a tractor preparing the ground - just like you're going to prepare your participants

The seeds of a successful simulation are sown early

August 11, 2021

Critical Takeaways

  • A great simulation depends on thorough preparation, and that includes preparing the participants and yourself.
  • Start by taking care of the basic administration. Otherwise, you’ll get off to a bad start before the exercise even begins.
  • Use your SMART Objectives to determine the right kind and level of preparation and remind everyone that the training is a drill, not a test. The best way for people to learn is to show up and be themselves.


Congratulations! You’ve been able to get your leadership to buy into the idea of a crisis simulation, and you have a challenging, well-thought-out session planned. But your job’s not over yet – there’s some additional preparation required to make your simulation a success. 

Here’s how we at Kith think about preparation and some of the things we do to get ourselves and our clients ready for a simulation. Implement these steps to ensure that not only the administration is taken care of but, more importantly, that everyone’s primed for the exercise and has reasonable expectations.

It’s the Little Things

First, there’s some essential preparation you need to do to get things ready for the simulation. Make sure you’ve sent the invites out, booked the training room, and set up catering if you’ll be offering food. Also, make sure that you have invited any guest speakers, senior executives, or observers and that the training exercise is on their schedule. 

These are all basic administrative tasks that anybody who’s planned a meeting before has had to do. However, as simple as they may seem, if you overlook these fundamentals, you’ll end up with some key people missing, insufficient facilities, and hungry, cranky participants. 

Ignore the basics, and you’ll be off to a bad start before the exercise even begins.

Next, get SMART

While planning your simulation, you made sure you had SMART objectives and clear outcomes for the training. You’ll have clarified:

  • The changes do you want to see in your organization, team, or department
  •  If you want to see improvement in attitudes, skills, maturity, culture, or expertise
  • The elements you want to focus on, such as speed, partnerships, or specific skills.

And these objectives will determine how you get people prepared in advance. 

For example, if practicing rapid response is a goal, you don’t want them to do too much preparation – they just need to show up and do the jobs they’re assigned. 

However, if you want people to familiarize themselves with the crisis plan, make sure you share that document with them in advance.

Or, if collaboration and partnership with people they haven’t worked with before is your goal, then I recommend communicating this in advance so they can think about the relationships they need to attend to.

So review the objectives you’ve set and think about the most appropriate preparation to support these.

Remember, this is a Drill (Not a Test)

A simulation is a drill, not a test; there is no passing and failing, a final grade, a winner or loser. 

Therefore, there shouldn’t be a need for cramming the night before other than the essential preparation you’ve already asked them to carry out.

We’ve found that it’s much better for a team to attend a simulation unprepared but acting normally, than for a team to turn up high-strung and nervous because they’ve over prepared for a big test (one that doesn’t arrive). 

Both teams will still work hard and take the training seriously, but a more relaxed team is going to learn more than one that’s desperately trying to win and over indexes on every error.

Therefore, reiterate to your team that the only thing you want them to do is their job and look for ways to become better. They’re at the training to learn, figure out what’s working, and see what can be improved. 

Communicator, prepare thyself

Lastly, how do you prepare yourself for simulation training? 

After all, you have a starring role either as the person delivering the training or the communications lead.

Outside of handling preparation tasks and being the best team member you can be, focus on delivering the best experience possible. Usually, that means simply letting the simulation happen. Have confidence in the inputs that you’ve created and just let the process work. 

However, think about what you’ll do if things go wrong, although you don’t need to worry too much about this. If things break down, that’s okay, you will learn from it and usually, the participants don’t even notice that something gets out of order – they are still reacting to events and learning from the experience. They’re much more likely to notice you slamming on the breaks and trying to reorientate the simulation part-way through. 

Meanwhile, if people get bored, be prepared to ask them some probing questions. If your simulation is well planned, it’s probably the case that they’ve underestimated what they need to do. Or perhaps they’ve solved a minor problem but missed the big issue that’s the real source of danger. A good facilitator can steer them in the right direction with a few good questions and get them back on track. If they’re bored because the simulation didn’t stretch them enough, that’s an important takeaway for you, and you need to think about the objectives you set.

Therefore, learn from any mistakes to avoid those in the future but don’t break the flow of the simulation because of a small error.

Have a notepad close by, take good notes and think through the process to make sure you learn from what you observe. Remember, this is just as much of a learning experience for you as it is for your team.

The seeds of success are sown early

After running dozens, if not hundreds of simulations between us, we’ve learned that there’s not a lot you can or should do to alter its course once a simulation starts. For good or ill, once things begin, you have to let them run their course.

However, you can set things up for success with clear, SMART objectives, getting executive buy-in, and thorough preparation. That way, when everyone convenes, you’ve designed appropriately challenging training that will address your organization’s gaps, have engaged, enthusiastic leadership participation, suitable facilities, and attendees with clear, realistic expectations. 

That way, you’ve done all you can to deliver the rewarding, beneficial training your organization needs. Then, all you need to do is stand back, let them engage with the challenges you’ve set, and keep note of how they do.

Photo by roberto bernardi on Unsplash

Filed under: Blog


Bill is a reputation management, crisis communications and professional development expert, keynote speaker, Wall Street Journal Risk & Compliance panelist, and best-selling author of Critical Moments: The New Mindset of Reputation Management. He has more than 25 years of global experience managing high-stakes crises, issues management, and media relations challenges for both Fortune 500 companies and winning global political campaigns.