Before the #LTEN conference last year, I spoke to a long-time eLearning employer of mine. One who had risen through the ranks of her Life Sciences eLearning content creation company from instructional designer and project manager to department manager and partner. My question was what do you look for in an eLearning narrator. Her response made me almost swallow my hand.
“We really want someone who has a background in the material. A SME. Like you, Kim.”
So, does reading several hours of medical or pharmaceutical material every week for twenty years make one a subject matter expert? Probably not. But it certainly makes one a subject matter contender. To that end, I am extremely comfortable talking to medical professionals, pharmaceutical sales reps and other life sciences professionals about diseases states, new drugs and clinical trials outcomes.
Words to Live By
Many arenas of eLearning have their own jargon. Compliance, safety, law, human resources, their terminology is different from IT, mining, engineering and aerospace. Of course, a SME will be the person to go to for content and clarification of how to best script that jargon-laden material, but I argue a skilled professional narrator, is best to present that content. Career narrators, especially those swimming in the eLearning talent pool are a careful blend of actor, educator and professional speaker. Most of us have studied acting because that’s one of the components of the profession, but we are drawn to eLearning because we love learning ourselves and imparting that with others. Who better to transmit passion than one skilled in acting. Someone who can act like a genuine SME.
Grey’s Anatomy Vocabulary
I was thrilled when I began getting work narrating medical modules. When I was a teen I had a serious crush with science and medical school, but my math marks sucked. Nevertheless, my fascination with life sciences stayed with me. I absorbed product monographs, surgical methods, anatomy courses and clinical reprints with equal fervor and in the end, was convincing enough in my performance that a long-time work colleague (who knew I was once a weather woman) forgot I did not hold a BSc. I maintain, when one is passionate about the subject matter, one learns more about it and eventually becomes a contender.
Learn By Heart
But guess what? I seriously find I take that same earnest passion about learning to every series of eLearning modules I narrate. Whether I’m teaching day traders about stock options or intelligence analysis to members of the military or welcoming newcomers in an onboarding series. My passion for learning and great empathy for the learner, make me (like all members of the eLearningnarrators team) turn into a great sounding SME.
Unlike in academia, within the learning goals in business applications, the end game is not retention, but behavior change. One could argue this is the realm of psychology and CBT, but the real behavior change experts for decades have been moguls in the advertising industry. And who do they count on to change consumer behavior? Professional actors.
Even with the advent of reality programming, to get people to actually change or to influence a target audiences, the wise money is always on the professional. The person who has built a livelihood on engaging, enthralling, storytelling, teaching riveting and charming audiences. When you sell something you are (again) the subject matter expert.
The Credibility Criterion
Marilyn Kinch wrote about when it was better to use a SME and when an actor was better in The Small Business Guide to Marketing, Lead Generation and Sales. She states SME’s work best in classrooms and face-to-face situations, whereas on video and on mic, actors turn in far more credible performances as SMEs than the actual experts themselves.
If your end goal is creating an emotional connection with the material that could lead to behavior change, again the actor is the SME. That is what we do. We do it well because we feel an emotional connection with the material ourselves. This connection is not automatic. Creating that connection, that passion for the material when it is not (in reality) an area we are familiar with, is a skill set we work on, polish and perfect.
Every day. Year after year.
Kim Handysides loves narrating eLearning almost as much as she loves her dog, Kiwi the Dachshund. Most days she can be found in her padded 4×6 sound studio mainlining the message between sender and receiver. This October, however she will be at #DevLearn with her fellow elearningnarrators