How Moderators Use Their Listening Skills To Improve Their Market Research Focus Groups

For almost 20 years, Maricel Dominguez-Watson, owner and CEO of ConneXion Research has conducted hundreds of market research focus groups with people of all ages and backgrounds. Topics have ranged from consumer goods and services, to retail and finances, and more. Whether she’s talked to them about home buying or purchasing a new brand of yogurt, for instance, the one thing that is most critical for success for each market research topic is listening.

In her experience, mastering the art of listening can help you become a good leader, discover new opportunities, and become even more knowledgeable. People often confuse hearing with listening. However, there is a distinct difference between the two.

Hearing is an activity and listening is a honed skill. For instance, you can hear a sound but not understand what the sound is or where it’s coming from, or most importantly what that sound means. Thus, one should always make it a point to actively listen to actually gain an understanding of the topic being discussed and researched. Successfully listening is harder and involves several key steps.

Here are a few steps describing how moderators can use their listening skills to improve their market research focus groups.

  1. When Maricel moderates she sets the stage for a successful session of listening by always establishing ground rules at the beginning. The number one ground rule is letting everyone know they will each have an opportunity to express their thoughts and, in turn, they should respect each other’s opinions accordingly.
  2. Next, once the conversation begins, Maricel or one of her staff moderators scans the across the group for visual cues because the moderator is normally surrounded by the focus group participants and must find an effective way to continue the discussion and acknowledge everyone’s feedback. This is done by acknowledging those wishing to speak by not only actively listening with their ears but also including “visual listening” by using their eyes to gauge reactions to what is being discussed by the focus group participants as well.

The combination of listening and observation skills can be challenging, however success depends on it. At times, it may seem like the moderator is not doing much but the reality is that she/he is juggling both undivided and divided attention.

This process seems counterintuitive. However, in order to get insightful feedback, moderators must listen to the participant, and thus confirm and validate the listening process with follow up questions, while simultaneously observing other focus group member reactions and their desire to speak next.

When done effectively and correctly, the balancing act of listening when moderating yields amazing insights and dynamic interactions while enhancing your marketing strategy. Moderators should make the process look effortless and simple to the untrained eye. However, in reality this is a skill acquired through years of marketing experience.

If you have any market research questions or would like more tips on how to acquire or improve your focus group listening skills, please feel free to email Maricel. She will be happy to give you a tour of our market research facility in Houston, listen to your marketing challenges, and share her tips with no strings attached.

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