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10 Tips for managing your online focus group


In many ways, leading an online interview or focus group discussion is quite similar to an in-person exercise. You still want to keep people engaged and connected, as you work to capture the best insights. When using a virtual platform, however, a few extra steps can ensure success. Keep the following tips in mind:

1. Check your lighting

Good lighting is key to any quality video capture. It’s important for participants to see you, and if applicable each other, clearly, and be able to take visual cues from facial expressions and body language.

2. Look and talk to the webcam

Now you can see each other clearly, the next step is to build a connection. One way of doing this is to look directly at your webcam while talking. Doing so helps participants feel that you are speaking directly to them.

3. Take time to build rapport at the outset

The warm-up is even more important online as people aren’t physically present. Begin with a topic or activity that will help form a connection between you and your participant, and, if relevant, others in the group. Warm-ups can be a simple ice-breaker on a subject related to the project at hand. Alternatively, it could be something a little more ‘out-there,’ all depending on whom you are talking to, and the conversation about to take place.

4. Frame the conversation

Outline what will be covered during the session, state your “rules of engagement” and reference the outline at different points in the conversation.

5. Screen share is a versatile visual aid

There’s multiple ways to use screen share as a visual aid for participants. For example, show the conversation outline on screen as you talk through the discussion flow, or display the current discussion topic or question. Screen share can also be used for something more visual, such as a diagram, or an image of a scene or product.

6. Take turns

In online focus groups, a turn-by-turn approach works particularly well. It provides everyone the opportunity to have a say, helps minimize people talking over one another, and keeps people from not contributing because they didn’t sense an opportunity. Be sure to vary the order in which participants provide their thoughts on a topic, and allow for spontaneity; i.e. raising hands as in the next tip.

7. Raise hands

When running a group session, ask people to physically raise a hand or wave to indicate they have a comment they’d like to contribute. Not everyone is comfortable with interjecting, and without a full view of body language, cues that someone is ready to speak may be limited. State this as one of your “rules of engagement” at the start of the session.

8. Don’t forget to probe

Probing is essential for digging deeper to find true meaning. This might include playing back what you’ve heard from an individual or the group and inviting feedback. It also helps to ask for more: more specifics, more on how they felt, more on what they meant.

9. Use intentional silence

There’s no need to fill every moment. Give participants (and yourself) a moment to reflect, pause for any additional thought or transition from one topic to the next.

10. One more thing

Always offer an opportunity for further comments at the end of a question area. People will have had some time to digest and may have additional thoughts to add.

Incorporate these tips into your next online interview or focus group project. Doing so will help to ensure that you and your participants have the best possible experience.


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