Whether you need to interview a Subject Matter Expert (SME), a thought leader or a client, knowing how to get the information you are seeking is essential. It’s not enough to ask questions and record responses. The most productive interviews require thorough preparation, excellent listening skills, and a bit of improvising.
Regardless of your role, you have most likely found yourself in a position to interview someone. Follow these 9 tips to get those gold nuggets you need to write killer content that converts.
Interview Tip #1: Do your homework
Before you sit down for the interview, spend some time researching your interviewee. A few things to look for:
- Have they done any other interviews lately?
- What are they best known for?
- Which types of questions illicit the best, most in depth responses?
- Have they written any thought leadership blog posts or articles? Participated in a webinar, panel discussion, or podcast? Read them. Watch them. Listen to them. Gather as much information as you can so that you don’t ask the exact same question. Which leads to the next tip…
Interview Tip #2: Dig deeper
What questions were you left with after watching/listening to/reading your interviewee’s last interview/speaking engagement? Those are the questions to ask in your interview. Avoid “yes/no” questions, and instead ask “why”? Ask what they were hoping to find. Ask what drives them. Try creating a scenario that asks a “what if” question. For tricky topics, start by asking the SME to explain the concept the way they would to a five-year-old. This will give you a jumping-off point to build on.
Interview Tip #3: Bring outside info in
Look for quotes or differing opinions on the topic you will discuss. Bring them up in the interview to see how your SME responds. This adds an interesting aspect to the interview and will likely elicit more colorful responses. Try weaving some other topics into the interview. Find out about your SME’s hobbies and passions outside the industry. People love to talk about their passions and it will loosen their tongue, make them feel comfortable and bring energy to your interview. And remember to find something to praise or give credit to your interviewee for; it never hurts to boost the ego of your SME a bit, and it could get them talking more.
Interview Tip #4: Come prepared
After you do your research, spend time brainstorming a list of questions for your interview. It can be helpful to organize them by topic so that you can give your interviewee a heads-up when you’re ready to switch gears. It will also help you begin organizing the piece of content you need to write. It’s also helpful to share the list of questions you’ll be asking with your SME in advance. This gives them a chance to prepare, as well.
Interview Tip #5: Record it
There’s a reason large enterprise companies record conference calls and interviews. It allows team members to go back and listen for details, sound bytes, and information they may have missed during the live call. Interviewing requires the ability to multi-task: ask prepared questions, listen to your SME’s responses, ask follow up questions based on the answers, jump back into your list of questions, and keep the conversation moving. Taking notes while you’re SME talks pulls you out of listening mode and forces you to focus on writing (or tap-tap-tapping on your keyboard) fast to get the thoughts down. They’re done talking, and you’re still writing furiously. Then you’ve got an awkward silence to deal with before moving to the next question – and you’ve likely not really heard their response, so you can’t comment on it or ask a follow-up question that makes sense. Recording the call frees you from having to take good notes, and allows you to be more present in the conversation, listening intently to your subject and asking thoughtful follow-up questions. If your interview is face-to-face, bring along a team member who can be in charge of taking notes. And remember to always ask your SME’s permission to record.
Interview Tip #6: Be flexible
Be prepared to throw out that list of questions. The first time I went skiing, I took a half-day class where the instructor taught me how to position my skis to slow down and speed up. I practiced this for hours. The first time up the “green” slope though, the one piece of advice I was given was: “Remember all that stuff you learned in the lesson? Forget it.” Understand that you may have to go off script. That’s okay. Listen – really listen – to the answers you are given. They may inspire a follow-up question or even a change in direction. Be prepared to change gears quickly. Staying the course might cause you to miss a great nugget, or worse, show the interviewee that you are simply doing a job and not truly interested in what they have to say.
Interview Tip #7: Enjoy the silence
As much as you’ll want to, don’t try to fill the (seemingly) awkward silences. The lulls in between their answers and your next question will give you some of the most valuable information. Wait out those few awkward seconds, and your interviewee may elaborate on their answer. The extra time thinking about the question will often help your interviewee provide a more well-constructed response.
Interview Tip #8: Speak up
Don’t be afraid to chime in. I’ve found that if I’m interviewing someone for a story and they seem uncomfortable or rigid, sharing a relatable tidbit or quick anecdote of my own can help lessen some tension. Try asking their advice. A more conversational environment can put the interviewee at ease, and if they’re more comfortable, you’ll most definitely gain better insight.
Interview Tip #9: Close with an opening
“Is there anything you’d like to add?” is a great way to end an interview. A SME’s knowledge goes far beyond the 10 or 15 questions you’ve prepared. This gives them a chance to add any last thoughts or insight—which are sometimes the most profound of the entire interview.
Interviewing Subject Matter Experts (SME), thought leaders, or business owners can be intimidating, but careful preparation and thoughtful questions can help you conduct a super productive interview with great insights that will elevate your content. Great SME interviews are the foundation for creating killer content. [Read: a 7 Step Guide for Creating Content that Converts]. Learn more about what we do here.