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Stakeholder interviews: what to ask and how to ask it

Stakeholder interviews: what to ask and how to ask it

7 minute read

Stakeholder interviews: what to ask and how to ask it

7 minute read

Stakeholder interviews: what to ask and how to ask it

Lauren Pope

Content Strategy and Digital Transformation Consultant

Stakeholders can make or break a content project. Getting a key stakeholder on-side can send you rocketing to success, while failing to engage or convince them can sink your project faster than anything. 


Stakeholder interviews aren’t all there is to winning over the people you work with, but they are a crucial starting point. Stakeholder interviews help you:

  • Get to know someone’s needs and priorities
  • Find out the best way to work with them and how to get them on your side
  • Gain insights and ideas that you never would have thought of otherwise

To tap into all those great insights, you need more than just a good list of questions to ask. You need to know who to speak to, when to speak to them, and how to ask the questions. I’ll cover all of those things in this post, and share a template for a stakeholder matrix and some handy starter questions to help you get going.

When to run stakeholder interviews

The ideal time to do stakeholder interviews is right at the beginning of a project in the discovery phase, that way you can get off to a good start with an overview of perspectives. The other benefit is that you can make sure people feel included and consulted from the start.

In reality though, sometimes this doesn’t happen. In those instances, it’s still worth doing stakeholder interviews, as long as you’re fully prepared to change course based on what you hear. There’s no point asking questions if you’re not going to act on what you learn.

It’s also a great idea to them when you start a new role, to help you get a better handle on your new colleagues.

Who to interview 

To work out who to interview, prepare a matrix of all your stakeholders. You can download a stakeholder matrix template to get started. As well as the name and role of the stakeholder, you should also think about how supportive they are of the project, what level of decision-making power they have in relation to it, and make notes about what you already know about their areas of interest, pain points, and motivations.

Once you have that, you should prioritise who to speak to. Of course it’s important to interview anyone with decision-making power and the people who you know will champion the project, but it’s perhaps even more important to speak to people who aren’t supportive of the work - you’re likely to learn a lot more from them. Try to speak to people from a wide, representative range of perspectives so that you get a balanced picture. 

What to ask

What to ask really depends on who you’re speaking to and what kind of project it’s in relation to. However, there is one very important rule to follow: ask open questions.

Open questions are questions that aren’t leading, and don’t lead to one-word, yes/no answers. For example:

  • DON’T ASK: ‘Why do you think this project will be a good thing for company x?’
  • DO ASK: ‘What do think the impact of this project will be for company x?’
  • DON’T ASK: ‘Does this project affect you and your team?’
  • DO ASK: ‘How does this project affect you and your team?’

In the stakeholder matrix template, I’ve suggested some potential questions that would help you get to know your stakeholders and what’s important to them. Feel free to add your own, and tweak them so that they make sense for you and what you’re working on.

The questions fall into four groups:

  1. General ‘get-to-know-you’ questions: if you don’t know the person you’re interviewing well, be sure to start with these. They’ll help you to find out about what they do and their team. If you do know them, these general questions can still help you find out more about their opportunities and pain points, and give you some insight into what motivates and frustrates them. I also suggest asking them what they think the project is all about - you can’t assume that their understanding of it is the same as yours.
  2. ‘Now’ questions: these are about what’s happening right now, how they work with content at the moment, what are their processes, etc. These questions can help you get a much more detailed picture of their world and how your work fits into it. 
  3. ‘Future’ questions: questions to uncover their hopes and fears for the project, dig into what they want to see, what success looks like to them, and what they’re worried about. This is often the most revealing section.
  4. Other: I always end with the same question ‘What haven’t I asked you that I should have asked you?’ This can be a saviour if you’ve somehow missed off a topic that was important to the interviewee.

