Becoming an exceptional moderator takes years to achieve. Formal research projects should be professionally moderated. However, the stakes are different for conversations with the purpose of building empathy with the consumer. 

In empathy-building conversations, the objective is not to answer specific questions. Instead, team members should think of these conversations as informal and exploratory, similar to how one might talk to a new friend.

Principles of Moderation

Stay neutral

Avoid showing a strong positive or negative reaction to what they say. Doing so has the potential to bias the respondent and may lead the conversation in a particular direction. Alternative reactions include light nodding and saying things like “thank you for sharing.”

Don’t judge

Similarly, it’s important that you refrain from judging the respondents. If the respondent says something that you personally disagree with, that is ok. Remember, the reason that you are talking to them is to build empathy and to understand their perspective, not to insert your own beliefs. 

Be interested

When you’re new to moderating, it can be challenging to stay engaged in the conversation. Many people will find themselves formulating their next question, only to realize that they haven’t listened to what the respondent was saying in the meantime. Do your best to stay in the moment. 

While tempting, note taking can be overwhelming for a new moderator. By recording your conversations and highlighting key moments with our “Save Moments” tool, you can still capture important learnings, while staying engaged in the conversation. Saved moments are automatically generated into video clips following the session. We also recommend taking a couple of minutes following your conversation to jot down your key takeaways while it’s fresh in your mind. Future you will thank you. 

Be welcoming

The more comfortable the respondent is, the more they will open up to you. Just because you’re moderating does not mean that you need to be clinical. Talk to the respondent as you might a friend and keep your tone light. While it’s ok to share some personal details about yourself, your role is to learn as much about their life as possible. Refrain from talking about yourself too much. 

Start broad

When you’re switching to a new subject, start with broad, open questions. 

You may be using a discussion guide to help you along the interview. Discussion guides are just that: guides. You do not to answer every question to have a successful conversation. You should also use your own words when asking the question, for a more natural tone. People prefer to feel like they’re in a conversation than an interview. 

Allow for some silence after they stop talking. Sometimes they need a moment to gather their thoughts and may start talking again. Feel free to probe for more details and ask specific questions about something they said. Sometimes the most “obvious” answers are the ones with the deepest explanations, linked to societal or human nature. 

Other conversation tips to remember 

As you conduct your session, keep the following in mind:

  • Comment on their words, use their language
  • Listen to what they are saying AND what they are not saying
  • It’s all about them
  • Interview in your own style
  • Make the questions your own
  • React naturally to what they say
  • Avoid commenting, judging, or giving own opinion
  • Warm, natural neutrality
  • Be prepared to be wrong
  • Show empathy
  • Build relationships
  • Be wary of ‘why questions,’ use neutral probing questions instead
  • Learn to explore their answers in more depth than what they initially gave you

Starting a conversation

The beginning of the session is your chance to start the discussion off on the right foot. Put the respondent at ease by following some basic steps:

  • Introduce yourself, state that you are conducting research for a major brand
  • Normally, it is not advised to say which brand it is
  • Share the general purpose of the conversation
  • Reassure the respondent that there are no right or wrong answers
  • Let them know that the session will be recorded
  • Let respondents know what they will be doing; call out and explain any activities
  • State how much time it will take

Concluding a conversation 

Although all of your questions are important, make sure to ask these final two questions at the end of the interview, as they often yield the most fruitful insights:

  1. “Is there anything we missed that you would like to talk about?”
  2. “What is the most important point that we discussed?”

Techniques

Storytelling

Storytelling is a technique often used by researchers to elicit thoughtful answers from respondents, without posing direct questions. By creating a scenario and asking for the respondent’s feedback, the moderator can get to the heart of what the respondent is thinking without posing a direct question. This method has been shown to be more effective at garnering deep insights by preventing the respondent from feeling put on the spot.

Examples

  • Pretend that I am an alien and that I know nothing about your world. Describe how you feel when you use “product x”?
  • If “brand x” was an animal, what type of animal would it be? Why to do say that?
  • If “brand x” was a shoe, what type of shoe would it be? Why to do say that?
  • If you were to describe “product x” as if it were a person, what would they be like? How would they dress? Where would they hang out? Would you be friends with them? 

Laddering

The laddering technique allows the moderator to uncover what higher benefits the consumers attribute to a specific feature. Results gathered by using laddering can be especially useful for advertising and positioning. You can also use it for product development and preliminary segmentation. 

You will want to interview people who use the product or category. You can develop laddering chains at the category, brand, or product level.

When laddering, the researcher asks a question about something very specific, and then, basing each question on the previous answer, begins to uncover what higher meanings the consumer associates with that feature.

First, you ask about a feature:

  • “Which feature do you like best?”

Second, you listen to the answer, and then you ask about the feature’s functional benefit.

  • “What does the feature do?”

Third, you listen to the answer, and ask about the higher benefit of the functional benefit.

  • “What does the functional benefit do for you?”

Fourth, you listen to the answer again, and ask about the emotional benefit of the higher benefit.

  • “What does the benefit do for you?”

*Note: We don’t recommend using the question “why?” as a stand-alone, follow-up question because it sometimes puts people the defensive. Ask why in different ways.

Example of Laddering

Crafting an Engaging Discussion Guide

Enter the conversation confident that you know the right questions to ask by preparing a discussion guide beforehand. This is a document that outlines the direction of the conversation. A discussion guide should contain the following:

  • Research objectives: Why are you engaging in this discussion and what you hope to accomplish?
  • Respondent profile: Describes who you will be talking to
  • Introduction
  • Topics: For a typical session you will want to cover 3 to 5 topics, which you will derive from your research objective. Topics are generally prioritized and thought of as follows:
  • Awareness
  • Product useBuying behavior
  • Switching
  • Questions: Not only is it important to pay attention to the order of your topics, it is also important to pay attention to how you are ordering your questions within each topic area. Use the following guidelines to ensure each question builds upon the last and inspires thoughtful answers from the respondent:
  • General before specific
  • Behavioral before attitude
  • Positive before negative
  • Unaided before aided
  • Respondent categories before moderator categories
  • Activities

Basic Interviewing Hygiene 

  Wear Headphones

Using headphones may be less sightly, but it makes for the best audio quality for your live sessions and recordings.

  Select a quiet place 

Background noises can be distracting and sometimes make the audio quality choppy. Be sure to find a quiet place to conduct your conversation. 

  Check your volume

Make sure that you’re using the right device inputs and outputs on your computer and that the volume is turned up. 

  Avoid common video issues

Make sure that you’ve allowed your browser to access your webcam and that you don’t have any firewall issues that will prohibit you from using your webcam. Many office networks will have firewalls, so check with IT in advance. Many coffee shops will also limit webcam access, so be aware of that. 

You can always check out our training videos, interview best practices, and support articles to find the answers to most frequently asked questions.  

Discuss.io Support is always available to you throughout your project. At any point you can email Support at help@discuss.io, call +1 (888) 814-4742, or reach us through a live chat support room 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. For the do-it-yourselfer, our Complete Technical Troubleshooting Guide is a great resource as well.

Additional Resources

To explore these topics further, please consult the following sources:

http://www.focusgrouptips.com/moderator-guide.html

http://newmr.org/notes-for-a-non-researcher-conducting-qualitative-research/

http://www.qualitativemind.com/6-best-practice-interviewing/

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