This article is the first in our 3-part series on tips for interviewing stakeholders and using the information you get to create engaging and empathetic content.
When I first started out as a health writer, the notion of interviewing a stakeholder was terrifying. Like many of my fellow writers, my gift is the written word, not the spoken word. The idea of talking to someone I didn’t know about a topic I knew nothing about rocked my introverted sensibilities.
And these weren’t your average technical specialists. They were physicians – many of whom were nationally renowned experts, busy saving lives. I feared dead air, not to mention making a fool of myself. Over the years, I’ve avoided both scenarios with these 3 doable interview prep steps.
Mental Prep Before Interview Prep
I know what you’re thinking: Interview prep takes time. It’s one more thing on your already overflowing to-do list. But it’s time well spent. The more prepared you are, the better your interview will go – and the more likely you’ll be able to write content that’s chock full of juicy details.
Before interviewing a healthcare stakeholder, take a moment to prepare mentally. Bear in mind:
- The goal of the interview is to foster a meaningful conversation with your stakeholder so you can get their expert answers, opinions and ideas (some of which you may not be able to find anywhere else.)
- You’re not an expert in the stakeholder’s field, and that’s OK. They don’t expect you to be. It’s precisely because you’re not an expert – and they are – that you’re having this interview!
- When you come into the interview prepared, it shows, and they appreciate it.
There. Prep just got a little easier, didn’t it?
Step 1: Find Out What the Stakeholder’s World Is All About
Learn as much about the topic you’ll be discussing as is reasonable. For some projects, step 1 might take 15 minutes. Other times, it could take hours. It depends on the content type you’ll be creating and the audience you’ll be writing for.
Here’s an example: Sports medicine interviews are a breeze for me. I’m an athlete and well-versed in common sports injuries, so I don’t need to do a ton of advanced research. But if I’m writing about a new topic or the client has gobs of existing material, then I’ll need to spend more time poring over information. And every time a stakeholder says, “Oh, that’s a good question,” I’m grateful for the time I spent on this step.
Take an inch-deep, mile-wide approach:
- Find out about relevant service offerings, people and potential differentiators
- Skim resources for broad themes, such as care close to home or the latest technologies – but don’t catalog every finding that catches your eye
There are many places to gather background information, such as:
- Current website
- Physician bios
- Client blog posts and news releases
- Stakeholder reports (aka statistical reports and outcomes reports)
- Video content from YouTube
- Patient stories
Step 2: Start Developing Your Interview Game Plan
Maybe your stakeholder is an oncologist, and you’ve written plenty about cancer. Or perhaps you’ve even written content before for the same organization. It’s easy to think you don’t have to have a game plan, but you’d be wrong. Each organization and service line is unique, and it’s up to you to flesh out their story.
Take stock of what you learned in step 1 and identify areas where the stakeholder can expand your knowledge.
- Is there jargon that the stakeholder could strengthen with supporting details? Phrases like “multidisciplinary care” and “evidence-based clinical guidelines” are signs of good things to come – there are probably great differentiators behind those words. A question such as, “Can you tell me how your multidisciplinary approach leads to better care?” has never failed to yield awesome sauce.
- Are there claims that the stakeholder can validate? The word “only” is always a red flag. Ask something like, “Are you still the only hospital in the area offering treatment X?” You may get a yes/no answer. But often, the stakeholder will offer additional nuggets, such as “We are no longer the only one, but we definitely have the best outcomes.”
- Did you read something that didn’t make sense? It’s perfectly fine to say you don’t understand something. Or maybe you followed it in concept but not well enough to explain to a consumer. Radiation oncology treatments are often tricky to write about: IMRT, SBRT, IGRT, beads, spheres and gel – oh my! Don’t fret. Just ask. The stakeholder’s response could save you hours of research. (See? I’m not just creating more work for you – I’m saving you time down the road!)
Step 3: Make Your List of Questions
When interviewing a healthcare stakeholder, head into the interview with a list of questions. Once you get talking, the conversation could bounce around to any number of topics. Without a list to fall back on, all your work up to this point could be for naught.
Consider the size and scope of your project to make sure you get to the right level of detail with your stakeholder. You might be good with just a dozen or so questions if the stakeholder is advising on one or two pages. On the flip side, if you have one or two interviews to cover 75 pages (it happens!), you’ll want to ask a lot of questions and make sure that each one counts.
Read On, My Fellow Preppers!
For more content writing inspiration, read these posts from my fellow Aha writers:
- 6 Steps to Blog Writing Magic
- Writing Tips From the Editor Who Rejects Everything
- Feeling Stuck? Move Forward Anyway
- What Is Conversational Writing and How to Get It in Your Organization
Check back soon for part 2 of this series, where you’ll learn how to get the most out of your interview.