7 tips for how to ask stakeholder interview questions

As I said at the start, how you ask your questions and run your interview is just as important as the questions you ask. Great interviewing is a serious skill that takes years to master - and I’m not ashamed to say that I’m still learning. Here are some lessons I’ve learnt so far:

  1. Set the scene: you need to set the scene and choose an environment that makes your subject feel comfortable. Sitting across a wide desk in a windowless meeting room can make it feel like an interrogation. Part of this is also how you tee up the interview - be sure to explain why you’re doing it, that’s it’s not a test, there are no right or wrong answers, and that you’re there to learn from them. Being friendly and open and working on your rapport helps too.
  2. Don’t take notes: film or record the interview rather than taking notes at the time. If you’re scribbling away you’re not giving the interviewee your full attention, and you’ll miss all sorts of things. Write up your observations, quotes and findings later on - yes it takes longer, but you’ll get so much more out of it.
  3. Practice active listening: active listening means not just passively ‘hearing’ while mentally preparing for the next thing you want to ask. It means giving your full attention to what the interviewee is saying and doing (and what they’re not), and seeking to understand them, without judgement.
  4. Stay out of it: other than asking questions, you shouldn’t be saying much. It’s really important to try not to jump in and interrupt their answers too. You can use encouraging signals, like a nod, a ‘Mmm’ or a ‘Go on’, but keep it short and unobtrusive. Don’t offer your opinions, counter what they’re saying, or turn it into a conversation.
  5. Clarify if you need to: one exception is if you’re not clear about anything you’ve heard. If that happens, clarify things right away. A good way to do this is to summarise back what you’ve heard: ‘So you’re saying that…?’ to check your understanding matches their meaning. It’s good to do this if they share a big, complex point too.
  6. Ask follow-up questions: don’t rigidly stick to your prepared questions like a script. Follow interesting threads in the discussion and ask follow-up questions to explore in more depth.
  7. Leave pauses: it might feel awkward, but leaving moments of silence is a good thing to do. Sometimes people need a moment to think and a pause will give them that. So let pauses happen. Similarly, interesting stuff can come up once the official part of the  interview has ended - so keep recording.

Get started

If you’re ready to get started, download this stakeholder matrix template and interview question list.

I’d like to give a hat-tip to Kim Goodwin - I’ve learnt a lot about interviewing from her workshops and writing on the topic.

Stakeholders can make or break a content project. Getting a key stakeholder on-side can send you rocketing to success, while failing to engage or convince them can sink your project faster than anything. 


Stakeholder interviews aren’t all there is to winning over the people you work with, but they are a crucial starting point. Stakeholder interviews help you:

  • Get to know someone’s needs and priorities
  • Find out the best way to work with them and how to get them on your side
  • Gain insights and ideas that you never would have thought of otherwise

To tap into all those great insights, you need more than just a good list of questions to ask. You need to know who to speak to, when to speak to them, and how to ask the questions. I’ll cover all of those things in this post, and share a template for a stakeholder matrix and some handy starter questions to help you get going.

When to run stakeholder interviews

The ideal time to do stakeholder interviews is right at the beginning of a project in the discovery phase, that way you can get off to a good start with an overview of perspectives. The other benefit is that you can make sure people feel included and consulted from the start.

In reality though, sometimes this doesn’t happen. In those instances, it’s still worth doing stakeholder interviews, as long as you’re fully prepared to change course based on what you hear. There’s no point asking questions if you’re not going to act on what you learn.

It’s also a great idea to them when you start a new role, to help you get a better handle on your new colleagues.

Who to interview 

To work out who to interview, prepare a matrix of all your stakeholders. You can download a stakeholder matrix template to get started. As well as the name and role of the stakeholder, you should also think about how supportive they are of the project, what level of decision-making power they have in relation to it, and make notes about what you already know about their areas of interest, pain points, and motivations.

Once you have that, you should prioritise who to speak to. Of course it’s important to interview anyone with decision-making power and the people who you know will champion the project, but it’s perhaps even more important to speak to people who aren’t supportive of the work - you’re likely to learn a lot more from them. Try to speak to people from a wide, representative range of perspectives so that you get a balanced picture. 

What to ask

What to ask really depends on who you’re speaking to and what kind of project it’s in relation to. However, there is one very important rule to follow: ask open questions.

