Sometimes friends say: ‘Oh, I could be a moderator like you. I love to ask questions.’ I always smile because I get it; this job is fun! But there is definitely more to it than meets the eye.
When I am moderating, whether in a 1:1 in-depth interview (IDI) or in a focus group, I almost feel like I am spinning plates. There are at least six different things going on at once, and I have to control all of them or the whole discussion could fall apart.
- Ask questions
This one seems fairly basic, especially since I follow a discussion guide with some pre-set questions. People are wildcards, though, so I have to figure out how to ask the questions in a way that:
- Makes the interviewee(s) comfortable and willing to talk
- Elicits information that meets the client’s needs
- Follows the discussion guide while allowing for an appropriate amount of wiggle room
- Read the audience
Some people are eager to share, while others are much more reticent. Some tell you what they think you want to hear, and others want to tell you stories about their life.
Being a moderator is knowing when to push back, when to explore a side trip, and how to pull things out of people. It’s knowing when to be gentle and when to be aggressive. And it’s knowing how to keep people engaged and on topic.
- Check my ego
I am an expert on moderating, but not on every industry, demographic, or lifestyle. So, I ask people to teach me. Tell me what it is like because I don’t know. I am very frank with them about my lack of knowledge but my desire to learn.
There is a fine line of not looking ignorant but coming from a place of show me, teach me, explain to me.
- Be empathetic
For example, I did a market research study with parents of color who had preschoolers, and the topics were about race and inclusion. I started off light and told them: ‘Obviously, I don’t know anything about this. So, tell me your experience. How do you relate to this?’
They were so open and kind; they wanted to share and be heard. And I wanted to really understand.
- Be a really good listener
The listening component is so important. Yes, you have to listen to exactly what they are saying, but there is so much more.
- Why are they saying it?
- How are they saying it?
- What is their body language saying?
- How is the context affecting their word choice?
- Stay two steps ahead mentally
All. The. Time.
Moderating is a great part of my job, and I love it! But it requires a certain personality and skill set. I love that there are three skilled moderators at The Olinger Group – Jude Olinger, Chanttel Allen, and me. Our personalities work well together (scary but true), and we have more than 70 years of combined moderator experience.
Come chat with us. We will ask you lots of questions and listen carefully to everything you do and don’t say.
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