8 Hot Insider Tips from Years of Moderating
By Rich Thau
I've never blogged before about the art of structuring and moderating a successful focus group, but since the folks at Focus Pointe Global asked me to do this, I'm honored to take a stab at it. So, here goes, in sequential order from recruiting to executing:
1) How do you avoid recruiting highly opinionated people into your group so that they don't try to dominate the conversation? Well, there's no sure-fire way of achieving that, but many years ago I started inserting a question into the screener that seems to have helped mitigate the problem: Ask whether the prospective respondents have any bumper stickers on their cars that convey a political message. If they do, that's telling you something: They want to try to convert others to their point of view. You probably don't want them in your group.
2) If you want typical adults ages 22-64 in your groups, try not to host the groups before 5:30 p.m. Sessions conducted during business hours on a weekday tend to be filled with people who are not ideal respondents. Occasionally lunch-time sessions attract good respondents. Also, I've done successful groups over the weekend—but who wants to make a habit of doing groups on a weekend?
3) It makes sense to meet the recruits before bringing them in for the session. Sometimes you spot someone who shouldn't be there—perhaps they're asleep, or not fully engaged—and taking a quick look can help avoid some uncomfortable moments during a group. It also helps to ask folks stationed at the welcome desk if any respondents look familiar, like “professional respondents.”
4) I almost always re-screen groups by asking a key question differently in the re-screening than in the original screening. It's a great way to find people who should have been screened out originally, but weren't. I also regularly try to understand discrepancies between the original screening and the re-screening by pulling people out of the waiting room and asking them to explain the discrepancy. Sometimes the gap is explainable, and sometimes it's not. And when it's not, I've often paid the respondent and sent him/her home.
5) Nothing sets me off more than respondents who try to game the focus group system—they arrive three or four minutes after the group starts, so they expect to get paid without having to attend. I make it a hard rule with facilities: If the respondent isn't there by the time the group starts, they don't get paid unless I take them while in progress (something I am loath to do). The recruiting screener told them they needed to be there 20 minutes before the session starts, so if they are late, no payment.
6) My firm specializes in moment-to-moment dial testing, where we get continuous feedback on video presentations of various types during the focus group. If you ever conduct a session using the dials for this purpose, you MUST not only give detailed instructions, but also conduct a quick warm-up to make sure the instructions are understood. After moderating hundreds of sessions with the dials, I've noticed that there's at least one person in each group who does not follow the instructions—and as moderator I don't know who it is, what they're doing wrong, or how to set them straight, until I do a warm-up.
7) Never moderate groups back-to-back; always take a half hour break between groups to do a "brain dump" of what you learned, eat something, and consult with the client. We typically run groups from 5:30 p.m. to 7:30 p.m., and then from 8:00 p.m. to 10:00 p.m.
8) The most effective time-saving device I've come across for report writing is to do a digital audio backup of my session with my own recorder, and to sync the time on the recorder to the time on an easy-to-read digital stop watch that I place in front of me. When someone says something I want to make sure not to miss, I write down the name of the person and something they said, along with the time, so my associates and I can find it easily on the audio afterwards.
Rich Thau is President and Founder of Manhattan-based Presentation Testing, Inc. (http://www.presentationtesting.com). You can reach him at email@example.com or 212-760-4358.
If you’d like future Focus Pointe Global blog posts sent directly to your inbox, enter your email address in the field to the right to subscribe.
The opinions expressed in this blog post are Rich Thau's and not necessarily those of Focus Pointe Global.