Upping my Moderator Chops

Last week I went to moderator training at RIVA.  It’s one of the best known training centers for qualitative researchers, and I’d been wanting to go for several years (and saving up for just as long).

The class I took was for “working focus group moderators” looking to improve their skills. We really didn’t waste a minute: for pre-class homework, we’d each written a discussion guide for a short focus group, and within half an hour of walking in the door on the first morning of class, I was moderating a group! Our two trainers watched from behind the one-way mirror and video recorded me in action. They also wasted no time telling me all the things I needed to do differently:

Saying “ok.”  Moderators listen a lot, and we often nod and say “ok” to encourage people to keep talking.  (I, in fact, said it 21 times in my first group). “OK” provides a value judgment. If I tell Bob “ok” but then just say “mmhmm” to Jack, Jack’s going to think I liked Bob’s idea better. Just say “mmhmm” to everyone—or just smile.

Asking “why.” I was already a light “why” user, because I think it sounds accusatory. But, I learned, even why’s cousin “how come?” is a “five cent question in a ten dollar game.” I got the famous RIVA “Probe deck” with 37 alternatives to “how come”—and I’ve been trying them out on my friends and family every since!

Anemic easel writing.  I write on the easel a lot: instructions for respondents, lists of ideas they come up with, pros and cons… After my first group, my trainer made me stand in the back of the room (as far from the easel as possible).  My writing was practically invisible from that vantage point. Key learning for easel writing: go big or go home.

These are just a few of the zillions of things I learned in 3 days at RIVA. The best part was when I got back to the office after training and I had 2 requests for qualitative projects! I guess the universe (and all my clients) must know that I really want to moderate more groups…

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Founder of Southpaw Insights