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4 Techniques for Finding and Interviewing Your Dream Subject-Matter Expert

4 Techniques for Finding and Interviewing Your Dream Subject-Matter Expert

No matter the industry, we all have a favorite subject-matter expert (SME).

They’re the people whose books fill your bookshelf, whose newsletters fill your inbox, and whose tweets dominate your Twitter feed.

Their knowledge is the content compass that guides you as you create the informative, engaging, and valuable information your readers adore.

Now imagine interviewing those same SMEs on your website, delivering your readers’ favorite content direct from the experts themselves.

You’ve seen big names do it in their articles and podcasts, and you’d like to do the same.

It’s a privilege reserved for Internet insiders, right?

Not quite.

In fact, from local leaders to Internet superstars, you’re only four steps away from interviewing your dream subject-matter expert on your website:

  1. Connect with an applicable SME
  2. Ask the SME for an interview
  3. Craft the interview questions
  4. Interview the SME

Grab your notepad and take notes — it’s time to interview that SME you’ve admired.

1. Connect with a subject-matter expert

So you have a favorite SME. Maybe it’s someone local like a councilperson, or someone global like a keynote speaker.

You share a similar perspective on your industry, but unfortunately, the closest you’ve come to a meaningful connection is a retweet on Twitter.

Creating a meaningful connection is easier than you may think. It’s all about getting yourself in the same room — literally or figuratively.

There are two methodologies to this:

  • The old-school way
  • The new-school way

Both work — it’s just a matter of finding the way that works best for you.

The old-school way is the good old face-to-face model. You meet in person, shake hands, and trade business cards. Your millennial co-workers may scoff at this, however — in the right venue — it’s a sure-fire way to connect with an SME.

Connecting in the right venue is a must. No SME wants to talk business while comparing apples at the grocery store.

And to find the right venue, there’s no better resource than Meetup.

Meetup is the world’s largest network of local groups, meeting in person as frequently as once a week. And with over 24 million members spanning over 200,000 groups worldwide, no matter your industry there’s a group for you.

Here’s how it works: go to Meetup.com, search your industry, and join the groups that best correlate to your business and have the most members. Larger groups often host panels throughout the year, inviting SMEs as panelists.

Show up, drink the complimentary beverages, and boom: you’ll be among not just one, but several SMEs in your industry. You don’t have to say anything extraordinary — just introduce yourself, shake hands, and trade business cards. The interview proposal will come in step two.

So we’ve got the old-school way covered, but what about the new-school way?

The new-school way is strictly digital: email, Twitter, LinkedIn, etc. Your millennial co-workers will praise you for applying this method — and if done correctly — so will your readers.

If you’re on social media, you may already be practicing the new-school way: maybe retweeting the SME’s tweets, or sharing his or her work on LinkedIn.

Sure, the SME may see your notification, but don’t expect it to bear fruit. Instead, go big: ask them to connect.

Say you like his or her work, share a similar perspective on the industry, and would like to connect. Nail that in under 140 characters, and I can almost guarantee you’ll get a response.

You’re not proposing an interview — that’s the next step. You’re simply connecting.

So whether you’re an old-schooler or a new-schooler, you have solid strategies to connect with an applicable SME. Now, you’re ready to ask for an interview.

2. Ask the SME for an interview

Now that you’ve connected, you’re prepared to ask for an interview.

But before you make the call or send the email, you need to research the SME. You’ll know you’re done when you can answer three questions:

  • What exactly is the expertise of the SME?
  • Why is that expertise valuable for my industry?
  • How does that expertise correlate to my business?

Don’t skip research — it’s the only way you’ll cover the essential elements of a successful interview proposal.

I asked Dr. Chris Lam, subject-matter expert in statistics/research methodology, what interview proposal approach he responds to positively. The approach isn’t anything concrete like subject line wording. Instead, it’s a philosophy that must shine through your proposal.

The approach entails:

  • Mutual respect
  • Shared language
  • Collaboration

Mutual respect ensures you don’t downplay the SME’s knowledge. If the SME feels like you’re treating him or her as a commodity, you won’t get an interview. From the start, tell the SME why you admire his or her knowledge, and how that knowledge has improved your business.

