It’d be nice if communicators knew everything about everything, but that’s why we have subject matter experts (SMEs) to provide what we need to create informative, engaging articles or videos. Often, our most useful tool in gathering the necessary information is the SME interview.
It might seem like a minor consideration, but honing your interview skills can make a big difference between ending up with a run-of-the-mill communication with basic information or an engaging article or video with lots of juicy content. Following a few fundamentals can help you get the most from your SME during an interview.
Send Questions In Advance If Requested
Many people will want to see the questions you plan to ask in advance. It’s not that they don’t trust you; it’s that they want to think about the answers and give you a detailed response. This might sometimes seem annoying. After all, unless you’re a news reporter looking for a big scoop, you’re not planning to ask any ‘gotcha’ questions. Again, it’s a comfort level thing. Some people respond better when they’ve had time to ponder.
At the very least, connect with the interviewee a day or two before and let him/her know the topics that will be discussed. The forethought and attention to preparation will be appreciated and will help build trust.
Chat It Up
Don’t make it feel like a formal interview. Make a conscious effort to make small talk before, during, and after the discussion. It increases trust and makes the interviewee feel more comfortable speaking with you. Make complimentary remarks about a photo or memento on the desk or wall. If they say something funny (or something they think is funny), laugh!
Don’t Just Read Questions: Engage In Conversation
It’s hard to think that far back, but I’m sure when I first began conducting interviews for my communications, I probably sounded like InquisiTron, the Question-Reading Robot. I’ve certainly seen former colleagues simply read questions verbatim from the notepad in monotone fashion. They got answers, but it was a wasted opportunity to draw out more content.
People are more apt to provide you with juicy answers that make for a better article or video when you show that you are truly interested in what they have to say. Ask follow-up questions. Speculate on scenarios that clarify the topic they’re discussing. Remark on certain points you find interesting. In other words, make the experience more of a conversation than an interview.
Put Words In Their Mouths
Sometimes your interviewee won’t know what to say… or that is, (s)he won’t know the best way to say it. I’ve had several people in the chair across from me stumble on their words, looking for me to help them. Luckily, I’m a pretty good wordsmith, and because I pay close attention to what they’ve said, I was able to repeat the answer back in a way that made them say, “Yes! That’s what I was trying to say. Perfect!” They want to give the best answer possible, so there’s no shame in providing assistance.
This is especially helpful for video interviews – when you really need that perfect answer on camera. In these cases, the person really wants to come off well and sound knowledgeable. So coaching them on giving the best answer will be appreciated.
It also applies to editing an article, when you need to craft their words in just the right way (with their review and approval, of course). This isn’t a newspaper article or court testimony. Polish your quotes to make for a better read. You don’t have to get every ‘um’ or ‘uh’ or quote them verbatim if they spoke incorrectly from a grammatical perspective.
So how do your interviews usually go? Do you have any personal tips you follow? Let me know in the comment section below!
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