Moderating Tips Learned at the Bar

I’m always looking for parallels between my research life and my non-research life. Just as playing the ukulele made me a better report writer and ordering decaf coffee influenced my questionnaire writing, I’ve gotten some valuable lessons on focus group moderating just from hanging out at my local bar.

Don’t start with the hard stuff. Most people don’t do well if they come into a bar and start pounding shots. Likewise, most people don’t like to walk into a room full of strangers and start dishing about their deepest thoughts. (Beware of those who do— they’ll throw off the energy and might make others clam up.) Start with some fun, easy warm-up questions!

Bank those milliseconds. A favorite bartender talks about using slow periods to get things set up so they’re easily accessible  as “banking milliseconds” for busier times, and it’s the same in a group. If I have to stop the group to find papers, test pens, etc. it throws me off and wastes time and annoys respondents. Do it ahead of time.

Scan the room with soft eyes. Bartenders  are always on the lookout for people needing refills (or starting trouble). Moderators need to be aware of the whole group: who wants to talk and is only using their body language to let you know? Who’s fading or tuning out? Is EVERYBODY fading or tuning out? 

Last call is last call for a reason. Nobody likes to be told all of a sudden that their night is over, whether they’re drinking beer or participating in a focus group. I try to save 2-3 minutes for a “wrap up” question like “anything else I should know about this topic?”

You don’t have to go home, but you can’t stay here. When the group is over, it’s over. Usually people are ready to go– but if they try to linger to tell you “just one more thing,” it’s up to you to get them out of there– so you can start banking some milliseconds for the next group.

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Photo by Louis Hansel on Unsplash

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