Use concrete language — nothing fluffy. Shared language ensures you and the SME are on the same playing field, even though his or her knowledge surpasses your own. The more vocabulary you share, the more likely he or she will agree to an interview.

Demonstrate that shared language in your communication.

Ensure both parties benefit from the collaboration.

Your blog will benefit, but how will the SME benefit? Will you include a link to the SME’s site? Will the SME have the opportunity to pitch an upcoming book or project?

Use this approach in your interview proposal, and you will — at the very least — create a dialogue with the SME.

Once the SME agrees to an interview, you’re ready to craft the interview questions.

3. Craft the interview questions

Behind all great interviews are interviewers who wrote compelling questions.

So grab a pen, pad, and your pre-proposal research.

You have the research you need to craft the questions, but how do you begin?

Begin with some starter questions to prime the pump: Ask what projects he or she is working on, what big stuff is happening.

Then, once the water starts flowing, the conversation should take a firm yet natural shift — with questions applying to only two audiences: your readers and the SME.

There are no set questions that create a successful interview. There is, however, a concrete solution to crafting them — find the intersection between your readers and the SME.

And the best way to find that intersection is to create a Venn diagram.

Say you own a personal training business, and you’re crafting interview questions for a professional fitness coach.

You’ve noticed your blog’s readers respond well to three topics: cardio exercises, post-workout meals, and at-home training. And from your research, you’ve noted that the SME excels in those same three topics.

subject-matter-expert-venn-diagram

Your best questions are in the intersections of these topics. Find them, and the interview will resonate with your readers, guaranteed.

Lastly, make a note reminding you to thank the SME for his or her time, and confidently set down the pen — knowing you’ve crafted questions that will excite the SME, and in turn, delight your readers.

With your script in hand, you’re ready to interview the SME.

4. Interview the SME

Each prior step — connecting with the SME, asking for the interview, crafting the questions — has led to this moment.

You’re ready to interview the SME.

Think about the format in which you’d like to interview the SME: will it be written or audio? Your subject-matter expert may have a preference.

The written format will look like this:

Send the SME your questions in an email, and publish his or her responses in a blog post. The interview will have a concrete structure, and each question will be dissected fully.

Copyblogger does a great job of the written interview with its Hero’s Journey series. The blog post opens with an introduction to the “hero,” and why his or her knowledge is valuable for the readers. Then they segue to the interview — writing the questions, writing the answers.

If you’re new to interviewing, I recommend you start with the written interview. The concrete structure will guarantee your questions will get answered.

The audio format will look like this:

Invite the SME on your podcast or other audio platform, and publish the interview on your blog. The interview won’t have as concrete a structure as the written format, but the spontaneity will uncover some hidden gems you wouldn’t have otherwise discussed.

Hack the Entrepreneur, a podcast hosted by Jon Nastor, is a great example of the oral interview. Like the Hero’s Journey Series, Jon opens the interview with a brief introduction of his guest, and then he begins asking questions. But unlike the written interview, he and his guest have the freedom to follow the flow of the conversation — scripted or unscripted.

You don’t get the concrete structure of a written interview, but the spontaneity is engaging to  you, your guest, and your readers.

Remember that notion we discussed in the intro, how interviewing SMEs is a privilege reserved for Internet insiders?

Most will never attempt it. But you’re not most.

You know the four essential steps to interviewing any SME on your blog:

  1. Connect with an applicable SME
  2. Ask the SME for an interview
  3. Craft the interview questions
  4. Interview the SME

Trust the steps and apply them today. Because it’s time to interview your dream subject-matter expert!

Pamela Wilson

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5 thoughts on “4 Techniques for Finding and Interviewing Your Dream Subject-Matter Expert”

  1. I’m officially inspired.
    I am starting my first podcast in 2016 and I’m not going to be afraid to reach out. If I get a ‘no’, well that’s the worst that could happen.

    Thank you for the inspiration.

  2. Nice post, Jacob! A to-the-point, no-fuss way to connect with people. I think I’ll put these to work for some upcoming interviews I’m planning.

    (I also like the link to the Hero’s Journey series 🙂

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