By Marion Abrams
Everything In Service of the Mission
"The Tim Ferriss Show" is consistently at the top of the iTunes charts and one of the most successful interview podcasts there is. How does Ferriss think about interviewing? He says "I’m always keeping in mind what my listeners can use, which makes my job easy, because I have a very clear mission for my podcast.” Everything he does is in service of that mission.
He Gets Specific
In every interview, Tim Ferriss is looking to unearth the techniques his listeners can put to use right away. To that end, he's always looking for specific information. While Terry Gross suggests open-ended questions because "it allows you to start a conversation without the fear that you’re going to inadvertently make someone uncomfortable or self-conscious" (NYT How to Talk to People, According to Terry Gross,) Ferris wants to get right to the nitty-gritty. For example instead of "how do you start your day?" he might ask "Can you please describe the first 90 minutes of the day, being as specific as possible? For instance, if you wake up early, what time do you wake up? If you drink coffee, what kind of coffee do you drink? " he explains that this saves him and the guest the time and awkwardness of follow up questions and misdirection. Again - everything he does is in service of his audience. He knows what they expect from him and works hard to ensure that is what they get.
In fact, he is so dedicated to that goal he has hired expert interviewers to review transcripts of his recorded interviews and "identify where I missed opportunities or sequenced things incorrectly." (Transcript: Tim Ferriss’s 17 principles for creating successful podcasts.)The experts helped him asses "where I should have jumped in, where I should have not jumped in, sequencing, what I should have explored that I didn’t explore. " Very few people are willing to open themselves to and accept, criticism in that way.
For any successful interviewer understanding your goals, and helping your guest understand them, is the key. Ferriss is so dedicated to that that he says "I try to take the responsibility entirely for the interview. In other words if it’s a bad interview, it is my fault — I take full blame. In the same way that I blame teachers for bad student outcomes. I don’t blame students typically, I think the problem is very often on the teacher side." The ultimate measure of success - did you help guide your guest and get him or her to convey the information your listeners are hungry for?
What Tim does so well is break down skills and knowledge and share it. Here he is in his own words talking about his interview process.