5 tips for attention-grabbing exercise scenarios

We spend a lot of time designing, researching and creating scenarios for crisis response exercises.

We have a wide range of tried and tested scenarios to use as a starting point, but our clients are always best placed to outline something that meets their needs. However, this requires organisations to be brave: the most appropriate scenario isn’t always the easiest to acknowledge or test.

Clock face
Exercise time is precious, so make it count

We think these tips are a good starting point for choosing an exercise scenario:

  1. Ask yourself, ‘why are we doing this?

    What has happened to the business lately, or what do you fear happening, and why? The best scenarios that our clients come to us with are those grounded in the reality of their work. Sometimes these scenarios are complex and frightening, or they may be routine but frustrating. Either way, they meet the needs of the organisation.

  2. Start with a scenario that all attendees can buy in to.

    This is particularly important where multiple organisations are taking part. Every participant should feel that, if this were to happen, they would have a role to play. Avoid scenarios that are so catastrophic or remote, that realistically some participants would be redundant.

  3. Let the scenario be guided by what you want to test.

    The Simulator and the chronology that underpin your exercise can handle a limitless number of angles, escalation points, audiences and timescales. Perfect for stress-testing an experienced and highly-competent team. Less useful if your aims are to improve a specific set of processes or channels. Sometimes a simple scenario with a clear set of objectives is best.

  4. Make sure your expectations are relevant to the country or audience.

    If your scenario is centred on a country in Africa then sure, we’ll test your global approach to twitter. But we will also want to see how your team performs on local messaging apps, during power cuts and with state-owned media as part of the mix.

  5. Don’t worry about the detail.

    We’ll take care of this for you. We’re experienced at adapting and improvising scenarios during an exercise, in response to your colleagues’ actions. This keeps the exercise flexible and realistic. Scenarios can become too orchestrated, quickly reducing to an interactive play with a fairly obvious plot. A starting scenario, escalation points and a clear set of objectives to test are the key ingredients.

It’s not uncommon for participants in crisis response exercises to feel nervous.Overwhelm people with an extreme scenario and they’re likely to lose confidence or give up.

Present a scenario that’s realistic, with clear objectives, and you can help people stay focussed, and grow their confidence.

Image CC BY-SA 2.0 by Matthew Piatt