If you have ever watched a focus group moderator in action, you know that they are amazing jugglers. Moderators are experts at the “3 Es” – Encourage, Engage and Elicit, but honestly a moderator is doing so much more. If you watch closely, you will see that a moderator must balance multiple roles:
- Put the participants at ease
- Keep the discussion on track
- Be an excellent listener
- Observe verbal and non-verbal behavior
- Ensure participation of each individual
- Manage the group dynamics (preventing an individual from dominating the discussion)
- Incorporate a mix of exercises to gather unbiased responses, capitalize on group think, and elicit subconscious thoughts
- Facilitate, not participate
- Create an environment where participants share and have fun
… All while gathering the answers to client questions and uncovering unexpected insights!
It’s important to keep in mind that focus group moderators vary widely in their experience and style. As you choose a focus group moderator, look for someone who you feel comfortable working with and can balance all aspects of focus group moderation. Here are a few tips to help you choose a focus group moderator:
- Talk with them: Like an interview, ask the moderator questions to get to know them better. If you get along in the beginning, chances are good that you will work well with them throughout the project.
- Research objectives: A good moderator will ask questions to understand your goals and learn about the nuances involved in your particular project. They do not need to be a category expert. Being curious and a quick learner are more important.
- Experience: How long have they been moderating? Moderators have to think fast to guide the discussion and probe for clarification. They also have to follow the discussion guide (at least loosely) and manage personal dynamics. There’s a lot going on during a focus group discussion, so the more practice the moderator has, the easier it will be for them to juggle everything.
- References: It’s smart to check the references of anyone you are paying to do work for you. Feel free to talk with references so you can better determine if the moderator is the right fit.
- Discussion guide: Talk to the moderator about their approach to designing a discussion guide. Is it a list of questions? Do they incorporate group/individual exercises? Will you be able to collaborate on the guide before the focus groups?
- Moderating style: Some moderators are serious; others are silly and crack jokes. Some moderators specialize in specific languages or cultures. Does your industry demand a certain personality? You want to make sure the respondents are comfortable with the moderator’s style or approach. They won’t want to participate if they are immediately turned off by the moderator.
Next time you need to choose a focus group moderator, please give me a call. I love to moderate and have been doing so for over 20 years. I would be honored to help you with your next research project.