SIX LESSONS LEARNED FROM LEADING 6,000 FOCUS GROUPS- Lesson #3

No one remembers your last group – you are only as good as your next group!

Here are some examples of when having initial information about something can be  useful:

  • Knowing a politician’s history is useful when it comes time to vote.
  • Knowing which professors are challenging is useful when enrolling in course for college
  • Reading restaurant reviews

However, no one remembers the details of the last group a moderator led. Heck, even the moderator cannot remember most of it! Sure, clients remember if the moderator failed to reach the study objectives, but there are really big set of errors to lead to such an event. They client does not remember that you might have:

  • Missed a chance to probe
  • Waited too long to re-direct a tangent
  • Failed to include a shy person
  • Mixed up the rotation order of stimuli

A focus group is a moving target – such as seeing archery bulls-eye targets on a train being pulled through an Olympic training camp. The archer lets loose an arrow, but he / she will need to factor in that the target is moving. Even if it lands on the target it quickly moves out of sight as the next target appears. So, no one remembers how many you hit – they just notice that after 2 hours, your arrow quiver is empty.

A recent country song by Toby Keith had these words as the chorus:

“I’m not as good as I once was

But I’m as good, once, as I ever was.”

The singer spins a ballad about the bar fights he used to win, the women he loved and the way he used be able to drink all night without remorse the next day. As he ages, he realizes that those days are in the past. However, he also knows that, if need be, he could do it all one more time if he had to.

Not that a moderator can be compared to a hard drinking, hard loving, bar fighting cowboy, but there are elements of a moderator’s life that echo some of those sentiments!

Just the way the sun comes up every morning and the new day provides fresh opportunities to rise to challenges, overcome obstacles, and be a contribution, so does what happens after a moderator says “Hi, my name is _______and today’s topic of discussion is about __________.”   At that point it is a new game, with new players, and a fresh ball. How the game goes is totally up to the moderator.

How do Master Moderators make the new game a winning game for themselves, for their clients, and for respondents? RIVA believes that the elements that contribute to a three-way win live in these principles:

  • Stellar clarity on the study purpose – what is this research supposed to find out?
  • Logical guide that flows from general to specific
  • Short questions that can be easily answered
  • Honoring the 2/3rds rule – not moving on with discussion topic until at least 2/3rds of respondents have provided insights / answers
  • Variety of probes to keep the conversation lively and to move to more “below top-of-mind” answers
  • Activities and interventions [short ones] that move away from the boring “I ask – you answer” model of group discussion
  • Keeping the conversation focused and on purpose – managing not only content but process as well

Along with the principles outlined above there is an expectation that a Master Moderator will also create rapport with ease, move the conversation along by deflecting tangents and keep respondents so engaged they forget the mirror and their filters “blurting” out insights in a quest to be heard and acknowledged.

Respondents who feel like ‘research partners’ in the group discussion typically offer more than those who feel grilled and drilled by invasive questions and robotic moderators.

In September of 2012, RIVA is hosting a two-day conference “The RIVA Revue” providing an opportunity for participants from all walks of the research community: in house and freelance moderators, buyers of qualitative services, teachers of market research, et al, to join together to polish their skills through workshops and presentations from Master Moderators.

One showcase event at this conference is a Panel of Clients from Fortune 500 companies who buy the services of qualitative researchers. They have some clear examples related to how “staying present” with the project and the researcher is more useful than holding on to past histories. For more information about that workshop and the conference in general, log on to http://www.rivainc.com/events/riva-revue.php

Some final elements to remember about being a good researcher in your next project:

  1.  You can always do better than in the past
  2.  You have a new opportunity to demonstrate “mastery”
  3.  Serve this client’s needs in this moment – truly being present and of service at this point in time and more opportunities will present themselves to do it again.
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