subject matter experts
subject matter experts smes

Subject Matter Experts

(SUB-jekt MAA-tur X-purtz)

radioactive elements


What is a Subject Matter Expert?

An individuals who has a deep understanding of a specific topic.

Other Common Names for Subject Matter Experts

Other common names for subject matter experts include:

  • SMEs
  • Experts
  • Domain experts

Key Properties

The core properties of Subject Matter Experts include:

  • Significant experience, education, or expertise on a specific topic
  • Few (if any) official job responsibilities that include “help other people put together a training program based on your expertise.”
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lesson planLesson Plan

Keeping in mind that your subject matter expert won’t know much about dialogue education or instructional design, it will probably be up to you to develop a lesson plan for your SME to follow.

dialogue educationDialogue Education

Dialogue education is an element that can make the difference between a boring lecture and an effective, engaging presentation. Helping a subject matter expert identify the importance of principles such as immediacy (how will the information help solve a problem tomorrow?); ideas, feelings, and action (how can you connect concepts, emotions and actions?); and engagement of the learners (how do you get learners to be active participants in their learning?) can lead to a positive experience for both presenter and learner.

instructional designInstructional Design

Integrating key instructional design steps that help to activate learners’ prior knowledge, giving them an opportunity to discuss or experiment with your subject matter expert’s content, can make the difference between interesting information and a presentation that learners will remember and act upon.


Not everything will be covered or answered during one training program. If your subject matter expert is willing to share contact information, the interactive element of email can be an important tool to allow learning, curiosity, and questions to flow after the program has finished. A subject matter expert may not always be available or may not always be the most appropriate person to present to your learners. If that is the case, you could instead:

  • Show a video. Subject matter experts generally make money for your company by doing things other than presenting in front of groups. Capturing a SME on film allows you to control their message in a tightly packaged video and frees them from the burden of repeatedly needing to appear in front of a training class.
  • Share an article or case study. There may be times when you’d like to bring the voice of some of the smartest people in the world into your training program, but unfortunately you don’t have them on speed dial. Finding an article (that you have permission to distribute) or a case study on the topic can bring an outside, expert voice into your training program without the hassle of turning over your lavalier.
  • Take the mic. As long as you have some degree of mastery with the content, you don’t necessarily need a subject matter expert to present. Combining good instructional design, facilitation skills, and subject matter knowledge can provide your learners with a sound foundation. However, one note of caution—make sure you don’t rely on your facilitation skills to overcompensate for a lack of knowledge about a topic. According to research published in Training Industry magazine, “If trainers don’t master the content they are delivering, that weakness could overshadow their delivery skills” (El Kholy 2017).