Focus group moderators come from a variety of backgrounds: some find their way to the profession via the social sciences (psychology, sociology); others come from marketing backgrounds (ad agency planners, strategists); and some may even be employed in UX research (though UX researchers don’t always say “focus groups” instead you might hear ideation sessions, group sessions, or co-creation sessions.) We’ve even heard of some people becoming interested in becoming a focus group moderator after being a participant in a session.
Regardless of the path one may take to become a focus group moderator, it’s not simply a matter of showing up and being able to lead a group discussion about product ideas, advertising campaigns, or brainstorming ideas. In fact, there is a lot of psychology behind moderating, as well as a very specific skill set, involving managing group dynamics, understanding business strategy and objectives, and being able to write and pose questions without leading or biasing respondents. Above all, learning from professionals by attending and getting certified from a research methodology training program is a key component of being successful in market research and UX.
Moderator workshops: The first stop
If you’ve worked in advertising and strategy, UX, or come from the social sciences are interested in getting a certificate in market research as a focus group moderator, it’s a good idea to first get familiar with the profession, as much as possible. If you work at an ad agency or market research firm in another role, ask if you can observe focus groups first. Watching seasoned moderators conduct their craft will help you see how the process unfolds. Next, you’ll want to enroll in a moderator workshop to learn the specific skills required to moderate.
What do moderator workshops teach?
Moderator workshops will take you through the fundamentals of moderating. A good workshop will start at the beginning of the process: How to define the business objectives and market research methodology. (Note that focus groups have a very specific role in market research and UX – they are just one of the many methodologies that researchers can use – this is a great blog that breaks down when it’s appropriate to use focus groups.) Then, the workshop curriculum should include instruction on how to write your discussion guide and set up your questions. This is absolutely essential in leading groups – questions should follow a particular order and be written in a way to not prime or lead respondents too much. Next, the workshop should take participants through various group styles: For example, “focus groups” may include smaller groups too, such as dyads, triads, known-pairs research, or affinity groups. Additionally, moderator training should also cover in-depth interviews (one-on-ones), since this involves distinct moderating skills.
Finally, a workshop should put students in front of actual participants so the instructors can observe and guide the students as they themselves moderate groups. This last part is essential, as getting live instruction and feedback — and being put in an actual moderator role – is fundamental to being able to learn the dynamics and skills required to moderate effectively.
Are moderator training workshops okay to do virtually?
With the pandemic, many workshops in the country went to online-only formats. However, at InterQ Learning Labs, we’re a strong believer that the best focus group moderator training is done in-person – even if you end up conducting your interviews online. Why? Because you simply can’t get the personalized attention, context, and true experience of learning and practicing while online. Fortunately, as pandemic restrictions ease, it’s become safer to meet in person, with the right protocols in place. In other words, if you’ve been thinking about advancing your research skills and studying how to become a focus group moderator, it’s a great time to sign up.
Another note is to look at the format of the moderating workshops. Who are the instructors? How much industry experience do they have? Often the larger moderating schools will have more junior people teach. You’ll want to learn from people who have worked extensively with clients, in a range of business sectors, and who have a strong-track record in the industry.
Additionally, where are the workshops held? Today’s research is dynamic and moderators need to be resourceful. Research is sometimes conducted in traditional focus group facilities, but it’s also commonly conducted in more casual spaces, such as co-working spaces or hotel conference rooms. Moderators need to learn how to film and capture groups on camera and live-stream it, without the support of traditional spaces that offer this support. At InterQ Learning Labs, our participants learn in these dynamic environments: We teach at co-working spaces, focus group facilities, and hotels (all during the same 4-day workshop). This teaches our participants how to set up research in a variety of setting, and we give pointers on which settings are conducive to different types of research.
Qualitative research has become more relevant than ever – what are you waiting for?
If you’ve been considering a career in market research, want to improve your current moderating skills, or if you want to expand your skill-set as a UX researcher to include co-creation/focus group sessions, now is a great time to sign up for a moderating workshop. Qualitative research has become even more relevant in an era of big tech and big data, as companies are realizing that hearing directly from consumers is the best way to truly understand the data. Additionally, working as a qualitative / UX researcher and conducting focus groups and moderating sessions with individuals is a fulfilling and in-demand career.