Presentation Tips: Help Your SME Deliver Their Best Content

November 4, 2019
Blurred image of speaker presenting on stage in dark room

As we’ve discussed before the recruitment of good quality subject matter experts (SMEs) is one of the hardest parts of creating a solid curriculum. Now that you’ve identified the “right one;” let’s look at some tips and tricks you can provide your speaker to deliver their best content. Keep them happy and excited about teaching again and also have the best learner experience through the presenter’s preparations.   

Over the years I’ve found a couple successful ways to “train the trainer” and provide guidance to them to make their jobs easier. Most of the time the SMEs I worked with were busy professionals who were volunteering their time or had a passion for the topics and wanted to share with their peers. With this being said, most of the time I struggled as they knew the topics like the back of their hand but had no idea how to convey the ideas to the learners in a digestible way. In comes the tips and tricks I’ve compiled over the years: 

1. Create an SME Guide with helpful hints for them while they are curating the content.

This could include things like:

  1. The importance of learning objectives. Remember, they aren’t professional speakers and because of that, aren’t always familiar with the best practices to creating an effective learning activity. Learning objectives are vital to the creation of content to remain organized and on target, as well as allow the learner to feel a sense of accomplishment. The learner needs to understand what they are going to get out of the presentation or course which translates to the value of the content. The presentation must follow the objectives and achieve them. Which makes them a great guide for the SME to make sure their content is structured around those outcomes. If the content is created with this in mind, the learners will also understand and provide more response, which will create more engagement and value for all. And lastly, if any of the SMEs content doesn’t align with a learning objective then don’t include it. This is a sure-fire-way to lose your audience! Once lost, it will be very hard to reel them back in. 
  2. Encourage your speaker to bring in personal stories. These create impact, empathy, and entertainment. They help the learner identify with the message and in turn have a more solid understanding of the content.  
  3. Pay attention to the learner’s body language. Check-in with them frequently and make sure all are on the same page.  “No learner left behind!” Also be aware to move along if you’re seeing non-verbal queus of disengagement. 
  4. Share ideas of how activities or exercises worked for another SME. This will help the SME visualize how they might add some engagement into their presentation as well.  
  5. PowerPoint suggestions similar to the 10-20-30 rule, which states that a presenter should have no more than 10 slides, that last no more than 20 minutes, and contain no font smaller than thirty points.  
  6. Best practice tips for delivery by modality: If the content is being presented through an online modality vs. in-person, give them some speaker tips specific to that method being used. For example, if they’ve never spoken to an online audience before let them know things like great tools for engagement that your platform will allow them to do. Then they can work those engagements in while creating the content as opposed to having to go back and re-work or reorganize anything.  

2. Create a Timeline

The SME should clearly know their deadlines throughout the engagement. Find out their preferred method of communication and stick with that, only stray from that if you aren’t getting timely responses. Setup reminders on your calendar that align with the timeline so that you are in continuous communication with the SME. This will help with getting what you need when you need and hopefully alleviate those last-minute bombs of surprise. Everyone needs to be on the same page of each other’s responsibilities.  

In saying all of this above, also strike a balance and try to be as flexible as you possibly can, but make sure it still fits in the timeline. I used to create two deadlines. (1) when I wanted it by and (2) when I had to have it by, and then work my timeline that I shared with the SME reflect when I wanted it by to build a little more flexibility into the timeline. I caution you though, don’t share the have to have it by date with the SME, that will become their target and will give you no wiggle room, if they miss that deadline. 

3. Provide Templates

Have templates the SME can use to publish their content. Have an internal team (either marketing, communications, or education) create a PowerPoint template, handout templates, name card templates, materials template, etc. All of the items an SME might want to create and have on hand for the learners but take the guessing game out of it. Provide them with the templates so they aren’t scrambling to create something, that in essence is a burden, that could become a barrier, for them to put together the materials and/or course. Bottom line… make it as easy as possible with the administrative stuff! 

Think about allowing the SME to co-brand the templates. Remember most of the time they are not a professional speaker if you are needing to provide additional resources. This will be a nice recruitment tool as well. It allows them to place their company logo as a marketing tool. Again, this should be a mutually beneficial relationship.  

4. Feedback

This is quite possibly one of the most important ways to grow your SMEs skills and approach to the learning delivery. You want to share both feedback from your, or your staff’s perspectives, but also (and maybe even more importantly) share feedback from the learners who attended. Having a common place to collect the feedback is crucial for your staff’s management of this step. As well as, making the feedback delivery consistent so your SME can benchmark their growth through different speaking opportunities. If you are working with a difficult SME, maybe someone who is reluctant to change or seemingly “knows it all,” they might be more open to change if they are receiving the feedback from a learner as opposed to staff. A post course evaluation can help with conveying the feedback in a non-confrontational way. Also remember that most of the attendees are technically their peers, working in the same or a similar industry, at different levels of knowledge and experience. Peer feedback holds a lot of weight for most people and could elicit a change in behavior or process to enhance the learning activity for subsequent occasion. 

The goal of all the tools mentioned is to make the experience as easy as possible for the SME. However, don’t let them take advantage. They have decided to speak for you, and as doing such, have also agreed to prepare the materials and be ready to present on said topic(s). You are not to be writing any content or contributing in an unfair proportion. If they aren’t willing to meet you half-way, you might need to look for a new SME. This should be a give and take relationship and by having tools in place you are providing them with the best opportunity for a successful presentation. 

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