Role Playing With Executives To Win

Yesterday during an executive coaching session, I helped a senior executive develop a pitch for some exciting new work they were hoping to win by running an actual role play of the pitch.

Why choose a role play in executive coaching?

“Practice is the best of all instructors” – Syria

Experience is a powerful educator, helping us learn more effectively.  Sir John Whitmore outlines his experiments on learning in Coaching For Performance, illustrating that allowing somebody to experience is SIX times more effective than just being told. Proving that the modern world has finally caught up with Confucius 2,600 years after he said “Tell me, and I will forget. Show me, and I may remember. Involve me, and I will understand.”

Role Play Basics

Role plays provide a safe opportunity to make mistakes and learn from them.  They allow us to understand what works and what doesn’t.  Role plays connects all parts of our being – our intelligence, our neuro-linguistic capacity, our non-verbal communication, our emotions – together to relay, in effect, our story.  Role plays help build strong self awareness,instantly rewarding and punishing our own behaviour because of the way we react to what we have just experienced.

Running a role play is a challenge for all parties concerned. The way we ran the role play was to go through his pitch, then I would act as the buyer, asking questions and provoking a discussion.   The client is busy working through his own experience, pulling together his most compelling position for both the presentation and the questions. He’s trying to work out what he said and what he will say next.  Meanwhile I’m juggling two roles in my head.  I’m the buyer AND  the coach. I’m trying to work out what to say next.  I’m listening intently to what the client is saying and helping him work out the most compelling way to say it. Luckily for me my experience & training both in coaching and in acting, helps me adopt the role of the buyer and the coach simultaneously.

Post Match Analysis

After we run through the pitch and discussion role play, we stop and think. I ask the client what he thought.  He tells me its not quite there.  He feels he’s trying to hard (he is!).  He feels he’s not himself and that he’s trying to force the points across. We work on what the big picture is, and what’s important about this visionary big picture for his customer.  What do they want and how can you package something sophisticated and complex into something straightforward and compelling?  We chat about different options.  After mulling over options, the energy changes and my client grasps that he needs to put more of his personality into the pitch.  He needs to be the one that is passionate about his solution – being dry won’t do!

I arrive at work this morning to find an email, typed late at night, saying thanks for the gruelling (I take that as a compliment!). I make a note to send a text to him on the morning of the pitch to remind him of what we discussed.

Without role plays, my experience tells me, the client would never have had the journey of self-discovery & insight until AFTER the pitch, may be not even at all. He is now highly motivated to adopt the right strategy and knows having run through it, how he will think and feel, his confidence enhanced to win the pitch.

So it does seem with role playing you can get a second chance to make a great impression…

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