Good focus group moderators are not a dime a dozen.  The best ones have the keen ability to guide a group through different topics systematically yet thoroughly, all the while generating in-depth and exploratory feedback from participants.  It often takes years of practice to perfect, and focus group moderators constantly evolve their style and process to encourage more quality discussion and actionable findings for their company or client.  It’s not as easy as it looks. If you are watching focus groups and the moderator is making it look easy, it’s probably a credit to him or her rather than the process itself.  Those commissioning market research will often fly in moderators from all over the world to ensure they get great results, and as a result, the best moderators command a high rate.

Focus Group Moderator Tips

Keeping all of this in mind, even the best focus group moderators had to start somewhere.  At one point, they all had their first group.  Many national or international companies can afford to send staff to training courses or seminars, which help train focus group moderators.  On the other hand, some more regional or smaller market research firms are forced to have select staff members learn on-the-fly due to budgetary constraints – through the infamous sink or float training method.  Whether you have taken some training classes or if you are just starting out in the moderating field, here are five tips for new focus group moderators:

1. Know your guide – seems almost too simple.  But don’t wait until last-minute to review the moderator’s guide, participation packets or session materials.  Studying these well-ahead of time will help you understand how one sections flows into the next and will make the groups run more seamlessly.  Also, it gives you the opportunity to truly understand the content and do some additional research or ask some questions to your client.  If something seems confusing to you, that will ultimately translate to confusion with participants, and you’ll want to know how to properly respond.

2. Don’t be afraid to step outside of the script – at the same time as knowing the step-by-step flow of the guide, there will be times in a focus group where participants bring up findings or information outside of the guide’s topics.  Don’t be discouraged from going off on mini-tangents to explore these findings.  Truth be told, it wouldn’t be market research if everyone knew the answers to everything.  Frequently, participants will discuss items that the guide did not prepare for.  Rather than ignoring them and sticking solely to the list, it may be worth your time exploring them.

3. Listen to participants – this may be the most important of the five tips I have listed here.  Too often a focus group moderator is concerned about how they will sound and how well they can direct the discussion.  Whereas in reality, all that a good focus group moderator should do is encourage the generation of discussion and dialogue between participants through questions.  Some of the most productive segments of a focus group are when participants interact back and forth between themselves and ask each other questions.  A moderator’s job is to simply encourage this dialogue, listen and steer topics.

4. Challenge their thoughts – one of the more popular criticisms of focus group research is that the participants “aim to please” the moderator and the sponsor.  Some groups are afraid to be too harsh or provide criticism of products or services being presented to them.  A good focus group moderator will play devil’s advocate and attempt to break through that surface feedback if necessary.  Sometimes participants just don’t offer up in-depth feedback on items, so you have to dig a little bit and explore.  To explore participants’ decision-making processes, you want to be skeptical, analytical and curious.

5. Relax – more so than anything else, just relax.  Put yourself in the mindset of: you are here to listen to these participants and collect their thoughts.  There might be 10+ client viewers in the backroom and a lot more viewing through FocusVision, but forget about the viewers and just focus on your group.  In focus group settings, you are the only analyst that matters.  You have to explore when you think it’s appropriate to explore and move on when you think it’s appropriate to move on.

If you are interested in using the QualiSight focus group facility in Syracuse, NY, contact our supervisor Lauren Krell at or by calling 315-635-9802.  Research & Marketing Strategies (RMS) provides a full array of focus group services including recruitment, moderator guide design, focus group recruitment, facility rental and reporting/consulting.