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Three Ways to Level the Playing Field in any Focus Group

Posted by Anne Hooper on Mon, Feb 28, 2011

Level the playing fieldWhile I find it hard to believe myself, I have actually been in market research for just over 15 years now. Having spent more than half of that time in front of the mirror (gosh, am I really that old?) I’ve learned a lot about people and how they communicate and interact. As a moderator I have seen personalities and group dynamics that run the gamut, but I have found a few steadfast truths that level the playing field in any focus group and make sure insights are gleaned from all perspectives.

1.       Comfort is Key-  Being comfortable both physically and mentally means participants can be focused and engaged in a meaningful way.  If a focus group participant is focused on how “hot” the room is, how hungry they are, or how uncomfortable their chair is, they definitely aren’t going to be fully engaged in the conversation.  Similarly, if I—as a moderator—haven’t created a warm and open atmosphere, participants aren’t going to want to share their “true” thoughts and feelings with me.  Creating a safe environment—and showing some of my own vulnerabilities—gives participants the go-ahead to be vulnerable as well, resulting in dialogue that is insightful and findings that are useful.

2.       Everyone Wants to Share-  While it’s true that some choose to participate in research solely for the almighty dollar, they are definitely in the minority.  The fact is, those who have gone out of their way to take time off from work, battle traffic and parking, and perhaps even hire a babysitter are doing so for a reason—they want to be heard.  Even the quietest, most introverted person in the room has something to say and it’s my responsibility—as a moderator—to give them that opportunity.

3.       Keeping it Real-  Obviously market research is not the place for people to be entertained—participants are there to share their feelings and help us better understand the issues at hand.  However, that doesn’t mean we ought to create a sterile (AKA “boring”) environment that doesn’t support “color” and “creativity.”  Keeping it real as a moderator—showing some personality and truly enjoying the time you have with those participants—creates a win/win for everyone involved.


Posted by Anne Hooper, CMB’s director of qualitative research. When Anne’s not looking in the mirror she enjoys traveling, reading, skiing and spending time with her family (especially when it’s poolside).

Topics: qualitative research