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Building Training DNA of SMEs (Part 2)

Recently, I offered a slideshow of what it looks like when subject matter experts (SMEs) use sound adult learning principles to engage an audience.  This post outlines five key elements needed to help SMEs design more engaging presentations.

Element #1: Seeing is believing

Before I work with SMEs in developing presentations, I try to demonstrate what a good, engaging, interactive presentation can be.  If SMEs don’t have an opportunity to attend a live presentation, I often send them a link to one of my favorite TED talks so that they can see that even a lecture, when well-rehearsed, can captivate an audience.  The bottom line is that in order for an SME to believe that interactive, engaging learning is more than just “touchy-feely fluff,” they need to see (or better yet, experience) what is possible through a well-designed presentation.

Element #2: Train the Trainer

All of the SMEs I’ve worked with over the past two years have attended some type of train the trainer session.  I’ve found that the most fundamental piece to these sessions is the activity around well-written, action-oriented, learner-centered learning objectives.  Basically, SMEs are challenges to finish this sentence when writing learning objectives: “By the end of this session, participants will be able to…”

Once the SMEs used a verb like “explain” or “demonstrate” or “describe”, pure lecture went out the window.  They had to leave room in their presentations for role plays or case studies or other activities that allowed participants to explain something or demonstrate something or describe something.

Element #3: Lesson Plans

To help SMEs organize their thoughts before they opened up PowerPoint and just started running wild with slides, I emphasized the need to use a lesson plan template.  This helped assign specific time to every concept they would cover and it was a way to be intentional about a variety of instructional strategies (instead of straight lecture).

Element #4: Intensive One-on-One Work

After all the training and resources that were provided to SMEs, I found follow-up with one-on-one sessions and phone calls to be incredibly important.  It wasn’t enough for me to simply review their lesson plans and email feedback to them (I found that when I only sent written suggestions, they were rarely integrated into a final lesson plan).  Real-time conversation was crucial to understanding the SMEs’ ideas, brainstorming how to present the content and building upon one another’s thoughts.

Element #5: Positive Peer Pressure

I’ve found that SMEs are driven and have a lot of pride.  When one SME took a risk and delivered an interactive and engaging presentation that was well-received and generated a lot of energy and excitement in the training room, every other SME who witnessed this wanted to design something even better and more creative.

A one-off train-the-trainer session will do little to transform an SME from lecturer to engaging presenter.  Like many other forms of change management, this really is a process.  What kinds of effort are you willing to put in to helping SMEs deliver more engaging presentations?

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