You work in communications. You need to get good content from your colleague – a blog post, news piece, white paper. You’ve been chasing them for days. But they haven’t got back to you.
There are lots of reasons why. You’ll know them, I’m sure:
They might find writing stressful and feel that other people – including their competitors – do it better. Why would they want to show themselves up in public?
Or they worry that if they voice an opinion on something, it will backfire and they’ll have to deal with complaints.
Plus, they’re too busy doing their job to think about promoting themselves. They’re swamped already.
There’ll be other, just as valid reasons as to why they’ve disappeared. But the result is the same for you.
You can’t do your job properly. And you want to do your job properly, so you can shout about the good work your colleagues do, get their name out there and attract projects that pay them well and make them happy.
So, what do you do?
Use a quick conversation to create great content
This article – and (free) downloadable mini guide (scroll down to the bottom) – gives you a starter pack to creating content in a different way. It involves you interviewing your colleagues.
If the word ‘interview’ puts you off, think of it as you leading a chat. With a few well-chosen questions, you’ll prompt your companion to open up and give you the content you need.
I know it works, because I’ve been using this approach for collecting content for 35+ years, first at the BBC and now with businesses in all sectors. I’ve seen how it makes the whole thing easier, more efficient, and enjoyable. And if you can get regular content from your colleagues with less hassle, the blog won’t be such a worry.
How conversation-based content works
Instead of asking your colleague to write something from scratch, you record a 15-minute interview with them over Zoom or Teams.
Then you get some clever software (like Otter.ai) to transcribe the call.
Then you use the transcript as the basis of your article.
Because 80% of the blog post will come from the conversation and 20% from you tidying it up, your colleague will be able to approve it without thinking about it too much.
Then it’s done.
Sounds good in theory. But I need to sort this today. How do I do that?
If you’re thinking, ‘That’s OK for you to say. You’ve been doing this for years, Miranda. But I’ve never done an interview in my life – at least, not with a colleague who’s senior to me and an expert in the jargonistic field of law/finance/engineering/IT/other complicated subject that you need a degree in.’
You’re right. It is daunting to quiz someone on technical things you know little about. Particularly if that someone is on a higher grade than you.
(As I write, my memory is short-circuiting to my early days as a BBC reporter, when I had to interview important people and get what I needed in the space of 10 minutes. And I only had one shot at it. Like your busy colleagues, they would not hang around while I rephrased my questions to get better answers. No pressure then. Which is why, in addition to this starter pack, I’m writing an email series to make sure you avoid my mistakes and have an easier time of it. More about that series in a moment.)
But first, let’s nail that blog post
I suggest you start with a safe and straightforward subject. Easy for you and your colleague.
It begins with this question: ‘What drew you to your sector?’
‘What drew you to your sector’ is a useful starting point. Although it’s linked to your colleague’s expertise, it shouldn’t get too technical for you, because it approaches their career from a personal perspective.
And your colleague should feel safe talking about it, because they’re not putting their knowledge or opinions on the line. They’re going back into the happy past and describing a thing that attracted them to their profession originally. This should trigger good memories about:
- subjects they enjoyed at school or college
- hobbies and interests outside school
- sources of inspiration: people, films, books, events, travel etc.
There are exceptions. Sometimes people are forced into a profession by circumstance or fall into it by chance. They won’t necessarily have positive memories to turn into stories. If that happens, switch to the present. Focus on what they enjoy most about working in their sector now.
Content that captures your colleague’s human side
‘What drew you to your sector?’ comes under the category of what I call ‘heart content’. It complements the ‘head’ bit, which covers your colleague’s professional qualifications. The head bit is the ‘what’: what they do and all the exams they’ve passed to do it well.
‘Heart’ is about why they do what they do. Why it mattered to them to pass all those exams. It still shows readers that your colleague has a track record. It just does it in a different way to the traditional CV. The CV covers the facts. This blog post will add feeling to those facts, by focussing on what motivates your colleague to do what they do.
Because you specialise in communications, you know this already. You know that the content you produce about your colleagues needs to get readers to ‘know, like and trust’ them. But your colleagues won’t be aware of that. In fact, they might think all this is too lightweight to talk about. That’s understandable when their whole career revolves around keeping that knowledge – the head part – up to date.
Why your human side works so well as content
If you think your colleagues will be blocked by the fluffiness of it all, here are three reasons in favour of showing your human side. Feel free to use them:
- stand out. Your colleague’s qualifications and experience will be similar to those of their competitors. But why they were drawn to their sector is unique to them. Stories about this will differentiate them in the eyes of potential clients and make them stand out.
- show they care. When your colleague talks about why their profession matters to them, they are showing potential clients they want to do a good job. They’re not just going through the motions while they wait for their next pay cheque. And when prospects see that your colleague’s heart is really in it, they’re more likely to warm to them and convert.
- be consistent. Because the article comes from your colleague’s spoken words, it will mirror the good rapport they have with their clients and prospects face to face. When clients come across your colleagues on the blog, they’ll recognise them. And (as you know!) a consistent tone builds trust. Trust helps leads turn into prospects and prospects turn into clients.
Onto the next stage.
How to make the most of every minute
You’ve fixed a time to speak to your colleague. (And if you’re worried about how to ask your colleague for their time, my downloadable mini guide at the end, gives you the words you’ll need.)
To get maximum benefit from the call, you have to do something that might seem counterintuitive. You’ll be tempted to cover as much ground as possible because you worry that you might not get another chance to talk to them for… weeks, or even months.
