For any focus group or in-depth interview to be successful when conducting qualitative research, the moderator must first build rapport with the participants. Connecting with study participants is what sets the tone of the focus group or interview. If participants feel safe and comfortable they will be more forthcoming. It is up to the moderator to build rapport, not the participants. Let’s look at some ways that moderators can put participants at ease.
Disorganized, or unprepared, moderators will have a hard time making participants feel comfortable. A focus group or in-depth interview will be a disaster if the moderator isn’t working from a well thought out and planned discussion guide. This is the foundation from which a moderator must work to ensure that the essential questions are asked and that the conversation has ‘flow’. The moderator should be familiar with the discussion guide and do some practice run-throughs to make sure the questions proceed in an order that makes sense.
After the discussion guide has been created the moderator then needs to make sure that s/he has all the materials, tools, and supplies necessary to conduct the focus group or interview. Most experienced moderators can share stories of starting a focus group only to realize that the batteries are dead in the voice-recorder, or the pens have dried up, or there is no key to the washroom. While these make for funny stories later, they tend to make for terrible focus groups.
Make a checklist of what you’ll need to conduct the focus group or interview, and then make sure you have everything on your list and that it’s in good working order.
When participants feel relaxed, they’ll talk more. Market research recruitment firms work hard to find and screen participants and it isn’t uncommon for focus groups or in-depth interviews to be populated with respondents who have never taken part in qualitative market research studies. Often times they’re a bit nervous as they’re not quite sure what to expect or are afraid of saying the wrong thing. It’s up to the moderator to put the participants at ease. Often, the moderator’s mood will affect how others feel. We suggest that before a focus group or in-depth interview begins that the moderator first do a few breathing exercises or other calming exercises so that s/he feels relaxed.
Start off on the Right Foot
When first meeting participants, greet them in a friendly way. Introduce yourself and use their first name. If you’re conducting an in-depth interview, thank them for participating. If you’re leading an in-person focus group, smile and make eye contact. The first few minutes will set the tone of the remaining time together.
Before delving into the discussion guide share some of your personal information, such as name and who you work for. Explain what the subject matter of the conversation will focus on and reassure participants that their answers will remain anonymous and are used for research purposes only. Remind them that there are no wrong answers, and that participants may not agree with each other or have the same experiences or opinions.
Don’t forget to be fully transparent. If you’re recording or videoing the conversation, let them know and get a verbal response that they are okay with this.
Being prepared and having confidence in leading a focus group or in-depth interview is a sign of respect. A lot of behind-the-scenes work goes into organizing a qualitative market research study. Often in begins with a nationwide qualitative research firm working closely with a company to design the study. Next comes creating the discussion guide and working with a market research recruitment agency that can find qualified and available participants. It’s then up to the moderator to run a relaxed and efficient focus group or interview so that insights can be discovered. Each step of market research builds off the other. Learning to moderate market research studies doesn’t happen automatically. It’s a learned skill.