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Content Marketing

Interviewing a subject matter expert (SME): 7 tips for success

By November 19, 2021No Comments

If you’re a content creator who works within multiple industries or with a wide range of clients, you’ve likely started working on a project, blog, or presentation that made you stop and think:

I need more expert knowledge surrounding this topic. 

In these situations, you might enlist the help of a subject matter expert (SME). This person may be a member of your team/company or an outside professional who has comprehensive knowledge of the topic at hand.

While doing your own research is still essential, interviewing an SME is an excellent way to add more in-depth knowledge, key insights, context, and credibility to the content you’re creating. Plus, it makes the actual writing process much easier and less time-consuming.

An effective interview with an SME can help you take your content to the next level, which is why you want to ensure it’s successful.

Here are seven tips to help you knock your next SME interview out of the park.

1. Clearly define the topic and time limit when reaching out. 
When you reach out to your SME to set up an interview, whether it’s via email, phone, or in person, be sure to give clear and concise expectations.

Tell this person why you’re reaching out, what you want to discuss during the interview, and how long you anticipate the interview lasting. The time limit depends on the topic and length of the piece you’re creating. If it’s a small piece, 15-30 minutes may be long enough. If it’s an in-depth long-form piece, 30 minutes to 1 hour may be needed. Remember, this person is helping you, so you want to stay mindful of their time!

2. Prepare, prepare, prepare!
The last thing you want is to show up unprepared. That’s not only a waste of the SME’s time but yours as well. Gathering knowledge and familiarizing yourself with the topic you’re discussing will help you talk more naturally with the SME.

You should prepare a list of questions beforehand. Additional questions may pop up naturally during the interview, but don’t depend on this. Try to avoid “yes” or “no” questions and opt for open-ended questions.

Depending on the topic and the person you’re interviewing, sending the SME your list of questions beforehand can also help them prepare.

3. Set the scene before starting the interview.
Once you’re together for the actual interview, make sure to introduce yourself (unless you’ve met before) and reiterate why you’re meeting and what you’re discussing. This sets the tone for the interview and ensures you stay on track.

4. Don’t forget to record.
While you should still take notes during the interview, don’t opt out of recording! Chances are you’ll miss little nuggets of information while taking notes, and without a recording, they’ll disappear forever. So do yourself a favor and hit record!

5. Stay calm, cool, and collected.
If you haven’t done a lot of interviews before or if you’re talking to an extremely knowledgeable professional, you may feel nervous or intimidated. Nervousness can lead to rushing through questions and not getting adequate information out of the interview.

Remind yourself that staying calm, cool, and collected will aid in the success of the interview. Plus, while they’re SMEs in their own right, feel confident in the fact that you’re an SME of something, too!

6. Stay in control.
Remember, it’s your interview, and you have specific questions you want answered. If the SME veers off and starts discussing something not relevant to the topic at hand, don’t be afraid to set the interview back on track.

7. Ask if you missed anything.
If time allows, I always like to end the interview by asking if there are any answers they’d like to expand upon or any additional information they’d like to share that they think is relevant.

If you’ve determined that the SME will be involved with the editing process, be sure to let them know when you’ll have a draft for them for review. If not, politely thank them for their time and get started writing!

Struggling with your content?

Creating purposeful, informative content to reach your marketing goals is hard if you don’t know where to start. Leveraging the expertise of an outsource marketing agency can make all the difference in your efforts.

Our content marketing pros are ready to help—let’s get started.

Rayna Southart

Author Rayna Southart

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