by Melanie Graham

As healthcare marketers and communicators, we often lean on the knowledge of clinicians, nurses and physicians. These subject matter experts (SMEs) are at the core of our content, and we transform their expertise into messages that speak to patients and consumers.

But it’s no secret that healthcare SMEs have packed schedules and coordinating an interview can be tricky. Once you land a spot on the SME’s calendar, it’s crucial that you make the most out of your meeting – it may be the only opportunity you have to ask questions and talk with the SME directly.

Here are a few tips to ensure you have a successful and productive SME interview:

Prepare your questions in advance

Even a seasoned healthcare communicator can benefit from a little prep work! Spend some time crafting questions and putting them in an order that will help the flow of conversation. If you have the time, don’t try to come up with every question at once. Write a few questions down, work on something else, and come back to the questions a few hours later (or the next day). Reviewing the list after taking a break will give you a fresh set of eyes that may find a topic you forgot to cover.

Send your questions to the SME

If possible, send your questions to the SME in advance. Doing this will help the SME feel more comfortable, and it will also give the SME the opportunity to be prepared to answer. Plus, sending advance questions allows time for clarification before the interview, rather than during the conversation.

Set aside enough time for the interview

Scheduling can be tight, but try not to sacrifice your interview time. If you need a half an hour to do the interview, don’t try to cram it into a 15-minute conversation. There will be times you’ll need to bend on scheduling, but a rushed conversation is less likely to get you the information you need. On the flip side, be mindful of the SME’s schedule; don’t set aside an hour block if you know the interview will only take 20 minutes.

Leave time for an open-ended question

If you have the time, include an open-ended question at the end of the interview. Something along the lines of, “Is there anything else that you’d like to chat about?” can give the SME an opportunity to elaborate on a response or bring up a topic you may have missed. You’ll often find some great nuggets of information in these answers!

Do your research

Avoid walking into the interview blind, especially if it’s an SME you haven’t worked with in the past. No one is expecting you to be the expert (that’s the SME’s job) but be sure to read up on the subject of your interview, as well as the SME. Understanding the SME’s specialty can help you create tailored questions that are likely to prompt more detailed answers.

Give yourself an extra five at the start

Always set aside some extra time on your calendar to get your ducks in a row. Review the topic, read through your questions and make sure you are distraction-free before the interview begins (turn that phone to silent, if you can!)

Review the interview immediately

Once you’ve finished the interview, take the time to review your notes as soon as possible. Clean up your shorthand and make sure you have a clear understanding of the SME’s answers. This will help surface any pressing follow-up questions and make the content writing process smoother.

Send your follow-up questions with a thank you note

It’s important to thank SMEs for setting aside time to speak with you, so be sure to follow-up with an email shortly after your meeting. This is also an excellent opportunity to include follow-up questions for the SME, in case you missed something or ran out of time during your interview. Sending the questions sooner rather than later can help avoid delays down the road.

What are your tips for SME interview success? Share your ideas in the comments section below or reach out to us on Facebook or Twitter.