Learning to get the most from subject matter experts

When I’m writing financial content, the chance to gather input from a subject matter expert is a golden opportunity. An expert brings vital depth to the content and provides a unique viewpoint. Subject matter experts can be portfolio managers, product specialists, senior salespeople or researchers – any authority with a thorough understanding of a particular topic.

Here are four strategies I use to make the most of it:

1. Explain what I’m working on.

Subject matter experts are generally busy people, so it can be hard to corral a spot on their calendars and still meet my deadline. Explaining my project’s parameters and goals – and exactly how the person’s expertise can help – can go a long way in securing a key meeting. I try to ask for “30 minutes this week to discuss the historical performance of Fund X as it pertains to next quarter’s roadshow deck.” That approach is usually more effective than requesting “some time to chat about a slide.” Plus, clearly stating my mission will help the expert prepare for the meeting.

2. Do my homework.

While I’m not expected to know everything about the topic, my conversation with a subject matter expert will be especially productive if I’ve done some homework. I set aside time to do basic research and read relevant materials – especially ones the expert has written or contributed to. For bonus points, I check out what competitors are doing and brush up on any contrarian viewpoints. I show up ready to ask probing questions that will unearth content gems. My overarching goal: Don’t waste time asking questions I could have answered with a Google search.

3. Arrive with an agenda.

There’s no worse feeling than hanging up the phone and realizing one of my key questions remains unanswered. Having an agenda also helps me keep the conversation on track. While a winding conversation can sometimes reveal a great idea or quote, I always prefer to have a list of key questions at the ready.

4. Don’t be afraid to ask follow-up questions.

Sometimes I feel out of my depth when an expert talks shop, but I vow to never be afraid to ask for clarification. If I’ve done my homework, I should feel confident about my own knowledge base. If an expert’s comment is unclear to me, it will certainly be unclear to the readers.

When I execute these strategies, I’m almost guaranteed to have a fruitful and efficient conversation. I get what I need as a writer, and the expert feels like it was time well spent.