Consider your favourite TV show for a moment. Chances are, whether it’s still on the air or not, that show has gone through exhaustive target audience testing and analysis. To do this, producers use the ever-so-helpful focus group.

Focus groups have been a staple for decades for not only TV producers, but also advertising agencies. They’re one of the best ways to get feedback on a campaign and gather insights from a diverse group of people so that they can develop a successful campaign.

That being said, focus groups can be a challenge. So, because we like a challenge, but also like to be helpful, we’ve come up with 5 tips for making your next focus group a success:

1. Prepare

A good focus group requires planning—a lot more planning than merely inviting a few key people to casually share their opinions about a topic. Make sure you know what you want to achieve from the session and are clear in your invitation to participants. It’s best to try and get between 6–10 people in the room, and ensure that those in the room are an accurate reflection of the people you want to reach with your message. Try to have your session in the morning (people think more clearly in the morning) and choose the right location. Some water and a snack go a long way, too—that way you avoid any sudden “hanger” stemming from the grumbling stomachs of participants.

2. Assess body language

Posture is one of the first things to look at. Are they bored or disengaged? Are they making eye contact with you? If not, they might not be confident in their answer. Are they crossing their arms? If so, they might be signalling discomfort or feeling defensive. What are their facial expressions saying? All of these things are important for a moderator to consider so they can steer the conversation appropriately. You can read here for more body language tips. 

3. Prevent groupthink

I'm a bit of a psychology junkie, so I had to throw groupthink in there. It's what happens when some participants are swayed by the opinions of one or two big personalities in the room, and feel pressure to conform. One thing we find helpful is to prepare different types of exercises—some that require people to work on their own (perhaps a paper exercise), and others that require collaboration. That way, everyone has an opportunity to express their opinion, as they feel comfortable.

4. Moderate

Moderators have a big responsibility. Over and above the obvious skills needed— good people skills, ability to frame questions, good listening skills and ability to encourage participation—you want to make sure you choose a moderator who is generally interested in people. They also should be a conceptual thinker, and be able to remain neutral and objective and simultaneously flexible and open.

5. Get an assistant

Since there are many things to watch and listen for, there is no way one person can do it all on their own. Have someone else in the room to take a second set of notes and help encourage participation.

Although there are many other things to consider when running a focus group, these things will give you a good starting point! The trick is making sure you get the right people in the room, so that you can ensure you will ultimately deliver— the right message, to the right audience, in the right way. 



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