How to run role-play online


Tips, tricks and techniques to facilitate successful role-play sessions online

Role-plays are firm favourites with learners and trainers, but only if they’re run properly. You’ll be familiar with how to work them in an on-site class situation. Small groups with a coach are ideal; the fishbowl lost its allure.

Here’s how you can mirror your success with role-plays using the online approach.

Pre Setup

  • Embrace positivity in your naming conventions. I like to call them Skill MOTs or Skill Services.
  • Remember the acronym POD. Pre-brief first, then observation, and finally, debrief. These are the steps of a field visit for a sales manager.
  • The context is MEDIC. Motivate, explain, demonstrate, imitate and coach. These are the steps a sales manager carries out when training salespeople on new skills and techniques. Role-play appears as the 4th step – imitation.
  • The demonstration is essential before any role-play; otherwise, they won’t know what good looks like. If they’re new to the role, provide an exemplar: a video clip or a demo from you.

Choose the one thing that makes all the difference. The first domino that’ll knock the rest over


  • If you train a large group, you’ll want to break them down into smaller cohorts. Triads of three learners per group is ideal. Each group will need a coach to run the group. Use breakout facilities with your platform – Zoom and Teams both have them.
  • With more experienced groups, a group “leader” would be needed rather than a coach and teach them how to coach and give feedback. The group can choose a leader, or the person with the most experience typically cuts it.
  • One coach per three learners. Create a grid so that each person plays alternate parts, i.e. role-player, customer and coach.
  • With presentation practice, you’ll need an audience; this gives everyone else a purpose to play.
  • Instead of a large group broken down into smaller triad teams, change your timing so each triad is brought online in their hour slot rather than occupying everyone for three hours.


  • Recordings are precious aids to learning. Provide them before or directly after your coaching feedback.
  • If the clips are short, then you could email them. Sometimes an MP3 version is enough to have rather than the MP4 video file, a whole lot smaller too.
  • Email links using your cloud storage.
  • You could ask them to record locally on their computer. Teams and Zoom allows for this.

The Players

  • The person who plays the “customer” can be a colleague or ANO.
  • ANO or any other could be an actor paid to appear at a particular time online or a colleague within the business who is not participating in the role-play. Anyone can rock up online; that’s the beauty of it.
  • Create your scenarios carefully and send them to all participants to prepare.


  • Coaching and feedback is the crucial aspect of role-plays.
  • Self-coaching can be achieved via watching a recording.
  • Use “hot seat” coaching. This is where you stop the role-play halfway and offer feedback before continuing.
  • Teach everyone to self-assess themselves first
  • Shower the learner with positives from their role-play. Keep to the ratio of 5:1. Five positives for every improvement piece. Suggest alternative ways rather than what you think they did wrong.
  • The actor can give a first impression and no more. Ask them for an overall appearance that the role-player made.
  • SPAM is the model – self-discovery, positives, alternatives and meaningful overall impact.
  • When choosing the alternative to suggest, attempt one of many. Choose the one thing that makes all the difference. The first domino that’ll knock the rest over.
  • When you’ve done all the feedback, ask them what they want to keep/change for next time. Make a note for when you revisit them.

Observation Aids

  • You need notes to observe and give feedback
  • The easiest method is the T Bar. Take an A4 blank sheet and draw a large T. The left is positive, and the right is suggested alternatives. That’s all. Evidence is vital if you’re compliance checking.
  • Once finished observing I like to take a red pen and circle all the positives and the alternatives, ensuring I stick to the 5:1 ratio.


About Author

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Paul Archer is an Online Sales Trainer, Speaker and Conference Host. He’d be happy to assist you in moving your workshops online during this challenging period. Email him on or LinkIn with him at The world of sales development has changed, many have missed this and boldly go on to run courses in the old-fashioned way. You want to develop your people – professional advisers, salespeople, coaches - and know there is a better way. He can help you. Think about music. I mean the music industry. In 2000 music became free, illegally at first with Napster, downloads became cheap as chips and streaming now cost $10 a month. In the same way, traditional self-development is now free. Everything is available online. Music artists and bands now make their money performing live. The live experience is what fans will pay money for. Recorded music is merely to create demand for the live experience. He brings his 35+ years of sales expertise and experience to you in two ways: Online, on-demand, just in time. He doesn’t run “just in case” training courses, they’re a thing of the past. Development should be “just in time”. Curated video, live videocasts and webinars, podcasts — books, articles and blog posts delivered via his Learning Platforms, YouTube or your in-house systems. Live. He can bring his expertise to your teams in live sessions, but these are rare now and need to be exceptional events. Conferences, seminars and events, he can educate, entertain them with my unique speaking style that has been enjoyed by thousands of sale people and advisers across the globe. Forty-five minutes, 2 hours, maybe a day – you choose. You figured there was a better way to develop your sales teams, you are right, and now you may want to make contact with him so you can talk further. You can Linkin with him at, and he’ll start a conversation or head to his YouTube Channel for more at email him at or phone him on +44 7702 341769, and where ever you are in the world he’d love to hear from you. Paul is a prolific writer and blogger – maintaining three blogs, with attracting thousands of hits from all over the world. He has published eight books. His latest tome "Pocketbook of Presentation Skills” was released in January 2020 and is available from Amazon. The third edition of his book “Train the Trainer of the 21st Century” is also available from Amazon.

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