Advantages of Using a Professional Focus Group Moderator

By: Debbie Liberty

Qualitative research is used to gain insight into the consumer's mind or identify their perspective. It enables the researcher to better evaluate consumer behaviors such as intentions and feelings that cannot be measured or observed directly. Insight into the complexity and range of a respondent's decision process and concerns can help clients strategically position themselves in an existing marketplace or help develop new product solutions to existing problems. Therefore, it is imperative to use a professionally trained focus group moderator who can utilize cutting edge techniques that go beyond the usual top-of-mind responses to uncover the respondent's true perceptions. Advantages of using a professional moderator include...

Knowing How to Manage Group Dynamics

Establishing a good rapport with participants is vital to a successful focus group. It is the moderator's job to keep the group focused and to cultivate a productive discussion. Often, people are unconscious of why they behave in a certain way, don't care enough to examine their emotions, can't express their motivations, or are not comfortable in revealing the whole truth. A professional moderator is trained to probe beyond the participant's rationalizations to uncover their true motivations.

Staying on Task

A professional focus group moderator understands the underlying objectives of a project and can maintain flexibility in a discussion without losing sight of objectives. The quality of the findings depends on how effectively a moderator can draw people out in a group setting, listen, interpret responses and probe for a deeper meaning while keeping the session focused on the project objectives. This unique skill of balancing a focused discussion and allowing for the free flowing exchange of ideas often takes years of experience.

Handling Challenging Situations

Some group discussions are sensitive by nature. It takes an experienced focus group moderator to handle these situations with diplomacy while at the same time drawing out the genuine motivations behind behavioral patterns. In other situations, an experienced moderator is needed to effectively avoid a biased environment dominated by "talkers." If a few personalities are allowed to dominate the discussion, the flow and exchange of ideas may be hindered.

Bringing Objectivity and Expertise into the Process

Because a focus group will last only an hour or two, it is important that a script of the discussion is developed beforehand. An experienced moderator can help facilitate the process of organizing the client's thoughts into defined, tangible objectives. The moderator's objectivity is critical in this process, because they are in a unique position of being free from any internal agenda for the research. From the defined objectives, the moderator will develop a discussion guide designed to keep the group on task, but allow for flexibility when getting beneath the surface. Objectivity also comes into play when interpreting the findings. It is imperative when evaluating qualitative results to be totally objective. Again the professional moderator is without internal agenda and is therefore free to give honest feedback without having to "sugarcoat" conclusions because certain client personnel might be disturbed by the outcome. They will be able to stand up to pressure if necessary.

In the end, professional focus group moderators are truth seekers. They are experienced in balancing a group's dynamics, while maneuvering the discussion to stay on task. They are trained to handle challenging situations and free from personal agenda when uncovering the genuine motivations behind consumer behaviors. Only by understanding the truths behind respondents' motivation can real, actionable business strategies be created.

Research Inc. is an Atlanta, Georgia full service market research firm offering a wide variety of research services, including focus group moderation, telephone interviewing, online surveys, and website usability studies.

Related: market research, Atlanta focus group research, professional focus group moderators.