Organizational Development Consultant and Leadership Coach

Nineteen Techniques to Gather Information: #12 Content Experts

July 9, 2014

“Sometimes our group needs to hear from experts in various fields in order to understand more about a technical issue. But whenever we have an expert come in to talk, things never go as planned. They either talk over our heads, talk too long, or totally miss the point we are seeking. How can I work more effectively with these people?”

#12 Content Experts

What are Content Experts?

Content Experts allow you to gather information on a specific subject from someone who does it for a living, studies it for a living, or uses it for a living. These people can come from both inside or outside the organization, and they may be persons several levels above or below you in the organization.

Content Experts can only be successful when they clearly understand the purpose for talking to your group, the current level of understanding of the group, and parameters of the discussion. These parameters can include time, the amount of two way communication expected, and any anticipated questions.

It is the responsibility of the meeting facilitator to strictly control these Content Experts in order to provide the meeting group with a relevant, clear message and helpful basis upon which to move forward.

When to Use Content Experts

  • When you need to get information or an opinion based on expert knowledge
  • When an outsider can best address a controversial issue
  • When the group is interested in learning new skills or perspectives

How to Use Content Experts

Before the Meeting

1. After defining the purpose of this part of your meeting, brainstorm the best methods to gather information. You might ask yourself, for example: “Who would know the answers to our questions?” “Who could we invite to our next meeting to shed some light in this issue for us? Is having a person come to speak to us the best way for us to gather the information we need?”

OPTION: Consider films, articles, panel discussions, and field trips as possible alternatives.

If you choose to use a  Content Expert, question people within your organization, colleagues, or professional organizations to find out who is the best person for your purposes.

NOTE: Be sure not to overlook the  Content Expert/s working within your organization. For example, the best people to discuss a certain type of machinery are members of the crew that uses that machinery. To better understand industry issues or customer perspectives, tap a person from a competitor’s company who has recently joined your firm.

2. When you contact the Content Expert/s whose services you desire, clearly state the purpose of your request. If they agree to participate, tell them how to best prepare for your meeting. For example, you might want to share answers to the following questions:

  • Who is the audience?
  • What does the audience want to know?
  • What level of current knowledge do the meeting participants have?
  • What level of detail would the group like the expert to provide?
  • What type of presentation do participants expect?
  • Will the presentation be formal or informal?
  • Will questions and answers be encouraged during the presentation or held to the end?
  • How much time will the expert have to speak?

NOTE: Tell the Content Expert/s that your group is committed to staying within time frames and that you will use a timekeeper to help you keep on track.

  • What visual aids will be available for use?
  • What compensation can the group provide?

NOTE: External experts will likely want to be compensated for their time. Letters of recognition to supervisors are appropriate for internal experts, and sometimes this is even adequate for external people.

3. Follow up your conversation with written confirmation. Follow up again a day or two before the meeting to confirm all the details.

4. Schedule the  Content Expert/s at the beginning of the agenda. That way if your agenda slides, you do not have to keep them waiting.

During the Meeting

1. Introduce your guest. Give your group some guidelines for the presentation. Negotiate these guidelines with both the  Content Expert/s and your group. Ask for a timekeeper, or act as the timekeeper yourself.

2. Listen to the Content Expert/s presentation.

3. After the presentation, take at least a few minutes to debrief and plan appropriate follow-up. Depending on the size of your group, consider either a large group discussion, or small group discussions. Post the debrief questions, a sample of which is illustrated below.


NOTE: You may want to ask the Content Expert to stay during this discussion to answer any remaining questions or concerns.

4. Based on the answers to the debrief questions, make decisions for action or follow up as is appropriate for your group.

After the Meeting

1. Send a thank-you note to your guest. Include a copy to the person’s supervisor if appropriate.

2. When appropriate, pay the Content Expert in a timely manner. Follow up on any other commitments made as soon as possible.

In Summary:

The Content Experts technique involves utilizing experts to provide technical or complex information not readily available from within your meeting group.

Before the Meeting

1. Define specifically what the group needs or wants to learn.

2. Once the Content Expert is found, inform him or her how to prepare for the meeting.

3. Follow up your conversation with written confirmation.

4. If possible, schedule the Content Expert/s at the beginning of the agenda.

During the Meeting

1. Introduce your Content Expert/s and provide any guidelines for the presentation.

2. Listen to the presentation as planned.

3. After the presentation, debrief the information and plan appropriate follow up.

4. Make decisions for action.

After the Meeting

1. Send a thank-you note to your Content Expert/s.

2. Follow up with any agreements in a timely manner.


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