Virtual Chapter Moderation Masterclass

Judith Langer section

The October, 2011, QRCA Conference featured a "Master Class" with some of today's top focus group moderators: Judy Langer, J. Robert "Bob" Harris, and Pat Sabena. We've only included Judy's session in the video, but the comments below refer to all three Master Class moderators.

Comment 1:

Fascinating how the dynamics were so different!

  1. I enjoyed the guilty pleasures ice-breaker and intro into topic in one
  2. The discussion was very productive despite the short time - the comprehensive list that was generated at start and then lots of in-depth sharing - was good example of Judy's style of going with the flow (but still keeping reigns in an unobtrusive way)
  3. I know it was just a demo and agree that a guide should not be a script, but you also emphasized the importance of moderating by objectives. What if the last point on your guide (brainstorming campaign ideas) was a key objective? What would you have done in a real life situation - hurried through the guide a bit faster and miss some of these pearls; run a bit over time and quickly generate some campaign ideas or skip the brainstorm completely and formulate ideas out of the insights gained in the previous in-depth part of the discussion?
Judy Langer

Judy Langer:

If the last point had been a key objective, I would have gone through other parts more briefly and/or summarized at the end what I'd heard so far and asked resps to build on that.  I don't believe in keeping resps over time; if absolutely necessary, I'd ask for their permission, but often people have to leave at a certain time and you lose some people.

Comment 2:

Nice job, Judy!

I too like an icebreaker that is simple and comfortable, but has a direct tie to the topic being addressed.  Loved the "guilty pleasure" approach.  My best was probably in some groups for pet products; I asked respondents to share just one endearing thing about their pet...they were hooked!

While Judy and JR clearly had different styles and different respondents, both moderators seemed entirely at ease and established great rapport!

I'm also intrigued by the small group dynamics, since most of my groups tend to be 10 - 12 people.  While I certainly try to engage everyone, it is more of a challenge with more people.

With respect to individual exercises (especially in larger groups), I sometimes feel that we lose momentum when one or two respondents take considerably longer than most of the others.  I want to be respectful to those still working, but I don't want others checking their watches or losing interest.  How do you handle that?

It's a shame there wasn't time to get into the group exercise on your guide.  I was interested to see how much time that took and whether or not it was productive.  It seems like a lot to ask of strangers unless you have plenty of time.

Thanks so much!

Judy Langer

Judy Langer:

I like your pet icebreaker.  

Re time for individual exercises, I tell people upfront they'll have about 5 (or whatever) minutes, then remind them when there's just a little time to go.  It's okay if they don't all finish -- just make them comfortable that whatever they did is fine.

I used to do FGs with 10 resps (12 too many) but a lot of the time goes to group management and I prefer 6-8 now.

On the last exercise, it probably would take at least 10 mins. to brainstorm and report out.  since it's at the end of the group, they're pretty comfortable together.  you can also decide on which resps go with which subgroup, balancing out quiet/more verbal ones.

Comment 3:

Judy, thank you for letting us watch you in action! 

When the one consumer went off to explain in detail how her husband had passed, you expertly moved the conversation on while focusing them on the conversation!  How many times have we been in a group and tossed a curve ball like that?  Nicely done.

Judy Langer

Judy Langer:

thanks for that.  important to show empathy while keeping them on track -- and not easy.

Comment 4:

  1. What struck me throughout the session was observing the group on my right side constantly eating, while the group on my left mostly refrained.
    ---   Perhaps one barrier to making positive change has to due with stress, comfort with others, and comfort and honesty about self.
  2. Judy set the stage very well in the 30 minutes available, and I was thrilled to see she set the table for more in-depth probing in the next 30-60 minutes in areas she drew out from her participants.  Two in particular: the impact of the shock and trauma on  one participant witinessing her husband dying, and attributing that to her decision to never smoke again; and the personal horror of another participant seeing most of her family succumbing to health problems that may or may not have a family history or genetic component, and using that to motivate her to continue workouts three times a week.
  3. I know the "facility" and "seating" was for QRCA viewing next door;  however, for our own work it's important to pay attention to those elements so our video recording equipment and our "clients" are looking directly at the participants faces and body language and not the moderator.
Judy Langer

Judy Langer:

Doing the group for training/demo purposes is the only time you'd want to face the camera.  The room set-up is very important.  I had to nudge to get the hotel to provide food for this one -- both because I like to make people feel comfortable and because we could observe what  people really do.  My guess is that made resps. more honest too.

