At Steps, our Skills Practice (also known as role-play) sessions have always offered the chance for participants to rehearse important or challenging workplace conversations with one of our skilled actor-facilitators – allowing them to build confidence and practise techniques. With recent events driving most learning and development online, we have adapted our approach to the virtual world – delivering effective skills-practice sessions for global clients since April 2020.
It’s easy to think that virtual skills practice won’t be as effective as in person – but in our experience over the past 10 months, we’ve found that virtual sessions can actually be even more impactful…So what are the reasons for this?
In this virtual world, with us all craving human interaction, we find the intimacy of the virtual Skills Practice sessions allows participants to build stronger connections with their colleagues – especially with those they don’t work with on a regular basis.
How do we achieve this? We always recommend working in small groups (usually 2-5 people), as this helps focus the session, and allows everyone time to practise their conversation and to receive feedback. The process of observing and then providing constructive and supportive feedback, creates new bonds and connections between colleagues.
Being in your own home brings a level of security and comfort that you may not always feel in the workplace – even though your colleagues are on the call with you to provide feedback. Steps facilitators have found that participants seem to feel braver to take part in the skills practice than in face-to-face sessions.
How do we achieve this? We ask everyone to turn their cameras off when not taking part in the skills practice conversation with the facilitator. On Zoom (the platform we’ve found works best for these Skills Practice sessions) the ‘hide non-video participants’ function allows the actor-facilitator’s video to be the full focus – helping participants feel like it’s just them and the facilitator on the call.
Working virtually allows both people to be in equal view – enabling a greater level of attention and focus when observing (it’s more like watching TV), whereas in a face-to-face situation, the focus can often get lost; it can sometimes be hard to see the participant and the facilitator at the same time, or room size might make it difficult to hear. Working virtually also helps the facilitator and observers pick up on nuances as, although some body language is now hidden, there is greater focus on facial expressions and tone of voice.
How do we achieve this? Steps facilitators provide clear instructions to observers about what to look for and what is expected in terms of feedback. Our experience has shown that observers are more willing and confident to give constructive feedback in the virtual environment, and more open to supporting their colleagues improve their skills.
In the face-to-face world, part of our Skills Practice sessions focusses on guiding participants on how best to set up a meeting room to ensure the right environment for the conversation. This is something we talk about online as well; it is important to think through the technical set-up of an online conversation – helping remove distractions from the call. Steps facilitators provide advice and guidance to participants on personal impact and presence in the virtual world.
How do we achieve this? Steps facilitators give tips on having a virtual conversation – things like ensuring your camera is eye-level, having good lighting, being mindful of your environment (e.g. noise levels) and ensuring your background does not create visual distractions.
With a current schedule of endless virtual meetings, we can all end up sitting in the same position for hours on end without much variety. An interactive session on Skills Practice helps participants experience something a bit different – shifting headspace and giving them something to look forward to.
How do we achieve this? Through what we do best – drama! Working with Steps’ skilled and knowledgeable actor-facilitators enables each participant to have a positive, enlightening and fun experience from their virtual Skills Practice session.
Additional research and writing for this blog by Anna Cohen.