Drama-based training: what is the point?

Drama-based training may seem like an extravagant option, but it can have a role to play in certain scenarios.

One thing drama-based training is good at is bringing theory alive. This is particularly true for training on communicating with other people – be it communication skills, leadership, change management, or interviewing techniques.

“Any training relating to interacting with others lends itself well to drama,” says Mary Pierson, director at Oval Consulting, and a business psychologist. “It makes it much more of a learning, developmental experience than just talking about tools and techniques.”

Issue-based programmes

Drama-based training is also used a lot for issue-based programmes, such as diversity or equal opportunities. Not only is it a good way of encouraging debate and getting the message across, but it can also revitalise topics that staff often complain have become formulaic and a ‘ticking the right boxes’ exercise.

Because it is such an immediate, engaging way to conduct training, it can have a much greater impact than some of the more traditional methods. Obviously, there are some instances where it is not appropriate – learning new IT skills or detailed learning of theory, for example.

Drama can be used for conducting large-scale training programmes, such as a play for an audience of 100-200. This can be compelling for an organisation that needs to put large numbers through a programme, but still needs the training to have a high impact.

But, according to Ian Jessup, senior partner at drama training providers Interact, the best results come from working with smaller groups. “You can really work on people’s individual skills with smaller groups,” he says. “The more practice they have through the training, the more effective it is, and they get more practice in smaller groups.”

Most of Interact’s work is skills training, from one-to-one coaching to groups of up to 18. Jessup says numbers tend to be broken down into one or two people at very senior level, one to four at senior level, four to eight at middle to senior level, and eight to 18 at middle to junior level.

Right provider

Getting the right provider and ensuring they understand what you need and how to best get that across is important. A classic mistake is to lump all forms of drama training together and there by think most providers will offer pretty much the same thing.

Michael Woodward, director at the drama company Paradoxos Theatre, says: “Organisations have to think about who they are commissioning the piece of training from. A big part of the preparation process is organisations working out what area of work they want to use to investigate their problems.”

Some providers only do theatre, others only do role play. Some will offer everything from large-scale theatre to one-to-one workshops or DVDs. HR and training need to know what the needs are, and talk to providers about what mediums would best deliver it.

Don’t expect the provider to just deliver the drama though. Involve them in the preparation, design and objective-setting process. Ensure you know how the training will meet the objectives. Otherwise, it will just be a piece of drama, and not drama training.

The provider needs to have a good understanding of what you are trying to achieve and how your organisation works. “We always strive to understand the organisation,” says Pierson. “We have to reflect their reality, otherwise it will have little relevance.”

This is why a lot of drama training companies say programmes need to be bespoke. “If you don’t tailor a programme totally to a customer’s needs, the delegates can feel ‘It’s not us’,” says Debra Stevens, training director at drama training providers, Sold-Out Trainers.

She says they like to get involved at the ‘discovery stage’, where the content is created.

On average, Sold-Out Trainers charges for two to three days of discovery at £800 a day. For the actual training, Stevens says average cost is £2,000 a day for two actors and a facilitator.

But, with drama, she says it pays to spend a bit more on getting in people who really know what you want and how to deliver it.

Case study: ATL

Nicki Landau, head of HR at education union Association of Teachers and Lecturers (ATL), says: “We needed to do some leadership development work and teambuilding for senior managers. I wanted something not just information-based but more participative, engaging and non-threatening. I gave Interact an outline of our objectives and it put forward a proposal.

I got agreement with senior management and Interact about what we were trying to achieve. The programme is for 23 people and is spread over 18 months. There are six modules, including performance management, diversity and bullying, influencing and negotiation.

We’ve also done a teambuilding day. In between, we run coaching workshops, where people sit with a facilitator and actor to practice some of the skills they have learned. Interact did a lot of work in advance, finding out how we operate and about the people it would be working with, which really helped.”

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