10 Tips for Conducting an Effective Subject Matter Expert Interview

Vicki Woschnick
Posted by Vicki Woschnick on April 13, 2017


Content marketing is fueled by expertise, and interviewing a Subject Matter Expert (SME) is a great way to lend solid credibility to your work.

How you go about capturing the depth of knowledge an SME offers requires an interviewing approach that is purposeful, efficient and also artful enough to put the interviewee at ease. It’s a skill for which some writers have a natural aptitude, while others need to practice. Either way, these tips will help you add some polish to your interviewing strategy and some valuable SME insights to your content:

1. Define a Topic and Time Limit

Your SME is likely an expert in more than one area. Clearly define the topic you want to explore with him or her. This focus will help your SME stay on track, plus you’ll be able to better manage the time required to cover the subject matter (shoot for 30 minutes—anything under may leave you with information gaps, and anything over could mean sifting through extraneous information when you’re ready to write).

2. Set Expectations

Once you decide on the topic and time needed, convey the information to your SME. Explain your content goal, the topic and your needs, and assess their willingness to participate in an interview.

3. Prepare Yourself

Your level of expertise will not match that of the SME for obvious reasons. That’s okay, but it doesn’t mean you should be passive. Familiarize yourself with the topic enough so you can engage with the SME in meaningful ways and extract on-point content. A little due diligence will also build your confidence before and during the interview so you can seamlessly pivot directions or answer unanticipated questions.

4. Question Your Questions

If your list of questions will likely elicit simple “yes” or “no” answers, a SME interview is pointless. Rethink your strategy to include open-ended questions that SMEs can answer in-depth. A word of caution: leaving your questions too wide open (“Tell me about X”) increases the odds for interview derailment. Compose pointed questions that guide the SME from broad discussion to providing targeted, topic-centric information.

5. Prepare Your SME

Send your SME your questions prior to the interview. That will allow them sufficient time to think through their responses, gather resources if necessary, and generally attain a comfort level.

6. Get on With It

Interviewing an expert can be a little intimidating, and can cause writer vapor lock if you overthink it. Dive in! Trust your preparation, and remind yourself that SMEs don’t expect you to know everything about their area of expertise or industry. Your willingness to remain open to learning will make your content piece just that much better.

7. Summarize and Clarify

At the end of the interview, you’ll have a lot of notes. Scan them for any areas that require some clarification and ask for it. Doing a quick recap in the moment can prevent you from having to schedule more time with the SME later, and spare them from having to wrack their brains as to context after the fact.

8. Ask for Parting Thoughts

The last question on your list shouldn’t be the last question you ask. Let your SME weigh in on any points you may have missed or answers they may want to expand on to further develop the topic in relevant ways.

9. Know Your Limits

Respect your SME’s time and contributions. Stay on topic and on time. In short, follow through on the agreed-to interview expectations.

10. Reiterate Next Steps

Build in a few minutes at the end of the interview to discuss what happens next with the content. It’s a great time to ask your SME if they’d like to be looped into final review. Some will accept, some won’t. Give them the option.

The quality of your content partially dictates the quality of your inbound marketing results. Don’t be afraid to reach out to SMEs in your existing customer base or target industries, and apply the valuable advice you’ll find in our eBook, 10 Ways to Keep Your Blog Stocked with Great Content. Click the button below to download your free copy.

10 ways to keep your blog stocked with great content


Topics: Content Marketing