This is a guest blog post by Jon Aleckson, PhD, founder and CEO of Web Courseworks.

I have been studying how to engage experts for more than ten years. My first book, MindMeld, took an academic approach by introducing a model for engaging subject matter experts (SMEs).

My second book, The Expert’s Halo, comes out in August and focuses in on association stories of working with their member experts. Association staff often struggle with managing and engaging volunteers and now the rise of virtual events presents new additional challenges. How do we prime our member experts to shine while “Zooming”?

I recently interviewed consultant, KiKi L’ltalien, to combine our expertise related to communication skills and the association world. As the host of Association Chat, she provides a perspective based on experience. “We strive for a high-quality standard in online presentations, pre-recording provides more control towards that goal. Speakers are subject matter experts, not necessarily great presenters.” Here are some tips to help make them great:

  1. Meet in advance of the virtual presentation to gain as much prep time with the SME as they will allow.
  2. Not a great speaker? Consider alternative assignments like a Q&A panelist.
  3. Discuss how “MC” introductions will work, and practice.
  4. Talk about the “Plan B” if technical issues arise during the live event or recording.
  5. You have met in advance, evaluate the speaker’s video camera placement, lighting, and audio.
  6. Consider sending the speaker Amazon links to purchase a “ring light kit” and headset in advance.
  7. Stress the importance of having a strong Wi-Fi.
  8. Review the platform’s features, hand raising, polling capability, muting strategy, and chat usage.
  9. Stress the importance of providing resources in the chat box and sending ahead of time.
  10. Eye contact and placement of monitor so speaker maintains audience contact while viewing slides without impacting eye level.

As an association staff member, it is your job to make your members sound and look great. Engaging SMEs helps you accomplish this goal.  I have turned my experience working with SMEs it into a “heuristic,” a framework that builds on the findings of other organizational theorists while still being practical and applicable for producing events, educational activities, courses and curricula. This framework parses the nuances of interpersonal dynamics into a set of five factors:

  • Flattening of the hierarchy;
  • Effective project management;
  • A shared language for communication;
  • User testing; and
  • Momentum, to keep the work moving forward.

The best way to establish your expertise with an SME is to be organized and to provide resources on PowerPoint quality and speaker tips. You are a professional too!  Level the playing field by showing your expertise and experience as an “event producer”. You also demonstrate your professionalism by providing good project management. Use a PM site like Base Camp to help keep things on track. Establish good discipline to meeting deadlines by continuously hammering the importance of being accountable to deadlines—communicate this often. Try to fit into the schedule information sessions to discuss good instructional design by reviewing best practices. Encourage practice sessions.

Remember that stage play you were in and the importance of both a technical rehearsal and performing in front of a test audience—the dress rehearsal? Lastly, understand the importance of project momentum and your ability to spike it. Use a graphic artist to make sure your web pages are “appealing to the eye” and show protypes to your SMEs early on.  Do not short the number of images used.  Think of the virtual event as a conference brochure on steroids and communicate that excitement often to your subject matter experts.

Virtual Events are here to stay and it is an exciting time to be a part of the performance.

The American Medical Informatics Association Virtual Conference in Conference Now