5 Helpful Tips for a Focus Group Moderator

Focus groups are a common market research data collection methodology. A focus group consists of a collection of people with shared demographics or behaviors being brought together, physically or virtually, to participate in a guided discussion.

Focus groups can be used to learn about a specific product or service (already present in the marketplace or prior to launch). Focus groups can also be used to gauge brand identity, or provide ongoing feedback of a product, service, marketing campaign, political campaign, television series, specific area of interest, or even knowledge and support of a nonprofit.
The main intent of a focus group is to explore, not measure.

Focus groups are led by a trained professional, known as a moderator. The moderator has the important job of guiding the discussion within the group of participants, with the objective of gathering helpful information.

Although the entire scope of a research project involves many essential working parts that all contribute to the success of the market research project, the moderator plays a crucial role. A skilled, knowledgeable, and expert moderator can elevate the beneficial knowledge gathered from a focus group in a number of ways.

Need tips to be a great focus group moderator? We have 5.

Tip 1: Engaging Participants

Focus groups consist of a guided conversation, but how effective would a question/answer environment be if the participants were not engaged? It wouldn’t be. The moderator needs to engage the participants to maximize the results of the discussion.

This dynamic successfully begins with the moderator building a rapport with the participants. The moderator needs to be not only informative about how the focus group will work, but also demonstrate a kind, approachable, trust worthy, and caring demeanor with the participants. The moderator needs the participants to be comfortable being open and honest with their answers, so the data collected provides true insight that can be used for the benefit of the key stakeholders and company.

Non-verbal cues are just as important as the words spoken during a focus group. The moderator should pay attention to the participant’s body language and facial expression. Noticing a participant has their arms crossed, is consistently looking around the room, or checking their watch are all signs that the participant is disengaged. When this occurs, the moderator should adjust course to bring the participant’s focus back to the discussion.

Tip 2: Being Objective

To excel as a moderator, the facilitator needs to remain objective throughout the focus group. A moderator must not be influenced by personal feelings, interpretations, or prejudices. As they collect data, they must remain unbiased and ask follow-up questions based on fact and not personal feelings.

For example, if the moderator is a woman, she should not favor responses from a woman in the group, and vice versus, a male moderator should not favor responses from a male in the group. Another example could be if the moderator is familiar with the brand, product, or service that is being discussed, it would be imperative they remain impartial personally and solely rely on the responses of the participants without factoring in their own personal views, preferences, or opinions about the topic of discussion.

Tip 3: Challenging Participants

The questions that are used to guide the discussion during a focus group are strategically decided upon before the focus group commences. Although the moderator does have questions to guide them, it is necessary to challenge the participants throughout the focus group discussion.

A great moderator will go beyond the questions by asking follow-up questions, allowing a side conversation to possibly occur, asking for more of an explanation, asking why numerous times to uncover a deeper answer, or challenging a participant to be truthful.

• You said that you liked the product, but why?
• Why do you think that?
• Why do you feel that way?
• Okay, can you explain more about why you feel that way?
• Why did you respond in that manner?
• Is that what you really think?
• I sense some hesitation in your voice, what do you really think?

Tip 4: Adjusting in Real-Time

Sometimes, a question will yield a response that is unexpected. The professional expertise of the moderator will allow them to adjust the conversation and questions in real-time. Often times when a conversation takes a different turn than expected, new insight is illuminated that would not necessarily have been uncovered without the moderator’s adjustment. Guided questions are the start to any focus group, but as new information comes up, a professional moderator will be able to adjust the questions and discover new information on the fly.

Tip 5: Maintaining Timing

Think about a time a friend called you and started to tell you a story. When the story was over, you thought to yourself, “Wow, that could have taken 2 minutes instead of 20.” Although focus groups are guided by specific questions, participants can go off on tangents, talk about unrelated topics, or talk in circles about the same thing over and over.

Focus groups are scheduled for a certain amount of time. The time allotted for the discussion takes into account the core objectives, while also leaving time allotted for the conversation to go off course, as discussed earlier.

A professional moderator will always be aware of timing. They know when to allow the conversation to spin off, and they are aware when they need to politely interrupt and bring the conversation back to the objective. Their expertise allows them to know when the discussion is still providing valuable insight and when it is not.

Transcripts are often used to analyze a focus group after the discussion has come to an end. Imagine transcribing a two minute, to the point conversation with your friend, compared to transcribing a twenty-minute conversation about the same thing. One would provide valuable information right away, while the other would require sifting through a bunch of random conversation trying to identify the useful data. Focus group transcripts can be viewed in the same manner.

Maintaining time allows for the conversation to take exciting and informative twists and turns, while maintaining the objective of the focus group.

In Summary

Bringing a group of people from a specific demographic together to participate in a guided discussion about a product or service can provide valuable data for an organization. However, the role of the moderator is much more than ‘just asking questions.’

To truly excel as a moderator and enhance the success of the focus group, the moderator must engage and challenge the participants, remain objective, adjust in real-time, and maintain the timing initiative. Successful focus groups will create better data, better decisions, and better strategy, which is our motto here at Drive Research.


Contact Our Team

Drive Research is a focus group firm in Upstate New York. Our market research company manages qualitative research for our clients from start to finish including qualitative recruiting and hosting groups at our focus group facility in Syracuse.

Questions? Contact us.

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