How to Interview a Thought Leader
by Susan Varty, Managing Partner
I call this the Varty method (of course 😉 ) after countless interviews over my career. It was recently described as an interview process that is “reverse-engineered” and I’m all about being different. This method pulls out the interesting qualities in others to ensure the content is engaging, relevant, and lasts well into the future (as evergreen content). Also, this happens to be fabulous for SEO and to help people prepare for a live event.
- Identify your thought leader. A thought leader has two key components at a minimum: 1 – established expertise (deemed influential) and 2 – a willingness to share it with a wider audience. Sometimes, they are comfortable sharing already – others, not so much. But the important thing is that they are willing to share and participate. Choosing people with both of these components will set you up for success and inspire others to get involved.
- Don’t draft your questions. Arrange a meeting, face-to-face if possible. Your goal is to ask them what they want to say and customize the questions later. During this meeting, you gain insight into context that can result in better content: their personality, their office environment, what they value and how they have built their career. Let them know that you will craft the questions later based on your conversation.
Here are some open-ended questions I use at this meeting: What’s your background and how did you get to this stage in your career? What do you want to be known for? Why do you value X, Y, Z? Listen. Don’t interrupt. Most importantly, use awkward silences and stay silent – that’s when people are formulating what they want to say.
- Take notes during the meeting. What themes emerge?
- Draft your questions based on the themes that emerged. Add your notes in bullet form.
- Send them the questions with your notes and ask them if this is along the lines of what they were expecting.
- Write it out and finalize. (PR and Legal teams love this part especially.)
- Optional: Conduct the interview live, by phone, video or podcast.
- Let your audience know a written copy of the interview is available and where it is published – then share!
Bonus tip: Lead with what makes people unique and avoid listing facts whenever possible. Anyone can look those up on LinkedIn.
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