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How to interview like Tim Ferriss

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If you’re in marketing, sales or copywriting, you’re a researcher too.

And running interviews is the 80/20 of it.

With 5 to 7 good interviews, you can get the same quality of insights (if not better) you could get with 30 survey responses.

But interviewing is an art.

I recently found out the exact steps Tim Ferriss goes through to interview his podcast guests (people like Lebron James, Mark Zuckerberg, Jamie Fox and Arnold Schwarzenegger).

Here’s what that looks like:

  1. Tim only looks to interview people who are interesting to him, not his audience, not the competition – himself. Curiosity is a big driver.
  2. He then asks future guests for their favorite long-form interviews they’ve done in the past and reviews them. He wants to see what they’re like and what they define as “favorite”.
  3. Then he heads to Wikipedia or to any written profiles and looks for “the tiny mentions that were glossed over but not expanded upon”. That’s where he plans on starting the interview from. It makes guests think: “Oh this is not an autopilot interview, this guy did the work”. Setting the stage, perception and expectations matter.
  4. From their favorite interviews, Tim digs out their “greatest hits material”, “the Netflix comedy special” type of stuff. It’s what he would put in a movie trailer to have them comfortable and warm up the audience with 1 or 2 of their favorite stories. Notice that they didn’t have to do any of the work yet but are getting a ton of value.
  5. Then Tim asks future guests if they have any favorite topics they’d like to explore. Always allow for freedom and flexibility in the interview.
  6. When it comes time to actually meeting up or connecting over Zoom, he starts off with 5 to 25 minutes of just chatting before asking any questions. This is not recorded. Plus he tells them that they have the final cut on everything, that they’re free to take bathroom breaks whenever or to stop and restate anything. Keeping it chill and friendly is a must. Nobody likes pressure. And if they’re in a rush, it means Tim failed way before the meeting…
  7. Then, the big question before recording: “What would make this time really well spent for you? What would make this a home run? Again allowing guests to visualize their best case scenario and to extract value from the interview. Tim says: “If somebody else asks them what their favorite interview was, I want them to say this one”. Such a great frame for any interaction.
  8. And then the plunge: “I’ll likely ask you  XYZ, Is this a good place to start?” No one likes surprises. Everybody loves comfort. Never ever think you can read the other person’s mind. Always double check.

It’s an impressive, almost obsessive amount of work and preparation. But that’s the what’s required to be the best.

It’s all about quality, attention to detail, integrity, service, and true curiosity.

This is how you run interviews that teach you something about human nature.

Do you have any tips or strategies that you see work for you?

Quote and reflection of the day:

“The feeling for quality, the instinct for excellent performance, can get into your very bones. Quality can make work worth doing.”

  • Earl Nightingale, This Is Earl Nightingale

Stop looking for praise or for the reward. Focus on the process and on the details. Look for quality in everything you do.

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