You’ve decided to conduct focus groups or interviews to explore the communication needs of employees, managers or leaders. But the challenge is this: Now that you’re investing the time in qualitative research, how can you make sure the discussions are productive and meaningful?

Start by understanding that, to be successful, focus groups and interviews require planning and discipline. Here are three ways to prepare:

 

Plan ahead. Organize the session by:
  • Developing an interview/discussion guide.
  • Designing conversation starters. For example, for a web session, a PowerPoint presentation shows key questions to help participants understand what’s being discussed. For a face-to-face session, consider such tools as flip charts, white boards or sticky notes.
An effective facilitator does this
  • Spends most of the time listening
  • Remains objective
  • Engages participants
  • Keeps participants focused on the topic
  • Makes sure everyone has a chance to participate
  • Reads people’s body language
  Not this
  • Talks too much
  • Offers you opinions or viewpoints
  • Disregards participants’ input
  • Allows outspoken participants to take over the discussion
  • Focuses on one or two outspoken participants
  • Ignores nonverbal cues
Focus on the conversation by:
  • Managing time
  • Allowing detours, but bringing the conversation back to the topic at hand
  • Diplomatically interrupting participants who ramble or speak too long
  • Paraphrasing questions if participants don’t understand
 
Follow up. If an answer isn’t clear or if you don’t understand, ask follow-up questions such as:
  • “Can you give me an example of that?”
  • “How does that work?”
  • “Does anyone have a different perspective?”

 

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