Knowing all that rides on a subject matter interview, it’s common for marketers to suffer paralysis by analysis.

I need to be prepared. Have I read enough about this topic? Are my questions clear? What am I missing? Have I thought of everything?

With all these worries, it’s no wonder interviewers almost dread these conversations instead of look forward to them.

But it doesn’t need to be this stressful.

Why are you even having the conversation?

According to senior strategist Grace Wright, the first step in interview prep is awfully simple: Define the problem or question the conversation is meant to address.

If no problem or question can be articulated, cancel the call. Simple as that.

What’s the angle?

With the problem or question clearly defined, you should establish the angle. If defining the problem or question is “why,” then the angle is the “what” and “how.” It’s like taking the idea for a painting and turning it into a rough sketch.

That rough sketch can take the form of a content outline or a strategy brief; each is equally effective.

I think content outlines work better if you’re tackling “bigger” topics or are producing long-form written, video or audio content. Strategy briefs are just that — brief — and work well for smaller items like blog posts or case studies.

Prep better with these information sources

Here’s a no-nonsense rundown of great sources of information that’ll be helpful as you prepare.

  • Internet searches are everyone’s gateway, although they can be frustrating. If you don’t see what you’re looking for in the first page, go to the second. Then the third. Patience pays off.
  • Internal documents like sales decks, product specs, estimates, bids, drawings and even sales call recordings or transcripts.
  • Academic articles are easier to access than you think. Governments support troves of academic articles across their websites which are free to access. And if you have a library card, you probably have access to all manner of journals.
  • Court filings might seem like a weird source for information, but you’d be surprised at the amount you can learn just by reading why someone is suing someone else.
  • Wikipedia is unfairly saddled by the reputation our grade school teachers gave it. Its articles include linked citations, making it a superb venue for finding original sources.

Check in with yourself as you prepare

One of my favorite tactics during interview prep is to jot down what I do and don’t know.

Then, I zoom out from time to time to check in with myself. Am I finding answers to my questions? Are the answers spawning new questions? Do I see conflicting information across sources?

Be mindful and know that if you’re having a hard time during preparation, that in itself is a great question to ask your subject.

I’m not getting answers to these questions, or I’m seeing conflicting information. Why is that? What’s going on here? It could reveal important arguments or debates ongoing in an industry — and that’s content pay dirt as far as I’m concerned. And when your subject matter expert takes a bold stance on a matter of contention, it builds brand authority and fosters feelings of trust.