‘Ask leading questions’ – and other counterintuitive focus group tips

By July 7, 2022July 8th, 2022Best Practices

I am often asked for focus group advice. Common questions include: “We have little time, no budget, suggestions?”, “Would you mind jumping in to moderate next week?” and “We need to conduct focus groups, what do you suggest?”

I’m sharing five tips I give on that third question; granted some of this may be counterintuitive.

1) Ask leading questions

Leading questions to challenge a consensus is an effective tool to counter ‘group think’.

Not all participants are equally vocal; a leading question can encourage minority opinions to be voiced.

2) Lean into ignorance

Giving participants the opportunity to “over explain” is valuable. Participants’ mindsets can be difficult to obtain in a group (due to posturing, social norms, etc.).   

Using ‘I don’t understand what you mean’ can reveal true opinions, beliefs and perceptions that would not otherwise be voiced.

3) Tap a shoulder

In live focus group sessions, those sitting adjacent to the moderator often ‘over contribute’ in group discussions; a moderator’s ‘halo’ effect.

An appropriate tap on an individual’s shoulder, to thank them and remind them to let others contribute, can be extremely effective at silencing over-talkers.

4) Not all opinions matter

A common mistake is having the wrong people; ideal participants are missed, professional respondents are included or contrarians are not removed.

Removing an individual from a focus group, even after a session begins, can be extremely valuable.

5) It doesn’t matter what they say

Most common mistake in focus group reports is including a long list of ‘this is what the participants said’.

Understanding ‘why’ they gave a response is often more valuable than their actual response. This insight requires an in-depth analysis of what was said, why, how and when; not merely a transcript.

If you have a different opinion on those tips, or have other counterintuitive advice, please share them with Paul Abel via LinkedIn.