Posted on date 2023-02-13
How to prepare for a Focus Group?
To paraphrase Tyler Durden of Fight Club, the way to prepare for a Focus Group is not to prepare for a Focus Group...
Or not at least in any way you might be thinking.
Because what the people running the focus group most want from you, is you! You have been selected to join the group because they believe your opinions could be instrumental in improving whatever service or product is under review.
In fact, you are generally encouraged not to learn more about the topic you’ll be discussing.
The most important thing you can do is be honest.
You are, after all, being paid to provide your opinions; the least you can do is be there at the right time and ready to participate in a robust and sometimes vigorous conversation!
Who will you find at a Focus Group?
There are 3 different types of people to be found at a Focus Group:
- Respondents - Just like you, they have volunteered - and been selected! - to share their thoughts in the round table conversation ahead.
- Clients - Quite simply, these are the people footing the bill for your insights. They have the product or service that is being discussed. They are not always at the groups, but generally like to attend; or else will be watching / listening via web conference.
- Market Research Representatives - These are the people that are going to talk to you, taking note of all the participants’ answers before assembling them into a report for the client. Remember, your group may be one of many groups being held all over the country, so the Market Research Representatives will be looking to distill all this data down into something the client can use to improve or grow their business.
What to expect at a Focus Group?
Usually Focus Groups take place in a facility, either around a conference table or in a more relaxed setting with armchairs and couches. It's a relaxed affair, and you’ll probably be offered (non-alcoholic) drinks and snacks. Countless studies have shown that you are most likely to be honest when you feel at ease - which is exactly the mood they’re going for.
Having arrived, you will be asked to go through some paperwork, confirming your name, etc. You will probably sign some NDAs too. This is because the conversations you’re going to have may be extremely sensitive, and the clients don’t want their competition (or anyone else!) knowing what was discussed during the 60-120 minute roundtable.
Soon you will meet the moderator from the Market Research company. Their job is to guide the proceedings. He or she will be tasked with asking questions of the group, probing your opinions to try to unearth thoughts that validate, contradict or completely refresh the client’s hypotheses. They tend to be super-nice: attentive and empathetic.
There may also be a few others from the research company who will be taking notes, asking follow-up questions and perhaps even communicating directly with the client if they’re on-site / listening in.
The client’s involvement tends to be minimal, trusting the Market Research representatives to ask the right questions. However, given how much is often riding on the outcomes of these conversations, it’s not unheard of for the clients to pitch in with questions and clarifications too.
Some focus group rooms also have a 2-way mirror along one side of the room. This is so that clients can sit on the other side and observe the sessions, but without being seen. We communicate a lot through our body language, not just our speech; so it makes sense for the clients to be able to see the room dynamic, as opposed to just listening in.
Speaking of room dynamics, it is important to know that as a participant you will almost certainly be sitting in a room full of strangers. And - just like any other walk of life - you won’t all have the same opinions as one another.
This leads us to another critical point:
How to Behave at a Focus Group?
Focus groups are often held after work or school to make it easier for people to attend; however, this also means that participants may be joining after a long day and energy can be low. The snacks usually help get everyone in a good mood!
As noted, you will most likely not know any of the other 6 or 7 other respondents in the room. And as with all group dynamics, some people are going to be assertive and others more reserved. But each person has an opinion, and the client will want to hear from everyone. It is the moderator’s job to get everyone to honestly provide their thoughts - quieting the louder voices, while coaxing the meeker ones.
Remember that it’s okay to have a different opinion. In fact, if you don’t agree then you should say so. You are being paid for your honesty.
However, also remember that you are being paid to be there; so should act respectfully and professionally. You may find the moderator pushes you a little, but this is because he or she is trying to get to the root of your opinion. It can feel like you’re dealing with a toddler who has just learned the word “why?”...!
Moderator: Which chips do you prefer - those in bowl A or those in bowl B?
You: I like the chips better in bowl B.
You: They taste better.
Moderator: So you don’t like the taste of the chips in bowl A?
You: No, I just prefer bowl B.
Moderator: What is it you like about the chips in bowl B? Is it the crunch? The taste?
You: The crunch is the same, I just prefer the flavor in bowl B.
Moderator: How would you say the flavors differ?
You: I like the tang with B.
Moderator: Is that a flavor profile you always like?
You: I love the taste of paprika. My mother is Hungarian and it reminds me of her cooking. It's a flavor I associate with my childhood.
Boom! Now the moderator can contextualize your answer. They’ve got to the human truth or emotional insight that made you prefer the chips in bowl B. And at the end of the day, insights are what the moderators are looking for.
Focus Groups are fun!
You may be reviewing a new gadget months or years before it hits the market. You might be helping guide a multi-million dollar advertising campaign. You could be pressure-testing a new app which will improve the lives of people all over the country.
It’s very exciting!
So how to prepare for a focus group? Go with an open mind, eager to share your honest opinions with an attentive audience. So long as you’re being honest you’re doing the right thing.