Subject Matter Expert: Intentionality Required

What Subject Matter Experts Say

“Look, my topic is boring.  It’s technical.  I can’t do all that touchy-feely stuff.  I just need to tell them what they need to know.”  I’ve been on the receiving end of this conversation with a number of technical subject matter experts over the past several years.

Why a Subject Matter Expert Must Care

If you can’t get excited about your own topic and if you think your own area of expertise is boring, what do you think your learners will think? Why should they care about your presentation? And why does anyone think “touchy-feely” is the way to go, anyway?  Who wants touchy feely?!  Yuck.

Unless “touchy-feely” is defined as “getting people to be interested in your topic for more reason than simply because ‘I told you to listen to me’”.  Then touchy feely becomes important.  And it’s not that difficult if you think about it.

An Example: Presenting Organizational Values

Organizational values are boring, but they’re a necessary evil in new hire orientation, right?  I thought so too until Todd Hudson from the Maverick Institute suggested that there’s a different way to present organizational values.  For example, Blendtec suggests they “make the world’s best blenders.”  But they don’t need to drone on about their mission statement and values.  They show you.  Does the following video illustrate, in a memorable way, their core belief?  Is this video, which illustrates their tagline, boring? Is this video touchy-feely?  You tell me.

Creativity is Good; Intentionality is Better

You don’t need to be inherently creative in order to connect with your learners.  You just need to be intentional about your presentation design. My favorite design model uses the following four steps:

1. Anchor

2. Content

3. Application

4. Future Use

Want to teach a new software program but aren’t quite sure how to engage your audience because, well, it’s boring and you don’t do touchy-feely?  Spend five minutes on an anchor activity that captures your learners’ imaginations of how your software will solve a problem for them before you jump into the more mundane details of how the interface works and how data should be entered.  And give the learners a chance to apply what they’ve learned – an opportunity to take the software for a spin and to make some mistakes while you’re still in the room. Even if you give them an entire manual, don’t forget to leave them with a handout or a small card with shortcuts or trouble-shooting strategies so that they have a quick reference guide to keep near their monitors when they return to their office.

Engaging your learners on technical topics is as easy as 1-2-3-4 (anchor, content, application, future use).

Information is Good; Emotional Connection is Better

It’s one thing to make the intellectual case that your topic is important.  But if you truly want to make an enduring shift in behavior, you’ll need to find a way to tap into your learners’ emotions and their natural passion to want to shift their own behavior.

“My topic is boring” isn’t an excuse for subject matter experts to torture their learners with poor learning experiences.  “I don’t do touchy-feely” isn’t an excuse to waste learners’ time and employers’ money on training programs.  Especially when all it takes is a little time and effort and a 4-step instructional design process.

What do you require in a subject matter expert? What advice would you give an SME who is trying to make their training sessions more engaging, more sticky?

5 thoughts on “Subject Matter Expert: Intentionality Required

  1. In reading this post, it made me think of myself as an educator, a future instructional designer and as a student. I thought about how I have sat through so many training sessions and classes that have literally put me to sleep. If I were my trainer or teacher, what changes would I make? How would I like to be taught? How would I like to teach? I want to design innovative and inviting content that will reach learners. So in what ways can I change as an educator? I enjoyed this post and gained new insights on basing educational content on learner interest. As educators, trainers, instructional designers, or advisers, we should know our target audience; what interests them, how they learn best. Not everyone learns the same, so content should be designed to reach every learner. Your post also leads one to think on ways that concepts can be introduced that will peak interest but maintain educational direction. Overall your article inspired me. Mostly to remember to think outside the box. Our learners are not robots, so content should be designed and presented in a manner that stimulates minds.

    • Tereasa – thanks so much for your thoughtful comments! You’re right on – when it comes to good, effective design it truly is about what the learner needs, not what is most comfortable for the facilitator. I love that you used the verb “stimulate” because when it comes to motivating people to learn new concepts or do something differently, you *must* stimulate their minds in order to motivate them into action.

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