5 Steps to Make Any SME a Master Facilitator

As a training professional, it’s always a dream to be able to create programs on subjects you know well – when YOU’RE the Subject Matter Expert (SME). Unfortunately, that scenario is rare. Generally, you have to seek out subject matter experts to provide the content, leaving it to you to shape it into great L&D. And when you have a really great SME – someone who knows the subject inside and out and can explain it in a compelling way – you can sometimes have a burning desire to get that person in front of your trainees. It’ll be great, right? But there’s a problem: With rare exceptions, SMEs aren’t trainers. Or speakers. And certainly not facilitators. So how do you help this wonderful subject matter expert facilitate training that’s instructionally sound? Your SME is going to need your help, usually in the form of co-facilitating. But how do you control the parts you need to control and learn to let go of the rest? Here are five tips that can put you on the road to making your SME look and feel like a master facilitator. Subject Knowledge + Training Expertise = Powerful Learning and Development via @ttcInnovations Click To Tweet

#1: Work Together from the Start

The last thing you want is for the SME to feel “pushed to the edge” – like they’re just props for the real training, which comes from you. And the best way to avoid that syndrome is to keep the SME involved for the entire process. It’s tempting to just get the information you need, write the training, and then say, “I’ll do this part and you do that part.” But quite often you’ll have an unhappy facilitation partner. Instead, work together from the start. As the SME is explaining technical terms, you’re explaining your instructional justifications. It will soon become clear that BOTH of you are SMEs – just not on the same subjects. Now you’re on equal footing when you step into the training room, and you’ve established a level of trust.

#2: Organize, Organize, Organize

That SME has a LOT of information – probably more than you can include. Every good facilitator (or speaker) knows that one of the keys to success lies in organizing material in a compelling way. And every good trainer knows that varied activities and well-timed breaks lead to better retention and happier trainees. Help your SME:
  • Keep information succinct.
  • Add breaks when needed.
  • Develop activities.
And while you’re at it, work on eliminating jargon!

#3: It’s All About the AV – But It’s Not All About the AV

You know how important audio-visual aids can be to a successful training session. Not only do they add general interest, they’re essential for those visual learners out there. But you also know that creating a great PowerPoint presentation can be challenging. For many people, they tend to make them over-wordy, fill them with complex graphics, and add elements that distract your learners. Your SME (probably) needs your help with the AV. YOU have the experience and expertise in this area, so use it! You need PowerPoints that will keep the SME engaged with the audience, NOT staring back at the screen.

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#4: Facilitate the Facilitator

If you’ve taken our advice so far and worked with the SME from the start, you’ve probably set a tone that a) you’re an expert in training, and b) you can trust one another. And that’s good, because now you need to take a little control. Keep yourself in charge of lesson flow, activities, and breaks. Don’t expect the SME to have the kind of training room awareness your years of experience have brought you. Establish a signal of some kind to let the SME know when to let you take over for a moment. And establish from the start that you might make changes on the fly.

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#5: Insist on Practice

No one wants to practice. SMEs resist it, and you probably don’t want to do it either! Maybe it’s pride: We just think we’re that good and that we can wing it. But in your heart, you know it’s not true. You need to practice, and the SME definitely needs to practice. In your very first training development session, place a practice session on your schedule. And be sure it happens. Emphasize it. Make it important. Tell the SME you need to practice because you have to learn to work together (which is true, by the way). Just one practice session will increase confidence and make for a smoother training day. Trust It may seem obvious from some of the tips above that establishing trust is the key to great co-facilitation with a SME. Following the steps above will help you gain that trust – and help you trust the SME in return. When you can put knowledge and expertise together, your trainees will have a great experience. There’s a great facilitator lurking inside every SME – they just don’t know it yet!

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About the Author:

Allan Dodson is so much more than a writer and instructional designer. He’s helped develop strategy in Fortune 500 boardrooms, and he’s taught acting skills to 4th graders.  He’s developed training programs for everything from hair highlighting to pest control to DSL lines, and he’s made presentations to C-level execs, teachers (tough crowd!) and all workforce levels. In short, he has the experience, versatility, creativity, and energy to move projects large and small, and he’s ready for any challenge.

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