Tabletop exercises are an essential component of crisis management and preparedness.

They provide organizations with an opportunity to simulate and test their response capabilities in a controlled environment. However, with the rise of virtual communication and remote work, the debate between in-person and virtual tabletop exercises has gained prominence. In this blog, we will explore the pros and cons of conducting tabletop exercises in-person versus virtually, helping you make an informed decision for your organization. 

Pros of In-Person Tabletop Exercises: 

Enhanced Collaboration and Teamwork: 

In-person exercises foster face-to-face interactions, allowing participants to build stronger relationships and trust through better understanding of non-verbal cues and body language. This promotes enhanced collaboration and teamwork, crucial elements for effective crisis management. 

Realistic Environment: 

By gathering participants in a dedicated space, such as a conference room or control center, in-person exercises can create a more realistic simulation of a crisis situation. The physical environment adds urgency and authenticity, making the exercise more engaging and immersive. 

Networking Opportunities:  

In-person exercises offer valuable networking opportunities for participants. Team members from various areas of the business, as well as other essential stakeholders, can connect, share insights, experiences, and form collaborations. These interactions broaden perspectives and enhance crisis management capabilities. Those side conversations during the breaks go a long way in forming trust and a better appreciation of each other’s roles.  

Because building trust at the start of the incident puts you behind the ball.    

Increased Participant Engagement: 

Being physically present in an in-person exercise reduces distractions and promotes active participation. Participants are more likely to remain focused on the exercise objectives, resulting in increased engagement, attentiveness, and a deeper understanding of crisis management strategies. 

Immediate Feedback: 

In an in-person exercise, immediate feedback can be provided after each activity. This lets participants address questions or concerns immediately, fostering a dynamic learning experience. Immediate feedback enhances learning and encourages participants to apply lessons learned effectively. 

Cons of In-Person Tabletop Exercises: 

Limited Flexibility: 

In-person exercises require participants to be physically present at a specific location, which can pose logistical challenges. Coordinating schedules, travel arrangements, and securing a suitable venue may be more time-consuming and costly than virtual exercises. 

Geographical Constraints: 

Organizations with geographically dispersed teams might find bringing everyone together for an in-person exercise challenging. This limitation can hinder the participation of key stakeholders and subject matter experts, potentially impacting the exercise’s effectiveness. 

Pros of Virtual Tabletop Exercises: 

Increased Flexibility and Accessibility: 

Virtual exercises offer flexibility in terms of time, location, and scheduling. Participants can join from anywhere, eliminating the need for travel arrangements and allowing for greater accessibility. Virtual exercises can accommodate diverse time zones, enabling global participation. 


Virtual exercises often require fewer resources, such as venue rentals and travel expenses, making them more cost-effective. Organizations can allocate their resources towards other critical aspects of crisis management, such as technology enhancements or additional training programs. 

Technological Advancements: 

Advancements in virtual communication technology have made it easier to conduct realistic and interactive exercises remotely. With features like breakout rooms, screen sharing, and real-time collaboration tools, virtual exercises can provide a rich learning experience while simulating crisis scenarios effectively. 

Related: PreparedEx Podcast: Virtual Exercises – What We Have Learned

Cons of Virtual Tabletop Exercises: 

Limited Non-Verbal Communication: 

Virtual exercises may lack the nuances of non-verbal communication and body language. This can hinder effective collaboration and understanding among participants, potentially impacting the quality of discussions, decision-making, and problem-solving. 

Technical Challenges: 

Conducting virtual exercises relies on stable internet connectivity and reliable technology platforms. Technical issues, such as connectivity problems or software glitches, can disrupt the exercise flow and hinder participants’ engagement, leading to a less practical learning experience. 

Reduced Immersion: 

Virtual exercises may struggle to recreate the same level of immersion as in-person exercises. The physical environment, urgency, and intensity of a crisis might be harder to simulate virtually, potentially affecting participants’ ability to fully engage and comprehend the gravity of the scenario. 

Resource: Principles of Simulation Exercises – Online


Both in-person and virtual tabletop exercises offer distinct advantages and considerations. In-person exercises foster collaboration, realism, networking opportunities, participant engagement, and immediate feedback. On the other hand, virtual exercises offer flexibility, accessibility, cost-effectiveness, and technological advancements. Organizations must carefully weigh their specific needs, available resources, and the objectives of the exercise when choosing between the two formats. Consider a hybrid approach or alternating between in-person and virtual exercises to leverage the benefits of both methodologies. Ultimately, the key is prioritizing effective crisis management preparedness by selecting the approach that best suits your organization’s requirements. 

Rob Burton
Rob Burton

Rob is a Principal at PreparedEx where he manages a team of crisis preparedness professionals and has over 20 years of experience preparing for and responding to crises. Part of his leadership role includes assisting PreparedEx clients in designing, implementing and evaluating crisis, emergency, security and business continuity management programs. During his career Rob has worked for the US State Department’s Anti-Terrorism Assistance Program, as a crisis management consultant in Pakistan and Afghanistan where he negotiated with the UN and Pashtun tribal warlords and he served with the United Kingdom Special Forces where he operated internationally under hazardous covert and confidential conditions. Rob was also part of a disciplined and prestigious unit The Grenadier Guards where he served Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II at the Royal Palaces in London. Rob was a highly trained and experienced infantryman serving in Desert Storm and commanded covert operational teams and was a sniper. Rob has keynoted disaster recovery conferences and participated in live debates on FOX News regarding complex security requirements and terrorism. Rob has a Queen’s Commendation for Bravery.