Mastering the Expert Interview
No matter where you are in your content marketing strategy, expert interviews are a great way to add new flavor to your blog posts, content campaigns, and social media.
However, interviewing experts can be intimidating if you’ve never done it before. What should you say? How should you act? What should you do?
Here are a few quick tips and tricks that you can use during your first (or next) expert interview.
Tip #1: Clarify Your Objective
Before you spend a lot of time conducting research or contacting a lot of people, take a step back and figure out the purpose behind your expert interview.
Why are you interviewing an expert?
Do you have a specific set of content that you want to produce? Are you looking for feedback on a product or service? Do you need to clarify something technical for your business or for an audience?
There are a ton of great reasons to interview an expert but, like most highly skilled professionals, experts are likely to have a ton of specialized knowledge that you don’t actually need.
Knowing why you need to interview someone, what you need to talk about, and who might be a good fit can help you save time, money, and effort before it’s even time to start reaching out.
Tip #2: Do Your Research
This applies to everything from finding an expert you want to interview to creating interview questions about a particular subject area.
Remember: The goal of an expert interview is to uncover specific information or technical knowledge that you can use for a specific purpose.
When you connect with an expert, they’ll know very quickly if you’ve conducted any prior research on their area of expertise. While many experts are happy to explain basics and fundamentals, it might not be the best use of your time or theirs.
Plus, you can compile a better set of questions and receive better answers from your expert if you’ve taken the time to dig a little deeper into their subject matter and their professional background.
Tip #3: Share And Collaborate
Interviews that are intended for public consumption can make people nervous.
Nobody wants to be misconstrued by a media outlet (even a blog) or have their words taken out of context just to twist a story, and nobody likes a “gotcha,” where their words are used against them.
Both before and after your expert interview is complete, sharing your documents and notes can go a long way toward building stronger connections and better business relationships.
What does that look like?
Here’s an example.
Before any expert interview, I explain the following:
- What I’m doing
- Why I’m doing it
- How they can help
- What I’m expecting
- What they should expect
- How long it should take
Usually, all of that happens in the form of an outreach email that I use to get them on board.
After my expert is committed to the engagement, I share my list of questions in advance so that they have time to consider their answers before we sit down to interview.
Once the article is complete, I share it with them for a final review so that they have the opportunity to alter any quotes, fact check the content, and provide any feedback.
If you’re familiar with journalism, this is a big no-no.
But marketing isn’t journalism and you don’t have to play by the same rules!
Your interview content shouldn’t make anyone look bad. In fact, it should make your expert shine and your brand look great!
That’s why sharing and collaborating is a win-win for your business.
Sure, there are a lot of extra steps to reach the finish line when you do it this way, but there’s also a huge payoff.
Not only does a collaborative process help you gather expert know-how from your interviewee; it also helps you forge a strong business relationship with someone who may be a key resource down the road.
Tip #4: Be Curious
In general, the notes and questions that I create for my interview guide the conversation in the direction that I want it to go.
But they’re more like guidelines than actual rules.
My general methodology when conducting interviews is to follow the questionnaire until the interviewee says something interesting.
Then we fall down that rabbit hole.
Staying loose during the interview is a great way to explore unexpected territory and keep the conversation fresh.
This is easy to do if you’ve taken the time to prepare and you’re genuinely curious about a topic. It’s much harder if you’re flying blind.
That’s why you should always do your research (Tip #2) and have a clear objective (Tip #1) before seeking expert knowledge.
Keep in mind that true curiosity is hard to fake because it requires a certain level of investment in a specific topic.
If you’re unprepared and you try to seem interested, your expert will probably know — and that can sour the relationship.
Personally, the way that I keep things interesting is by building a bridge between the brand I represent and the expert that I’m trying to interview.
If my brand is all about customer empowerment and I’m talking to someone who is an expert in ATMs, I might talk to him about automation, customer service, and the future of banking.
It all depends, but if I’ve done the work upfront, the expert is willing to take that journey with me.
Tip #5: Be Polite
This goes without saying, and it’s a good rule besides.
In this case, being polite deserves a special mention. When it comes to expert interviews, many subject matter experts and specialists will give their time for free.
Especially if they’re passionate about their profession or the topic of conversation, many experts just want to share that knowledge with someone.
Think about it. Even if you’re an expert in how water pumps work and that knowledge is enough to help you land a job, you’re still not going to have many opportunities to sit down and just geek out about water pumps for fun.
To the right expert, this type of interview can be great fun.
With all that in mind, it’s good to remember that most experts are doing you a favor by volunteering their time and expertise to your brand and your content.
Especially if you aren’t paying them, going the extra mile to be punctual, polite, and well-informed can leave a lasting impression.
Tip #6: Record Your Meeting
Even if you only treat it as a backup, record your expert interview. You’ll spend less time managing notes and more time focused on your expert.
Here’s a personal story to illustrate that point:
When I first started interviewing people, I kept a Google Doc open on one side of my screen and a video interview on the other.
If I conducted a phone interview, I used headphones and typed out what the interviewer said.
Now, I’m Quicksilver behind a keyboard. I can catch pretty much everything word-for-word. But I’m not perfect.
Everybody misses something, and when you’re also trying to ask questions and explore topics with someone, it’s too easy for the wires to get crossed.
Plus, without a recording, you don’t have a record of the meeting. What if you want to refer back to something? What if you get sidetracked from your project and come back to it a month later?
Even if you take good notes, you might be missing some context.
There are too many things that can go wrong, and it’s an unnecessary risk to take with your project and with your expert’s time.
These days, I still take notes when I interview, but I’m more likely to summarize. I also add timestamps to my notes because I know that I can refer back to a specific point in my meeting for additional details.
Trust me: Record your interview. The tradeoff is worth it.
Tip #7: Give a Promo
One of the questions that I build into any interview template I create is this:
Are you promoting anything and how should I direct people to find you?
On the surface, this question does exactly what you think it does. It gives someone a way to promote themselves within the content.
But it also does a couple of other things.
First, if your expert is looking for name recognition, adding a name and linking out to them as a source can be super valuable. Even if you’re just sending readers over to their LinkedIn page, other professionals in your industry who read through their expert advice may reach out to them directly.
And that’s a good thing, especially for expert consultants who are always looking for ways to promote themselves.
Second, it also puts some skin in the game for the expert. Not only are they willing to stand behind their own expertise, but they’re also willing to put their name on it.
Plus, they may even promote and reshare the article to their own audience, allowing you to reach users who would never have seen your content otherwise.
With so much content floating around out there today, getting advocates for your brand really matters. If you’re willing to share in the glory and recognition, you might find that there’s more than enough to go around.
Transparency Is King in Expert Interviews
The absolute best thing you can do to master an expert interview is simple: Be transparent about your intentions and clear about your expected outcomes.
Your expert is trusting you to walk them through what can ultimately be a complicated and intimidating process.
By operating with transparency, you can set nervous interviewees at ease and get the expert knowledge you need in order to make your brand or product successful.
I’ll be the first to admit that it’s not easy, but taking the time to improve your interviewing skills can create exciting opportunities for any brand.
Need help interviewing experts? Give me a shout!