The Power of an Emotional Handshake

By Naomi Henderson

If a business professional goes to a meeting, the first thing they do on entering the meeting is to shake hands with the meeting leader and often with the other professionals attending the meeting. Real handshakes make a “connection” with the others in the meeting.

Focus group respondents need an Emotional Handshake to connect with the moderator and with each other.

The space of the Emotional Handshake has a number of elements:

  1. Moderator can calibrate who talks a lot and who talks a little by noting responses to introduction questions.
  2. Respondents hear their voices in the room and form their own relationship with the moderator.
  3. Respondents have an opportunity to find who else in the room shares a common theme, usage, or belief system.
  4. Moderator can calibrate participant’s speaking volume before asking key research questions.
  5. Moderator makes an individual bond with each respondent which can be relied upon later when questioning becomes more intense

To create a successful Emotional Handshake requires some planning and good time management. Most moderators start off a focus group with an introduction of themselves, the topic and how long the session will last. That is followed by a review of the key disclosures (mirror, taping, stipends, etc.).

At some point, groundrules or guidelines for participation are given and then respondents are asked to introduce themselves. A good moderator posts, on an easel board, a set of three or four points that respondents should cover as they introduce themselves. By posting the introduction points on an easel, respondents can check the board without prompting from the moderator and can more easily focus on what others are saying rather than trying to remember what they are going to say when it is their turn. Some sample self intros include delivery of data like these:

 2.18.14 Table 1

The idea is to have something that humanizes the self intros and at least one question that is content related but not deep data specific.

As the respondents are answering any of the 3-4 self intro questions, the moderator is listening for a hook – something the respondent says that can lead into a probe question to get more data and build the relationship between the moderator and a respondent.

A good moderator waits until they have answered all the 3-4 questions on the self intro list and then the moderator asks them follow up questions to make the Emotional Handshake.

Think about a real handshake. Person number one grasps person number two’s hand. They shake once (larger handshake) and then another pump (smaller handshake) before their hands separate. Some words they may say to each other in the handshake:

“My name is —-, what’s your name?”

“Good to meet you.”

“Thanks for coming today.”

“I’m looking forward to what you have to say as the speaker today.”

“I’m so glad to meet you after all our email correspondence.”

The chart below outlines how the two “handshakes” (larger/smaller) look in the context of the self-introductions. While the chart below only shows what three respondents would say, the moderator in a six or eight person group will need to find a different hook for all the respondents at the table. The chart below outlines a sample flow of the conversation:

2.18.14 Table 2

What does a good Emotional Handshake buy a moderator in a focus group? A number of benefits occur when the “emotional handshake” is in place:

  1. Moderator has “money in the bank” to use later on in the group.
  2. Moderator knows where to go to pull specific data to forward the probing process.
  3. Respondents are likely to talk more if they think the moderator really cares about what they have to say because of the relationship built in the introduction section.

Moderators who invest a few minutes in the introductory phase of a qualitative event and are careful to have an Emotional Handshake with each respondent will usually find that they will receive a lot more below top-of-mind responses and, thus, better data.

Naomi has been a researcher since 1964, and has led more that 5,500 focus groups, interviewed more than 60,000 people in groups or individually and is a nationally recognized Master Moderator. Learn more about her book Secrets of a Master Moderator here


One thought on “The Power of an Emotional Handshake

  1. Anonymous says:

    Its like you read my mind! You appear to know a lot about
    this, like you wrote the book in it or something.
    I think that you could do with some pics to drive the message home a bit, but instead of that, this is
    magnificent blog. A fantastic read. I will definitely be

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