5 Secrets to a Successful SME Interview

If we’re going to create quality content that grows our companies’ thought leadership, solid input from our subject matter experts (SMEs) is an absolute must. While some content creators may cringe at the thought of slogging through an interview with these folks, there are ways to get the scoop you need while also building a solid relationship with these folks … and you may even enjoy it.

Before you start scheduling interviews with those SMEs for your next piece of content gold, check out our 5 secrets for rocking the expert interview.

1. Choose carefully

While it’s tempting to make your first call to expert who knows the most about your topic, that person may not be the ideal partner for you.

Seek out an SME who’s also a good communicator — one who speaks frequently at conferences, or one who has direct contact with customers. If the person is used to talking about the topic with regular people in plain English, chances are good that he or she will be an ideal fit for your interview.

2. Work with their schedules

Depending on your industry, your chosen SME may not have the same working hours as you … or those hours may be so jam-packed that even squeezing in a 20-minute chat is impossible.

Be flexible and let your SME suggest the best date and time. You’re looking for a slower time of day when he or she can give you undivided attention. Be open to scheduling before- or after-hours time slots if those are more convenient for your expert. Your expert will appreciate your flexibility and you’ll be much more likely to have a successful interview when distractions are minimized.

3. Set expectations

Before you even set the appointment, make sure your SME knows what to expect — not only from the interview itself, but from the entire content creation process.

  • Let your expert know exactly how much time you will need for the interview — and stick to it.
  • Send a preliminary list of questions in advance to give him or her an idea of what you’ll be discussing.
  • Begin the interview by briefly describing the content creation process and letting your expert know that he or she will be kept in the loop all the way through publication and beyond.

4. Record the conversation

Having conducted dozens of interviews with many different types of experts, I can tell you from experience that making an audio recording of your conversation is the way to go. Why?

  1. You’ll have a solid record of everything that was said, just in case you need to go back and check a fact or two.
  2. You’ll be able to be fully present with your expert and engaged in the conversation, and you’ll probably also ask better questions.

If your interview is in person, you can record the conversation using a portable recorder or the voice recording app on your smartphone. If you’re talking by phone, you may want to connect via Skype and use the Call Recorder app; many phone conference services also offer the option of recording calls.

5. Say “thank you” and follow up

When you wrap up your interview, be sure to thank your expert for taking time out of his or her busy day to chat with you. I also like to ask if it’s OK to contact them if I need clarification on anything we’ve discussed, which they tend to appreciate.

Also remind your SME of any next steps that will require his or her input. If you will be sending a review draft, let him or her know when it will be coming and when you will need approval. And make sure they know when the final product will be published so that they can share with their online communities.

OK, your turn: What are your secrets to a successful SME interview? Share your thoughts in the Comments — we’d love to hear from you!