What are your best tips for pulling information out of subject matter experts (SMEs)?

Posted July 10, 2020 in
Content Content
Is it just me, or does it sometimes feel like pulling teeth for content managers to get all the information they need from SMEs?

One thing I notice in lots of content managers is the hesitancy to ask follow up questions for when experts explain something in a really technical way (that literally no one but them understands). I think there's sometimes a fear of "looking dumb" when really, the job of the content manager is to distill the expert's knowledge in a simple way that anyone (even someone "dumb" about the specifics of that industry) can understand.

What are the best practices you've incorporated into your process to get the experts to actually share their expertise with you in an efficient way?
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Jolie Higazi
Brian Casey - You've had some thoughts on this topic before, can you share some of your tips?

And as someone who has done a great job of asking enough questions until he "became the expert" himself, Matt Carter , can you share what's helped you in making your interviews with Bill more efficient over time?
Brian Casey
I think one of the biggest takeaways is first to recognize that you as a content writer aren't the expert and that you don't have to be. Sure, in time you'll learn more and more and grow your own expertise - but don't feel like you can't ask questions. If you're not able to understand and translate what comes out of the mouth of an SME - it's very likely that your reader isn't going to understand it either. After all, they aren't SMEs either.

I've had multiple clients tell me that by the questions that I ask because I'm confused reading their content they've felt empowered to have conversations and push back on internal experts to clarify things. Writers have told me they've learned more about that thing they sell in 3 months than in years of working at their company. 

Another thing that will help grease the wheels is by setting clear guidelines for the interview. Go in prepared. Send questions in advance. Stick to the time limit that you scheduled the interview for. Tell them who the exact audience is for the article (so that you're empowered to ask follow up questions.) This helps the SME feel like you're respecting their time and they'll be more cooperative.
John Becker
Brian Casey I totally agree! If a content writer doesn't understand something, it's likely a customer won't either. 

Liz Murphy
Jolie Higazi Did you ever listen to  John Becker 's interview with me about how to interview subject matter experts on Content Lab? I can't recommend it enough: https://www.impactbnd.com/blog/content-lab-podcast-how-to-interview-subject-matter-experts
John Becker
Aww shucks!
Jolie Higazi
Ah, thanks  Liz Murphy  ! I'll make sure to pass that along to my clients!

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