Humbled by these SMEs

Facilitators

What would you do if you were in a technical training being led by SMEs and suddenly, out the window, you spy a monkey being led around on a leash? Would you…

  1. Ignore the monkey and stay 100% focused on the technical content being shared
  2. Stare out the window wishing you could trade places with the monkey

I’ve attended many technical training sessions, and personally, I would often choose “2”, wishing I could be doing anything else, anyplace else in the world… even if that meant I was a monkey being led around on a leash.

A funny thing happened last week when I was in Delhi for a 2-day training workshop. A guy walked by the window with a monkey on a leash. Nobody paid any attention to what was going on outside. The class remained 100% engrossed in the technical training at hand. I was impressed with the way these SMEs facilitated the session, and humbled by the effort they put into this workshop, from the design to the wrap up.

Building a New Kind of Learning Experience

Going into the planning phase, these SMEs gave me all the time that I asked for as I requested meetings to plan this session out.

We knew that we’d need to overcome a significant language barrier in order to deliver the content. We only speak English. Many of our participants preferred Hindi or other local languages. I suggested we avoid lecture as much as possible (even though lecture can constitute significant chunks of this training program when delivered in the US) and instead use small group discussions and activities. This design would allow the audience to see and experience the content, processing it in the language with which they were most comfortable.

There were no protests from the SMEs when I showed them a first draft of this program that had reduced the number of slides we’d use from 86 (based on the US version) to 0. To my great surprise, these SMEs could have cared less about PowerPoint.

Forgoing All Others

Prep

I’ve struggle in the past with getting SMEs to take preparation and presentation rehearsal seriously. I’m often told by SMEs that they’re too busy to rehearse a presentation and that they know the material well enough to deliver it with fluency.

As we began to make travel arrangements, this set of SMEs readily agreed to leave the comfort of their homes and the loving embrace of their family members (not to mention the loads of work that began to pile up on their desks) in order to arrive in Delhi a day early and walk through the entire set of lesson plans for the 2-day training session. They wanted to ensure the learners would be given the best experience necessary.

Flexibility

We began the session a little late on the first day, which meant we were behind on the agenda immediately. Instead of insisting that every last word in the lesson plan was essential and continuing to run more and more behind on the schedule, the SMEs identified areas that could be condensed or cut or assigned as homework in order to get back on schedule by the end of the day.

The Ideal SMEs?

In the end, it was clear that the SMEs I worked with on this training program were most passionate about the learners’ experience and the outcomes of this training.

While many SMEs that I work with put their content first (or sometimes their egos come first, then their content), these SMEs put the learners first. As I reflect on this experience, I’m hoping to figure out a way to bottle their attitude and bring it to future projects with other SMEs.

Their attitude and effort did not go unrewarded. Apparently I have a reputation for being intense and very serious, especially when it comes to training. In appreciation of their effort and attitude, I was willing to briefly put my intense, serious nature on hold one evening and give them a glimpse of a different side of my personality. It was only an instant, and don’t expect me to do it again. I allowed them to capture that one instant on film.

Tongue

Ok, enough of that. This is called the Train Like A Champion blog for a reason. It’s time to get back to work on our next project and kick some more training ass!

When SMEs Go Rogue

How do you prepare a pediatric anesthesiologist for his first encounter with a set of concerned parents and a scared child?  Perhaps you could bring a few parents into his new hire orientation to talk about their past experiences.

Unless the parents go rogue.

A parent may offer a 6-minute biography even though she was asked to give a simple, 30-second introduction.  A parent may share 10 minutes of his daughter’s case history even though he was asked to simply share the questions he had for the anesthesiologist.

When a former classmate and I got together recently we spoke about this very situation.  She coordinates new hire orientation at a child-centered hospital and her sessions feature a panel of parents.  She was concerned that she only had 60 minutes to cover a broad range of topics, but sometimes the parents would take their stories too far which would occasionally take up time allocated for other topics.

I offered two suggestions:

  1. Advanced Warning.  In advance of the session, send a 3-sentence example of the stories parents would be asked to share.  This would provide parents a template and they would have clear expectations of how much to      share.  Having time to think about and practice their brief story in advance could make sure parents are prepared and focused on the day of the training.
  2. Visual Cues. During introductions (which sometimes went on too long and often went astray), post a flipchart in front of the room stating precisely the information each parent should share in order to introduce themselves and      a little about the reason they volunteered to participate in this orientation session.

Though the parents were well-intentioned and certainly had many experiences to share, this was not designed to be a counseling session for them to de-brief their experiences. It was designed to give new anesthesiologists a brief sampling of parents’ thoughts and concerns and how to address them.

Whether working with parents or any other subject matter expert, pre-session preparation and in-class visual cues can help to keep a lesson on track and on-time.  What strategies have you found helpful when working with SMEs?

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