But if you do that, you’ll miss several chances to create the foundation for producing regular content. Sustainable content which includes repeat appearances from your colleagues – even the busy and reluctant ones.
How to avoid forgettable content
Let me explain.
Imagine your colleague says that they were drawn to their sector for several reasons. They might have had an inspirational teacher at school, who first sparked their interest. Then they visited a place which confirmed that this was the profession for them. Plus there was a TED Talk, which showed them what a difference they could make by specialising in this field.
It would be tempting to try to tackle all three topics in your 15 minutes. I get that. And I used to do that. But the content I came away with didn’t stand out, because it was too general. There was nothing wrong with it as such, but – to use the Heath brothers’ phrase – nothing ‘stuck’ with me. There were no specific examples to make it concrete and memorable. (You’ll find details of ‘Made to Stick’ by Dan and Chip Heath at the end of this article.)
You must be brave if you want to create content that will hang around in the minds of your audience. When your colleague gives you several examples, you need to pick one of them.
One example is more than enough
Which means abandoning the other two examples… for now. But you won’t waste them, I promise.
Which example you choose is up to you. You might feel the safest territory is the teacher. Or you might notice your colleague becomes particularly animated when they mention the special place or the TED Talk.
Whichever example you choose, just go for it. The approach is the same whether you settle on Option 1, 2 or 3. Start asking questions that help your colleague delve into the detail and relive that happy time. As they remember more details, they’ll start painting a vivid picture of that teacher OR that place OR that TED Talk.
How examples multitask for you
If you spend ten minutes exploring one example in depth, several good things happen:
- You get memorable content: when your colleague describes in sensory detail how it felt to be in the same room as that inspirational teacher – the things they did or said – their example will become memorable. Not just because of the 3-D picture they paint, but also because of the enthusiasm fuelling their description. That energy will lift their words off the page once you turn it into an article.
- Your colleague will enjoy it and come back for more. Why? Because it’s uplifting to remember the good times. Much easier than staring at a blank screen, trying to write an article. And being heard by an appreciative audience (you) will reinforce that enjoyment. Your attentive listening will make your colleague feel valued. Which means they are much more likely to say ‘yes’ to future conversations.
- You set yourself up for regular content: if you take this bitesize approach – focusing on one example for just 15 minutes – you don’t use up your colleague’s content in one go. You could save their ‘special place’ example for a blog post with lots of photos. And you could include their TED Talk in a series – which involves other colleagues – about ‘Speakers that inspire our team’. See this recording as the start of a huge bank of raw material which you can dip back into for future articles and social media posts.
How to turn one example into a blog post
Your first question, ‘What drew you to your sector’ has opened up the conversation. Now you have to narrow it back down, so you’re concentrating on one example. Let’s say it was that teacher that inspired your colleague. Start drilling down:
- What do you remember about that teacher?
- Why did they stand out from other teachers? (Comparing and contrasting with other staff might help your colleague pinpoint what was so special about this one.)
It’s tempting to stop there but keep delving. If necessary, give your colleague permission to stop and think. Pausing will use up a bit of time, but it’s worth it. Your colleague might not have thought about this topic for years, so they need a minute to flick back through their memory.
If you sense they are getting stuck, prompt them with suggestions such as:
- Was there a particular lesson you remember? Then follow up with: Describe it to me. Then follow up with: Why does it stay with you?
- Was there a particular topic you remember? Then follow up with: What was it about? Then follow up with: Why do you remember it?
- Was there something your teacher said – like a a catch phrase or piece of advice – that still stays with you? Then follow up with: Why does it stay with you?
Keep digging for sharable content
You’ll notice that each bulleted question has its own follow-up questions. They’re there to help you to get into the habit of drilling down. Often the gems – that 3-D detail and energy – come halfway through the conversation, once the memories start taking shape in your interviewee’s mind. So, the supplementary questions and prompting are important.
These questions will give you the elements you need to write a vivid blog post about one of the reasons why your colleague was drawn to their sector. As they talk to you, other memories might come to them. If they suddenly say that they’ve got a better memory – maybe that special place or TED Talk stand out more – and they are happy to stay on and talk to you about it, record that one as well. Now you’ve got options and the chance to start banking great conversations.
Content that proves your colleague’s commitment
If you have time at the end, try to steer the conversation back to the present, with a question like:
‘How has that teacher’s approach shaped what you do now?’
What you’re doing is prompting your colleague to sum their story up. The summary is reinforcing the point that your colleague has a long track record in being committed to their sector – and, by implication, to delivering good work for their clients.
Rich conversations that punch well above their weight
Right at the start I said, boldly, that conversations can make a real difference to how you get content from your colleagues. I hope this article shows you how conversations deliver in several ways:
- It’s easier for your colleague to say ‘Yes’ to a 15-minute chat, than spending hours drafting and revising an article.
- It’s more efficient. With the right questions, you’ll get a lot of material in the space of a short call, including quotes for social media.
- It’s more engaging, because it comes from a conversation. Chances are it will be less formal and jargonistic than if your colleague had written about the same topic.
- It’s enjoyable – eventually! It will certainly reduce the hassle for both of you. And if your colleague finds that having a conversation is easier than writing, they’re more likely to say ‘yes’ when you suggest a second call, about a different topic. Which means you have to chase and nag them less.
Need that blog post right now?
Download my free mini guide on how to ask your colleague for 15 minutes of their time, so you can crack on. I’ll also send you more material, by email, to build on this guide. Then you’ll have the skills and confidence to lead the richest conversations, not just with colleagues but also with clients, brand ambassadors and influencers.