Speaking with subject matter experts in specific areas of focus at your company is a great way to gather expert insights that can be turned into winning pieces of content for your business. However, sifting through the large amounts of information gleaned from a senior leader to find the “gems” can be a daunting task.
When you’re interviewing executive SMEs to create quality content, it’s important to go into it prepared to make the most of the information they share with you. The advice from Forbes Communications Council members below will help you distinguish the best raw material from less useful pieces of information.
1. Ask Questions They Are Uniquely Qualified To Answer
Executives often have a combination of experience and vision, so ask questions they are uniquely qualified to answer. Boost value for readers by going beyond the “what” to the “how” and “why.” Find out how the executive’s advice can make readers’ lives or workdays easier. Layer in what the executive envisions will happen next, and you’re on your way to providing attention-grabbing content. – Kay Midthun, Wisconsin Reinsurance Corporation
2. Dig Deeper Into Specific Areas
Oftentimes while interviewing people, we’ll stick to our initial list of questions instead of letting the content of the conversation drive where it goes next. Dig deeper into specific areas as opposed to going surface-level in a bunch of different directions. – Charlie Terenzio, Newswire
3. Focus On Problem-Solving Aspects
Focus questions around their expertise on how their service or solution solves a problem for the customer. Create content that articulates how that solution helps the customer; this is the only concern of the audience you’re trying to serve. – Kenneth Kinney, Ai Media Group, Inc.
4. Pose Open-Ended Questions
Open-ended questions are an excellent tool for successful interviews. Using the phrase, “Tell me about…” will help expand the conversation by encouraging executives to engage in storytelling rather than Q&A. As the interviewer, you only know how to ask about what you already know. An open-ended question allows the interviewee to shape the narrative, informed by their experience and expertise. – Ellen Sluder, smrtPhone
5. Send Them Your Questions In Advance
Send executives your questions in advance of meeting with them. Subject matter experts have gathered insights through years of repetition, and trying to synthesize years of knowledge or explain what’s second nature to them will be challenging if they aren’t allowed the time to think it through first. Then, when you’re meeting, give them the floor and just capture their genius. – Deetricha Younger, Deetricha Younger, LLC
6. Ask About Different Career Milestones
By the time someone reaches an executive level, they have usually honed their craft so well that they may not even be able to articulate the steps that got them there. One approach is to ask them to reflect on the different milestones in their career and identify what they learned about the subject at each milestone. – Jaime Hunt, Miami University
7. Inquire About Lessons Learned From Failure
We tend to get advice on “best practices” from subject matter experts. It’s a bit contrarian, but I feel that what they’ve done that has failed and the lessons they learned from it are more revealing. We learn through a deeper understanding. I want the experts to give the bigger picture and context, not just the “rose-colored glasses” answers. – Joel Goobich, Vestorly Inc.
8. Have Specific Placements In Mind
Have specific placements in mind prior to interviewing an executive. Asking them to “talk about AI” is less effective than asking five structured questions designed to generate enough content for an article about “the top three tips for implementing AI within your organization,” another feature on careers built around AI and two comments. Their time is valuable, so do the work up front to ensure the output is equally valuable. – Merrily McGugan, LogicMonitor
9. Find Commonality And Bond
Try to find commonality and bond with them. If you can get them more relaxed and out of the typical feelings interviews provoke, they will be more willing to share. It is all about making them feel as if it is more a conversation and less an interview. – Sarah Lero, Peerless Products Inc
10. Don’t Force Anything
Executives usually feel as though they need to say certain things or act a certain way in the media. You’ll get much better content if you can get the executive to open up and be realistic and honest. This makes for the best content, as it shows a different side that most people don’t usually get to see. – Christian Anderson, Lost Boy Entertainment Company
11. Get To The Point Quickly
Most important is to get to the point quickly. Let’s face it: Executives are busy people with a lot of competing demands on their time. Our marketing and PR team sends emails with bullet points they intend to cover, then conducts a quick interview to gather information that only that executive can provide. We supplement that information with existing content or other interviews. – Irene Froehlich, DrFirst, Inc.
12. Continuously Ask Why
Getting them to talk about themselves creates a relaxed and comfortable environment where they can feel safe. Get into the topic by asking, “Why?” By continuously asking why, you get layers of information and usually discover new angles or problems that you hadn’t anticipated. When we are developing highly engaging campaigns, this tactic has unveiled the most impactful content. – Kris Pugsley, ON Semiconductor