Open questions are questions that aren’t leading, and don’t lead to one-word, yes/no answers. For example:

  • DON’T ASK: ‘Why do you think this project will be a good thing for company x?’
  • DO ASK: ‘What do think the impact of this project will be for company x?’
  • DON’T ASK: ‘Does this project affect you and your team?’
  • DO ASK: ‘How does this project affect you and your team?’

In the stakeholder matrix template, I’ve suggested some potential questions that would help you get to know your stakeholders and what’s important to them. Feel free to add your own, and tweak them so that they make sense for you and what you’re working on.

The questions fall into four groups:

  1. General ‘get-to-know-you’ questions: if you don’t know the person you’re interviewing well, be sure to start with these. They’ll help you to find out about what they do and their team. If you do know them, these general questions can still help you find out more about their opportunities and pain points, and give you some insight into what motivates and frustrates them. I also suggest asking them what they think the project is all about - you can’t assume that their understanding of it is the same as yours.
  2. ‘Now’ questions: these are about what’s happening right now, how they work with content at the moment, what are their processes, etc. These questions can help you get a much more detailed picture of their world and how your work fits into it. 
  3. ‘Future’ questions: questions to uncover their hopes and fears for the project, dig into what they want to see, what success looks like to them, and what they’re worried about. This is often the most revealing section.
  4. Other: I always end with the same question ‘What haven’t I asked you that I should have asked you?’ This can be a saviour if you’ve somehow missed off a topic that was important to the interviewee.

7 tips for how to ask stakeholder interview questions

As I said at the start, how you ask your questions and run your interview is just as important as the questions you ask. Great interviewing is a serious skill that takes years to master - and I’m not ashamed to say that I’m still learning. Here are some lessons I’ve learnt so far:

  1. Set the scene: you need to set the scene and choose an environment that makes your subject feel comfortable. Sitting across a wide desk in a windowless meeting room can make it feel like an interrogation. Part of this is also how you tee up the interview - be sure to explain why you’re doing it, that’s it’s not a test, there are no right or wrong answers, and that you’re there to learn from them. Being friendly and open and working on your rapport helps too.
  2. Don’t take notes: film or record the interview rather than taking notes at the time. If you’re scribbling away you’re not giving the interviewee your full attention, and you’ll miss all sorts of things. Write up your observations, quotes and findings later on - yes it takes longer, but you’ll get so much more out of it.
  3. Practice active listening: active listening means not just passively ‘hearing’ while mentally preparing for the next thing you want to ask. It means giving your full attention to what the interviewee is saying and doing (and what they’re not), and seeking to understand them, without judgement.
  4. Stay out of it: other than asking questions, you shouldn’t be saying much. It’s really important to try not to jump in and interrupt their answers too. You can use encouraging signals, like a nod, a ‘Mmm’ or a ‘Go on’, but keep it short and unobtrusive. Don’t offer your opinions, counter what they’re saying, or turn it into a conversation.
  5. Clarify if you need to: one exception is if you’re not clear about anything you’ve heard. If that happens, clarify things right away. A good way to do this is to summarise back what you’ve heard: ‘So you’re saying that…?’ to check your understanding matches their meaning. It’s good to do this if they share a big, complex point too.
  6. Ask follow-up questions: don’t rigidly stick to your prepared questions like a script. Follow interesting threads in the discussion and ask follow-up questions to explore in more depth.
  7. Leave pauses: it might feel awkward, but leaving moments of silence is a good thing to do. Sometimes people need a moment to think and a pause will give them that. So let pauses happen. Similarly, interesting stuff can come up once the official part of the  interview has ended - so keep recording.

Get started

If you’re ready to get started, download this stakeholder matrix template and interview question list.

I’d like to give a hat-tip to Kim Goodwin - I’ve learnt a lot about interviewing from her workshops and writing on the topic.

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About the author

Lauren Pope

Lauren is a freelance content strategy and digital transformation consultant, working with organisations that make the world a better, fairer, more beautiful place.

Lauren has been working in content and digital since way back in 2007 and since then has worked with some of the world’s biggest brands, including adidas, American Express, Microsoft and Tetra Pak.  

She lives in Brighton, and loves the Downs, the sea, dystopian fiction and bold lipstick.


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