Ah, the ever elusive “they’re the experts, but they don’t have time” conundrum.
This isn’t just the CEO, either. It’s subject matter experts, scientists, engineers, product managers, and more.
When that question is asked, we always recommend two things:
- Interview them and record the conversation. Every one of us has at least a few minutes with the CEO at least monthly. Go to those meetings prepared with a list of questions to ask—and record it. If you are prepared and do it quickly, you’ll have content for the next month.
- Send them articles for comment. You’re already monitoring the news (I hope). Add in some search terms that will find articles of interest to you subject matter experts. Kimberly Crossland told us about Voxer. She said, “It’s like a virtual walkie talkie. I L-O-V-E it. I use it with a client who I ghostwrite for. He leaves me a LONG Voxer about the article and I turn it into text.”
When you make it that achievable, it’s pretty easy to get content.
But before those two things can happen, you have to come up with content topics—and become a better writer and editor.
Here are 10 ways to do all three of those things.
If you’re saying anything other than “can you elaborate on that?” or “can I verify this?”, you’re talking too much.
Especially in those interviews with your subject matter experts.
Ask the original question and then listen for queues to dig deeper.
To come up with content topics and be a good writer, you have to be a good listener.
Literally get up and move.
If you’re maximizing your brain’s endorphins and all those other chemicals that prompt the creative juices through exercise, writing becomes more natural.
I do my very best thinking while I’m on my bike.
It’s because there aren’t any other distractions (I mean, other than cars and people opening their doors into the bike lane).
But there is no phone (it’s in my back pocket) or social media or email or text messages.
It’s just me, the road, and my thoughts.
Even just a walk around the block without your phone will help you come up with content topics.
While I have no scientific research to support this, I strongly believe that readers make the best writers.
Fiction, nonfiction, instruction manuals, food labels, competitor’s websites, technical brochures.
Though I’m more inclined to recommend fiction because it makes you a better storyteller, any kind of reading works.
Just read—and keep a dictionary handy when you stumble upon new words.
This will not only make you a better writer, but it will help in coming up with content topics for your subject matter experts.
It’s going to take practice to get this down the right way.
You may go into your first interview with content topics and questions that don’t amount to anything.
Or the articles you send at first won’t elicit a response.
And, if you want to be a better writer for yourself, the company, and your subject matter experts, you have to actually write.
We have this card game at home that has one illustration on each.
You draw a card and start a story with the illustration that’s on there. The next person draws a card and continues the story using their illustration. And so on.
It’s a fun game for our four-year-old, but I also find it gives me great storytelling practice.
Any kind of practice works, but you have to do it to perfect it.
Likewise, those stories almost always begin with “Once upon a time” and “They lived happily ever after”.
In general, good writing has a beginning and an end.
As you craft the subject matter expert questions, think about how to best connect the dots in your work.
Ask yourself, “How will these questions result in the best content topics for our audiences?”
Use your analytical, logical, and problem-solving skills….actually think.
This will help you dig deeper during the conversation—and get the very best content out of your team.
Then, when you sit down to write the piece, you won’t have unanswered questions.
Learn to write in different voices.
Writing a speech for your CEO is completely different than writing a technical brochure than writing website copy.
This is going to happen naturally if you have several different subject matter experts.
And the diversification in your writing will serve to also make you a better writer.
Write when you and/or the content is fresh.
As soon as you’ve completed that interview, verified that research, or thought of that million-dollar-making strategy, write about it right then and there.
I find I have all sorts of content topics that I drop into a draft blog post in WordPress.
Then, when I go back to it days or weeks later, I’m no longer excited about it.
After you do the interview or you get comments back on the article you sent, get a draft written.
When you think you’ve completed the writing task, read it aloud.
Does the article flow, make sense, capture your interest, and have a point?
Does it sound as good as it did coming out of the subject matter expert’s mouth?
Will people clamor to it because your CEO sounds smart and credible?
Reading it aloud also helps you find missing words or misconstrued sentences.
And I don’t mean murmuring it aloud. I mean, actually reading it.
You’ll find things that read correctly on the screen, but make no sense otherwise.
Depending on your time frame, confidence and/or type of content, you may want to get feedback from either an experienced writer or a subject matter expert.
Paula Kiger helped me last week with a writing project and, before she sent me her part, she said, “Give me 24 hours. I want to get some feedback on it.”
I was happy to give her the time extension because I knew, by the time I received it, it would be the very best piece of content.
While some of the feedback will be pertinent, others might not be.
Use only that which helps clarify facts or provides more clarity.
Now that you’ve read it aloud, made necessary edits, and corrected grammar and spelling, put it down.
Go to bed. Let it sit overnight.
Repeat the reading it aloud and editing it process one more time.
By now, it should be in great shape for your subject matter expert.
Press send and start your new content project.
Great Content Topics Make Great Writers
As you begin this process, you’ll find you’re a bit rusty.
Practice definitely makes perfect.
(Or, as my piano teacher used to say, “Perfect practice makes perfect” as you started all the way at the beginning, if you made a mistake.)
The best part, though, is your subject matter experts will think you brilliant from the start.
The only person who will know you’re rusty is you.
Don’t let perfection get in the way of being done.
Just get to it and know, with time and practice, it will get better.