When I’m working with Subject Matter Experts (SMEs) I always do my own research in to the subject before I meet with them, and quite often I turn this in to a questionnaire for them to complete before our meeting.
I send this questionnaire to the SMEs and ask them for their candid feedback on each question or statement that I’ve made. This simple act of giving the SMEs something to review and edit has two benefits:
- The SME’s know that I have some knowledge/attempted to gain some knowledge of their specialism.
- It is much, much easier to start a conversation with them after they have already reviewed my outline knowledge and provided feedback.
Often SMEs know so much about a subject they find it difficult to know where to start. If they realise that you are interested in their subject and that they don’t have to start from the very beginning, that can often help in building the relationship, it gives them permission to start anywhere.
In addition, the questionnaire can help them understand the scope and depth that you think is needed to cover the subject – a great conversation starter – have I got it about right?
The content of that questionnaire can give the SMEs permission to get critical, tell stories to illustrate their point of view, and importantly let me know what vital information I’ve missed.