcast, delegates were split into groups, and each person was given a different character role to play to form a task force that would manage the crisis. To ensure diversity, each group included individuals from a mix of nationalities and job functions.

In the three-hour session, attendees were challenged not just with how to manage the disease outbreak, but also with how to communicate it to the public. Because of the format, attendees had no choice but to react, engage, and respond.

And the World Hepatitis Summit is just one example of many I came across. Last week, at the 26th Annual Spring Conference of Vermont Businesses for Social Responsibility, attendees took part in a role-playing exercise where they worked in small teams (acting as the chief sustainability officer of Amazon) to prepare a pitch for a new CSR initiative to CEO Jeff Bezos.

Attendees at last month’s 2016 National Planning Conference, held by the American Planning Association, had the option to attend a four-hour role-playing session where they helped the town of Sunnyside meet its solar power goals. And at the American Subcontractors Association’s SUBExcel 2016 event, attendees who participated in “The Race for Re-Election” workshop experienced firsthand the challenges of a legislator deciding how to vote on controversial issues.

In all of these examples, attendees rolled up their sleeves and worked at solving a problem affecting them or their association’s industry. They also got to know each other and worked together in an atypical networking environment.

Has your association experimented with role-playing exercises or simulations at its meetings to get attendees more immersed and involved in problem solving? Please share in the comments.

The 2015 World Hepatitis Summit, which included role-playing elements. (MCI Group)

Samantha Whitehorne

By Samantha Whitehorne

Samantha Whitehorne is editor-in-chief of Associations Now. MORE

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