Roben Farzad interviews U.S. Secretary of Transportation Pete Buttigieg


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Roben Farzad, journalist-in-residence in the Robins School, is the host of NPR’s Full Disclosure. Episodes are regularly recorded live on campus in front of sellout audiences.

Like blind dates, interviews are full of nervous wonderings. What are they thinking right now? Is this going well? Now imagine all that in front of an audience. Farzad has a seemingly effortless stage presence, which he happily breaks down for the rest of us:

1. Imagine the interview in tunnel vision.
You’re having lunch or a drink with that person at a bar. What are the questions you would ask? If you could be a fly on the wall of that conversation — that’s how I model my interviews.

2. Disarm your interviewee.
I try to be as disarming as possible at the very outset. Some people are nervous, so I might start an episode with a song or lyrics. Or just be open and poke fun at yourself. Then the other person is laughing, and it breaks the ice. Being open makes it disarming.

3. Take a surprising angle.
People will ask why I want them on what’s nominally a business program. I’ve approached a comedian who sold out all these shows that appeared on Comedy Central and HBO, but, “I noticed you’re using Kickstarter for your original screenplay. How is it you get paid for your stand-up, but you’re effectively gigging as an original screenplay producer?” And then they see that theirs is also a business story.

4. Be fascinated.
I think all of us are looking for universality. We’re looking for similitude. You jump through hoops, you go through life’s lessons, and at a certain point, you want to share those lessons with other people. I’m so overwhelmed with gratitude that guests would come and [share in that with me]. I don’t have to jazz myself up to ask questions like those. In fact, I have to shut myself up in order to cap it to an hour.

5. Build relationships.
I partnered with the University of Richmond because I love Dean Quiñones and the whole crew there. It’s such a warm place. The campus is gorgeous. I’ve joked before that they shampoo their squirrels. And you pack together the university and public radio, and it becomes catnip for guests.

6. Don’t be afraid to reset.
If your interviewee is getting distracted, give them an anchor to reset the conversation. I’ll say, “Let’s take a break,” and go to commercial, or say “Full Disclosure, I’m Roben Farzad with our special guest …,” and then switch topics.

7. Leave it all on the stage — then rest.
I think I’m an introverted extrovert. What you see takes a lot of energy: being magnanimous, greeting people, being mindful of camera angles. And there’s nowhere else I’d rather be. But afterwards, I need to isolate for two or three days. I love it; it just takes all of you.