A vampire, a skeleton, a mummy, a ghoul, and a ghost all walk into a focus group. As they are all sitting down the moderator politely asks, “would anyone like some water?”

The ghost says, “I’m tired of drinking water, do you serve spirits here?”

The mummy shouts, “You can’t drink in here! Boo-ooooooooo”

The vampire mutters, “this mummy is all wound up”

The ghoul scoffs, “this vampire is being a real pain in my neck”

And finally, the skeleton stays silent because he doesn’t have the guts to say anything.

Happy Halloween everyone! I promise that my goal today is not just to make terrible puns. The opening act of this blog was merely intended to demonstrate just how badly a focus group can go (and to make terrible puns).

Before you go out for the evening festivities, I would like to share some tips on how to best set yourself up for success when moderating a focus group.

Setup is key: Do not rush the setup – spend time setting the tone for the conversation. I always recommend telling respondents a few key things:

  • The conversation is not a competition. We are looking to generate ideas, not to pick a winning argument.
  • It is okay to have differing opinions, but make sure you are being patient and civil with your fellow respondents.
  • There are a lot of materials to get through. If I don’t call on you for one exercise, I will make sure to call on you for the next. (Note: This helps respondents feel like they don’t need to get the last word in on every conversation).
  • Lastly, and most importantly, sit back, relax, and have fun.

Control the conversation. Respondents can start to get opinionated – this is a good thing. However, if they are doing it at the expense of others, it becomes a delicate balance. When this happens, consider asking the quieter respondents to go first and spur conversation within the group to help garner more insight.

Include breaks and small exercises: Given the long length of focus groups, always consider building in 5-10 minutes worth of breaks or small exercises to help respondents relax. This usually takes time in the short run, but energizes respondents who may start to experience mental exhaustion towards the middle or end of the conversation.

Give the boot when necessary: If you have a disruptive respondent, don’t be afraid to send them on their way. This often lightens the mood and helps stir conversation between the remaining respondents.

So, there you have it. Thank you for attending my lecture. I wish you a happy and spooky Halloween!

Patrick Brunell is an Associate Consultant at Vivisum Partners.

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