1. Make sure the questions flow
When writing the questions for the group moderator’s guide, order the questions in a logical manner so that they take participants on a logical and sequential journey through the different topics you are exploring. Keep the most important questions at the start of each section so that if you run out of time you don’t miss them.
2. Recruitment matters
To ensure the group runs smoothly it is important that you recruit the right people for the group. Of course this means recruiting people who meet the client’s brief, but additionally it means recruiting people who (unless specifically needed) come from different backgrounds, aren’t related, married or close friends. This ensures that there are no unwanted cliques and that a variety of experiences and views are represented.
3. Come prepared and organised
Make sure the experience gets off to a good start by being organised and bringing everything you need and everything you think you might need (a small suitcase with wheels is a great way to transport these items.) A focus group checklist helps to make sure that things like sign in sheets, pens, blue tac, post-it notes and whiteboard markers are not forgotten.
4. Know your content, but be flexible
There is nothing worse than a moderator staring down at their guide the entire group rather than engaging with the participants. Know what you’re asking and what is most important. To check that new issues are covered, pop out during an activity and ask the client (if they are viewing) or a colleague if there is anything that should be addressed in the final minutes.
5. Location, location, location
Choose a space for your group that is professional but not too clinical. It is important that participants feel comfortable otherwise they may not feel confident to share their opinions. Set up the space with all your materials laid out, easy to access food and drinks for participants, and keep the room at a nice cool temperature.
6. Start the way you want to finish
It is important to remember that you (as the moderator) set the tone for the group and create the ‘vibe’ you want. Try and make some light hearted comments at the start of the group, offer participants food and drink and go around the group and ask each person to introduce themselves to make participants feel comfortable.
7. Mixed modal groups- Use different formats and activities during the group
The standard focus group length of 1.5 hours can feel like a long time when it is limited to group discussion. Try using post it notes to get participant’s quick thoughts on topics, use a whiteboard for brainstorming and electronic voting technology to break up the discussion.
8. Hear everyone’s opinion
Group dynamics can be the make or break for any focus group. It’s important that everyone’s views are heard and welcomed. Try giving everyone a name tag at the beginning of the group, this will help you be able to call on them to get their opinion if they aren’t speaking up.
9. Let the group flow naturally but stay in control
During the group let the conversation flow naturally but take the lead and gently bring the group back if they get too far off topic. Often the best insights are not through stilted question and answer structure but during free flowing group discussions.
10. Keep calm and just listen
Participants are going to feel more comfortable if the moderator seems relaxed and in control. They can tell and appreciate when you are listening to them and giving them your full attention. Use your body language, hand gestures and encouraging words to show that you value and are interested in their opinions.