Do your homeworkAn SME is likely to be quite passionate about their topic. If you've had some material from them about the topic you're designing for, go through it and try to do as much research as you can, before you first meet them. In fact a lot of this starts even before you get any training material from your SME's. Understanding your customer starts from the moment you know that you're going to work with them. It means understanding who they are, what they do and how they do it. Its very poor form to walk in on day and ask the client "What do you do?" or "How are you different?". Instead say, "So here's what I've been able to gather about the work you do and your business model. I have a few questions...". A client and their SME are likely to feel more comfortable with a consultant that knows him and shows interest in his business than someone that's just taking notes.
Start with the big pictureIts always important as a consultant to start with the big picture of the problem you're trying to solve. Do you know about it? Confirm your understanding with the SME. If you don't know about it, ask. In situations where you've had separate meetings with different people, when you eventually do get them into the same room, share some history. Make sure everyone is on the same page. When you quantify the problem in your head, you build a greater emotional connection to it and as a result you work with greater zeal. Talk about how you expect the development process to work, agree on the SME's involvement and the frequency at which you'll need her. Surprises are nice when its Christmas -- not at work!
Demonstrate your understandingYou've been through the material the client sent you -- you surely understood something given that you did your homework (see above)! Let the SME know what you understand. Make things big and visible and ask your SME to point out gaps in your understanding. Once she's done, rephrase and share your understanding with her. Again, your understanding of the topic is essential for you to develop the training. This isn't a dispassionate piece of professional work -- the more you're emotionally involved, the more you'll be able to empathise with your eventual audience.
Draw, don't typeIn the age of laptops its a great temptation to flip out the notebook and start making notes straight into the template you were asked to fill. The newsflash is that only you can see what you're typing! Who knows whether you interpreted the information right? Get as much as you can, onto a big whiteboard or flipchart. Even for the previous two steps, use a whiteboard. Make sure your SME has a marker so she can make changes/ additions. The documentation is secondary to you getting your answers and understanding them. When you make something big and visible, you not only build shared understanding, you give your SME the confidence that you're on the right track. Carry a camera, take a picture and immortalise your thoughts! Think of yourself as the consultant, not the notetaker.
If you feel you're bad at drawing and that's why you don't use the whiteboard, I strongly recommend Dan Roam's amazing book, "The Back of the Napkin". He describes some very simple tools and techniques that anyone can pick up to represent concepts visually. Click here to download tools from the book.
Action Map, don't ScopeCathy Moore's Action Mapping approach and I've used it on at least 2 separate projects with great success. You will often get from your SME, a document or a presentation with a description of the subject matter. The easy way and the traditional way out is to think of converting the presentation into e-learning. What you're doing in effect is not creating learning but an interactive Powerpoint deck. With some effort, your SME (if she's smart enough) could do that herself. Slideshare's a great place to share self playing presentations for free. How are you adding value?
Think about the business problem you agreed earlier. What should happen instead? What's the business goal? Quantify it with your SME and stakeholder and then agree on the actions that your learners need to perform, in order to reach that goal. With those actions in mind, think through the learning activities that will model their real life work environment. Agree these with your SME. And finally ask your SME for the absolutely, absolutely important information that your learners will need to perform these activities. The rest of the information can go into a job aid which you can create using Lean, Standard Work principles. By doing this, you're using your SME to reduce flab from your course and you're involving your SME to decide how this course will be followed up.