Make the most of interviews with subject matter experts
If you’re in a marketing communications role and are asked to interview one of your company’s subject matter experts, be thankful for the opportunity. Not only does it give you the chance to build relationships with influential people in your company, it also shows that your superiors have confidence in you to handle this important task.
So, yes, be thankful for the opportunity … and then be well prepared so you do it right.
Subject matter experts (“SMEs”) at your company could be a portfolio manager, tax and estate expert, executive or anyone else with insights or knowledge whom a broader audience may want to hear from.
Preparing for the interview
Before you interview your SME, here are a few things to consider:
- Develop a tightly focused topic for your piece and be clear about why the piece is being produced (e.g., what are you looking to achieve?)
- Define your target audience. Is it internal staff? Advisors or consultants? End investors? Knowing your audience will help you with the right tone, content, degree of complexity, etc.
- Research the topic and gather background materials related to the topic and/or the SME you’re interviewing. You want to ask intelligent questions, be conversant in the topic and be able to probe smartly during the interview
- Once you figure out what kind of insights and information you want from the SME, you can devise questions accordingly. Don’t ask more than you need to, be clear and precise when formulating your questions, and give the questions in advance (if possible) to the SME so they can prepare and provide thoughtful, useful answers
During the interview
It can be intimidating at times to interview a “power player” at your company. Here are some tips to handle the task:
- Be relaxed and confident, speak clearly and give your SME time to think about their responses
- Take good notes and, if you’re doing a phone call, consider recording the conversation and getting a written transcript. This is a great safety net in case you either missed something in your notes or wrote things down inaccurately. Also, if there was something you didn’t quite understand, you can review the transcript to help you make sense of the answers
- Get all the information you need and allow your SME the chance to “go off script” and offer additional insights they believe could be helpful. Stay focused and respect the SME’s time
After the interview
- Establish post-interview lines of communication. Ask if you can follow up with the SME if required, and invite the SME to share other thoughts or relevant materials if they think of something after the interview
- It’s generally a good idea to share your draft article (or at least the quotes you intend to use) so the SME can make corrections or clarify certain points
It’s a big responsibility to interview a SME and create an article that best conveys the insights you’ve gathered. With good preparation and interview protocol, you’ll be on your way to doing a great job.