5 Steps To Win Subject Matter Experts’ Hearts

Apr 24, 2016

Subject Matter Experts (SMEs) are experts in their fields. Their minds are fully covered with the content and experiences that make your learners’ job easier. They have invested a lot of time in the same area and, therefore, their involvement in your eLearning course development is important. But it’s not easy; Subject Matter Experts usually give you a hard time before you get what you are looking for. In this article, you will learn how good communication skills can help you fulfill your expectations.

After a decade of professional experience, I must say that communication plays a vital role when initiating a meeting with Subject Matter Experts. The following 5 steps will help you win over Subject Matter Experts:

1. Set Boundaries

We usually offer Subject Matter Experts the privilege to initiate the conversation due to our lack of confidence and considering them the expert in everything. But not knowing will make them the king of the meeting: The person sitting in front of you is an expert, no doubt, but not in Instructional Design. Speak up! Initiate the conversation by setting up some boundaries. For example: “I have been assigned to design this eLearning course for new hires. Since this course is for new employees, I think it will be great if we highlight the key areas. What you think?”.

2. Avoid Open Ended Questions

Never ask an open-ended question such as “Can you please tell me about this product?” There is a huge probability that you will get overwhelmed with the information overload. Get familiar with the product before initiating the meeting and list down the questions that you think are product-specific.

3. Ask More And More

Prioritizing your dialogs is important. After finding a hinge of the course, it’s better to talk about the course structure. It doesn’t matter if you were given a book already. Asking for more information will not only help you understand the processes, but it will also show your interest.

4. Be A Good Listener

Listening is the most important principal of communication skills. Once you have addressed your expectations, now it’s time to listen what the Subject Matter Expert thinks or has to say about them. Give them some time and start mapping what you think is relevant for your course. If you find something irrelevant or cutting the edge, then take a note but don’t interrupt. Let him/her finish first and then address your concerns.

5. Clear The Unclear Doubts

Most of the times it happens that Subject Matter Experts are not interested in scheduling a meeting with you or they are busy. One of the most common reasons for that is that Subject Matter Experts think that eLearning courses will take over their positions. It’s better to clear this doubt or any other doubt after the first meeting and convince the Subject Matter Expert that you are here for them; not to replace them. I have also read some posts in discussion forums where Instructional Designers complain that their Subject Matter Experts are giving them a hard time in terms of giving information. I agree, there are some Subject Matter Experts like that, but I think there are different ways to handle difficult situations.



Subject Matter Experts are humans, not angels. They need to understand the purpose. What are you looking for? How this will help them? What are getting out from this? Without knowing these things they will give you irrelevant information and become the king of each of your meetings. Instead of offering them your crown, put it on your head and set the boundaries. Prepare a set of questions and prioritize them based on the content. Give your Subject Matter Expert comfort by clearing their doubts.

I shall be more than happy to help resolve some of your Subject Matter Experts issues; please share them in the comment section below.


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