Setting SMEs up to be more successful presenters

Subject matter experts (SMEs) bring deep technical knowledge to any training program, but when they’re asked to put a presentation together and deliver it to an audience, many SMEs struggle to keep their audience engaged. While some SMEs may appreciate the idea of learner engagement and the application of adult learning principles, it’s a fool’s errand to try to turn SMEs into de facto instructional designers through train the trainer programs.

Should training professionals simply step out of the way and allow an SME to get in front of an audience of eager learners, simply hoping that the SME can be charismatic and the learners arrive ready to hang on every last word? Probably not.

If you think of the array of elements available to turn any learning experience into an engaging and effective program, there are a number of things that training professionals can do to help SMEs be more effective. In today’s post, we’ll examine one very short combination of these elements.

Ex + Sb –> Less work for SMEs and more opportunities for learner engagement

There are just two elements in this formula, so let’s take a look at each one.

Subject Matter Experts (Ex)

Subject Matter Experts Element 14 of the 51 Elements of Learning

While many, many training programs rely on the expertise of SMEs, nobody actually holds the title of “Subject Matter Expert“. Subject matter experts are not paid salaries to design training programs. They’re paid to carry out important work at their organizations. SMEs hold positions such as labor attorneys, research doctors, computer programmers or sales managers (to name a few). These are generally people who are very smart, very experienced and very busy. While it’s not a bad idea to ask if they’d be willing to have some help designing a presentation that can be more engaging, sometimes just giving them a tool that they can use independently to quickly generate activities that will help their audience better understand their concepts could be the way to go. This is where the next element in this formula comes in.

Soapbox (Sb)

Soapbox Award-Winning Rapid Authoring Tool Element 36 of 51 Elements of Learning

Soapbox is a web-based software tool that can take a few inputs (how many people will attend a session, how long will it be, will it be in-person or virtual, what are the learning objectives), and can instantly generate a lesson plan with a sequence and flow of activities designed to accommodate a presenter’s comfort level in facilitating a learning experience. If a presenter wants to get people talking and interacting with their content, there are many activities to help with this. If the presenter isn’t comfortable leading a discussion in breakout rooms as part of their virtual delivery, they can choose a different activity.

In short, this software eliminates the need for train the trainer or presentation skills sessions for SMEs, yet still allows them to come up with engaging ideas that can lead to true behavior change.

While it’s a relative newcomer to the training tech market, it’s popular enough that users have made it one of the top 300 tools for learning in 2021 according to Jane Hart’s list of top edtech. It also was recently awarded a 2021 Choice Award from the Training Magazine Network for authoring tools. If you’d like to learn more about Soapbox, sign up for a demo or take it for a free test drive, you’ll find everything you need right here.


This formula concept was inspired by my new book, What’s Your Formula: Combine Learning Elements for Impactful Training. You can learn more about each of these elements in the book (obviously) and you can check out an interactive periodic table of learning elements at www.51elementsoflearning.com.

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