Pat Sabena:

Go, Judy, go! A pleasure listening to and watching you again.

Comment 6:

Julia / Ana, just fyi, I am not sure if this topic is formatted as initially unbiased or not - I was able to see others' responses before I posted my own, but promise I will try to answer independently firstSmile

Great job Judy!  I think several things really came through, including the overall importance of "moderating by objectives," and for this topic / respondents getting beyond social desirability bias.  During the mini-group itself I especially enjoyed:

  • Your probing style, right from the intros onward to set the tone; including a lot of ways of asking the reasons without using the word "why" ("tell me more ...", "what do you mean ..", "give me a for instance ...", etc.).  It seemed that as the group went on respondents began giving more thoughtful, detailed answers as they anticipated / learned that you would expect that from them. 
  • At the same time, you maintaned control / one-at-a-time rules very naturally, only 1-2 "hold that thought" moments, etc.  By about 15-20 minutes in it seemed like the group could almost "moderate itself" in terms of respectful interaction--of course making it look that easy is very difficultSmile
  • I liked the group brainstorm on "shoulds" to warm them up to topic (I also find it very hard to write at flip chart while facing the group), and again the way you practiced UPR (writing all suggestions down) while simultaneously probing to relate them back to the topic of health. 
  • I thought the individual exercise before group discussion (on changing habbits) was a good way to mitigate social desirability / group think. 
  • I also liked the way you occasionally summarized what you were hearing ("sounds like ...") without expressing too many value judgements.   

Cheers, thanks again for doing this!

Judy Langer

Judy Langer:

Re the individual exercise, I also wanted to get beyond generalities and have people think about what specifically worked as a trigger for them to change.  Non-directive feedback ("sounds like...") works really well if you make it clear that people can say "no, what I mean is...." I actually think it's okay occasionally to ask "why" but that constantly saying it isn't good; if it comes across as genuine interest/curiosity and doesn't put people on the defensive (your mother asks "why were you out late last night?"), resps are fine with it.

Comment 7:

Thank you so much!  I thought the guilty pleasure in the personal introductions was a great ice breaker.  Since Bob (JR) suggested we "steal something" from watching you masters in action, I'm going to steal your "Give me a for instance" follow-up -- I really like that.

Judy Langer

Judy Langer:

Happy to be stolen from!

Comment 8:

I thought it was very interesting when one participant talked about how healthy she was, how few problems she had, etc. - when (if I recall correctly) the recruiting specs were for people who had at least one risk factor. 

Judy, how do you handle something like that?  Where a participant should exhibit certain characteristics but doesn't?  How do you effectively utilize their presence and time in the discussion? 

Thanks so much for doing this, it was a real pleasure to watch you in action (I guess that's my guilty pleasure!)

Comment 9:

Great Job Judy!

The facts of building up the momentum starting from a very much emotional level talking about their past keep respondents engaged and eager to participate, listening each others and ready to cooperate.

Judy Langer

Judy Langer:


A good moderator communicates that she/he is genuinely interested in participants, cares about and respects their feelings.  I don't start off interviews saying anything about myself personally (what my life is like, where I'm from, how I would answer a question I ask participants, etc.) for several reasons:  I think it’s unnecessary; think it’s best to be neutral and let participants project on to me whatever they wish; don't want to bias responses since, like it or not, I'm in the position of authority figure.

Sometimes during an interview I might say something about myself if I think it’s relevant, innocuous and/or supportive (“I have a cat too”).

I don't say I'm from New York since a lot of people dislike NYC and/or think we look down on them. If resps. ask, I'll say I'll tell you at the end of the groups and if I forget, feel free to ask me again. Why introduce the topic of the moderator's relationship status, whether or not h/s has kids? That can make some resps. uncomfortable too. Neutrality is better and warmth/humanity can be expressed in other ways.