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Quick tips for making your focus group successful

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Focus groups are an extremely useful research tool. They can be an invaluable way to learn what people think about a certain topic, how they react to a certain idea or what nuances you’re missing about your target audiences.

On a high level, focus groups seem easy – get a bunch of people in a room, ask them questions and listen to them talk – but a focus group must be well planned and executed to truly gain useful information. Here are some tips for running successful focus groups:

Set a clear objective – Focus groups are a valuable tool because they yield such rich information. Before you sit down with participants, take the time to clearly outline the purpose of your research so that you can write thoughtful questions (and make sure to test those questions ahead of time). Focus groups have a tendency to take on a life of their own based on individual participants, group dynamic, time of day, etc. and you need to have a solid framework to stay on track.

Include an overview of the session – After introducing yourself and your colleagues, explain why you’re there and what you’ll do with the information. Then lay out the how the session will run. Group your questions into themes beforehand so you can say, for example, “After we get through introductions, we’re going to talk about your experience buying your last vehicle and then we’re going to talk about what you’d like to experience the next time you’re purchasing a vehicle.” Giving focus group participants an overview of what you’ll be discussing in the entire session gives them the opportunity to make sure their comments are given at the right time.

Establish ground rules – After giving an overview of the types of things you’ll be discussing, lay out the rules for engagement. Confidentiality is often a major expectation – and it applies to everyone. This means that you’re not going to disclose exactly who said what, and neither should your participants. You should also decide ahead of time how participants will take turns speaking. Are you going to call on them, do they need to raise their hands, is it a free-for-all? Be careful with giving too many rules though, because that means you’ll have to enforce them each and every time someone steps out of bounds.

Give everyone an equal chance to talk – Most groups will have one or two dominating participants and while sometimes they serve to draw out comments from everyone, you have to watch closely to make sure the loudest ones aren’t causing others to shut down. Watch the group closely to see who is trying to jump in and use your power as the moderator to give them the floor.

Watch the clock – If you’re conducting more than one focus group, you’ll want to make sure to ask the same questions in each group, otherwise you won’t have a basis for comparison (see the first point about having an objective). Because every group is different, you may spend two minutes on a question that another group will spend 20 minutes discussing. You’ll have to watch the clock to make sure you’re able to get all the questions in, which may mean cutting off a conversation that has gone in a different direction.

Of all the ways to conduct research, focus groups offer the best way to become immersed in a topic and can yield immense insights. Just make sure to put the proper time into planning them so your data can translate into easy-to-decipher, actionable results.

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