Interview Tips Guaranteed to Get Valuable Content From a Subject Matter Expert

October 26, 2020

You’ve just had a brilliant idea for the next piece of content you want to write about for your site. You’re excited because let’s be honest, brilliant ideas don’t come along all the time.

It’s not easy creating content on a consistent basis and it takes a lot of effort to have those eureka moments.

Your mind is racing with ideas and you’ve got everything figured out. Everything except for in-depth information about the topic you want to write about. You’re worried that your article will lack credibility.

Then it hits you: you need an SME.

No, not a small and medium-sized enterprise. You need an SME, a subject matter expert. This is someone who has considerable insight on a topic.

SMEs are authorities in their fields who provide the information you need. Incorporating an SME, can hugely increase your credibility with your readers.

So you decide to interview an SME. But how can you as the interviewer ensure that you get valuable insights from the SME? How can you know for certain that the information they provide will be useful to you?

Here are some tips that guarantee you’ll get what you’re looking for from the expert you interview.

Before Your Interview

Plan to Interview One Expert at a Time

This tip may seem simple, but it’s nevertheless important to remember. When you have an idea, you might get too excited and want to interview as many experts as possible.

You might even want to interview them all at once because you think:

  • It’ll save you time.
  • You can get more information out of multiple SMEs in one sitting.
  • People are more trusting and feel more comfortable when their peers are around.

However, it’s best to avoid group interviews if you can. That’s because dealing with more than one expert also presents some problems:

  • You have less control with more people and you risk losing track of time.
  • Different SMEs may have different understandings of why you’re writing on the topic. This creates unnecessary confusion and derails the interview.
  • You risk missing valuable insights when your interview turns into a debate.

So stick to one SME and if you want to interview more than one, do so individually.

Prepare Your Expert

This almost goes without saying. When you introduce yourself to the SME, provide them with all the information:

  • Tell them what your content idea is about.
  • Ask for their opinion on the idea if they agree to help you.
  • Give them the list of questions you’ll ask them so that they can prepare adequately.
  • Avoid any potential surprises for the SME that will catch them off-guard.

You want them to be at ease with your entire interview idea and open up to you about expertise.

Set a Limit to the Interview

Nobody likes having hours taken away from them, especially if they’ve just met you. Subject matter experts, like most of us, value their time.

They don’t want to spend a large chunk of it answering questions when they could be doing something more productive.

Furthermore, you can’t afford to waste your time when creating content. There’s a lot that goes into that process and an interview is only one part of it.

It’s best to keep the interview short and try to get as much information as possible from that time. Most interviews shouldn’t go beyond 30 minutes.

Let your expert know how long the interview is supposed to last and stick to that amount of time. They’ll appreciate your forward planning and ability to keep your word.

Prepare Yourself

Before any interview, it’s important to learn a few things about the topic you’re about to discuss. You don’t want the SME to think that you’re completely clueless on the subject.

This makes you look disinterested and you end up asking basic questions with basic answers.

Your SME should feel like they’re having a conversation with someone genuinely interested in what they have to say. People open up more when they notice that you already know a bit about their field of expertise.

They’re happier and the interview is more light-hearted and fun.

You don’t have to know a lot about the topic, that’s what the interview is for. But you do have to know the basics. Research the topic enough to at least understand the terms the SME uses.

During The Interview

Stay in Control

The SME might be an authority in their field, but no one understands your content idea more than you. You need to make sure you get what you’re looking for from the interview.

You’re the one asking questions so take the lead throughout the interview process.

The SME only has to answer the questions you ask. You don’t want them taking control and going on tangents.

Different people will react differently to your questions, expect anything. You need to remain confident throughout. Controlling the process prepares you and reduces the chances of the unexpected occurring.

Record It

Don’t forget to record your interview, it enables you to refer back to important insights and quotes.

You can record the audio using a voice recorder and transcribe the interview. Some of the best transcription software includes:

An even better idea would be to video record the interview and add video content to your article. Having videos as a bonus:

  • Captivates your readers more than other types of content.
  • Engages them for longer.
  • Provides your audience with an easier, quicker, and memorable understanding of the topic.

While you’re recording the interview, remember to keep taking notes throughout. This enables you to keep track of the flow of the interview and ask in-depth questions.

Keep Your Questions Open-Ended

You don’t want to ask questions that your SME will give one-word answers to. There’s no interview more boring to a reader than one in which the SME answers, “Yes” or “No”.

Ask questions that require detailed answers and keep the interview interesting.

If your SME provides a simple answer, ask them for examples or more clarification. You should definitely ask if you don’t understand something or you think your audience won’t.

Open-ended questions give you the most information, but don’t make them too open.  Otherwise, your SME might go on, and on answering that one question. You might lose track of time.

Towards the end of the interview, ask the expert about:

  • The one thing they want your audience to gain or understand from the interview.
  • Any further information they’d like to add that might not have been addressed before.

After The Interview

Let The SME Know What’s Next

Once you’ve finished your interview, discuss your next steps with your expert. They most likely don’t want to give you all that information only to be excluded afterward.

They want to know where, when, and how it’ll appear online.

SMEs agree to an interview because they want to be a part of the entire process. It’s their insight so allow them to have a say in how it’s used.

They’ll be grateful to you for including them and willing to be part of future interviews if you treat them with respect. This helps build strong professional relationships. Give them all the details and ask for their opinion as well.

Follow Up With Your Interviewee

As you work on the content from the interview, ask them to provide clarity if you have any further questions. Don’t be afraid to ask for further explanation or tell yourself you’ll work with what you have.

If they agreed to share insights in the first place, they can spare a few minutes to help you make sense of it all.

Once your content is ready, send them a copy to confirm that it’s to their liking. Interviewees don’t like having their words taken out of context or misunderstood. It’s best to avoid all possible issues before you publish the content.

This may all seem like a long process and, honestly, it can be. And this is only the SME interview part of content creation. There’s a lot more that goes into crafting the final article.

Add the fact that you always have to create, and content marketing becomes daunting.

Katrina McKinnon


I'm Katrina McKinnon, founder of CopySmiths and Small Revolution. In my 20 years of experience, I have helped online businesses create high-performing content specifically on an eCommerce store's blog. Find me on LinkedIn and Twitter.