This year, due to COVID-19, like many training professionals, I had to move all my training to online delivery — quickly. I have been training and teaching online for 20 years, so online training was easy for my other colleagues and me. Our biggest challenge was helping our subject matter experts (SMEs) become online-savvy.
For example, my office holds a biannual four-day leadership development conference. Usually, the conference is held on site with four keynote sessions and 55 plenary sessions. Some of the plenary sessions are mandatory, with topics on performance management, diversity and inclusion, and reasonable accommodations. They are conducted by SMEs from the human resources (HR) department and the office of general counsel. They go through their PowerPoint slides and then answer questions from the audience, which is sufficient for in-person training. However, flipping through slides with dense text does not work online.
Follow these tips to help your SMEs deliver more engaging training online:
1. Train the SMEs on How to Use the Platform
Do not assume that your SMEs know how to use the platform your organization uses for remote learning. Even if they say they are familiar with the platform, schedule a technical run-through anyway. Many people overestimate their knowledge, or they use the platform so infrequently that they become rusty with the tool. Additionally, online platforms are always adding new features and changing their interface, so it is a good idea for trainers to do a few practice sessions.
2. Cut Some Slides, and Add Interactivity to Others
Instead of text-heavy slides full of policy bullet points about HR or other policies, encourage SMEs to come up with a scenario that illustrates them. For example, in place of five slides full of reasonable accommodation laws, an SME might describe a specific accommodation request. Then, he or she would encourage the audience to suggest ways to handle the request and explain how managers should react to the it according to government regulations and your organization’s policy. The SME can give participants the text-heavy slides as a handout and tell more stories that illustrate the main points.
3. Treat the SME as Your Special Guest
Popular podcasts have one consistent feature: a host or hosts who interview a guest or guests. Try acting as a podcast host, with the SME as your special guest. Work with the SME to develop a list of the most frequently asked questions, and ask them live. You may also want to recruit audience members to ask questions. Hearing different voices helps create vocal variety, which engages your audience, and the podcast format helps create a welcoming, informal atmosphere.
4. Think “First Aid”
All of the SMEs I have worked with are passionate about their specialty and eager to share their knowledge. They spent time and study to become experts in their field, and they are justifiably proud of the accomplishments. Many SMEs could talk for hours about their favorite topics — which is a problem.
These SMEs will firehose your audience with knowledge that only overwhelms and confuses them. Instead of trying to help participants deal with every possible eventuality, encourage your SMEs to create a “first aid kit” of knowledge. What is the minimum that participants need to know and do to contain a situation while they wait for an expert?
For example, in a session on handling reasonable accommodation requests from employees, the SME might create a presentation and a set of steps or checklist that tell managers the immediate steps they should take in responding to the request and when they should consult an expert.
5. Instead of a Live Presentation, Create a Recording
More and more, online conferences are a blend of live and recorded presentations. One advantage of recording SMEs’ presentations is that you can create a script to make them more comfortable and help ensure a polished presentation. Participants can view recordings anytime, and you can insert visuals to make slides more readable and compelling. Creating a video doesn’t need to be expensive; it can be as easy as having an SME record narration over his or her PowerPoint slides, which you can then save as an MP4 file, or record on a smartphone.
These five ways to help your SMEs shine will help them and you give better online presentations that are engaging and informative. Online learning can offer many advantages. We just have to be more creative in this new training environment.