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The Best Moderators? A 3rd Grade Teacher! – Part 1

Part I

Both of my parents were lifelong educators.  My dad earned his doctorate in the 1970’s, and I recently stumbled across some of his research papers.  He had a keen interest in learning styles and researched the topic extensively.  Many of the theories he wrote about have been scientifically proven through neuroscience, and they apply to qualitative research.  In short, if you want to be a great moderator, take some lessons from a teacher.

At StandPoint, our methods are based on the science of engagement.  Our experience and own experiments have demonstrated that if we maximize engagement of our study participants, we get better insights and our clients realize better results.

So, how do we mimic 3rd grade teachers?  We borrow from the Brain Science playbook.  In total, there are 8 Lessons.  We’ll start by sharing 4 and the rest will come later this month.

#1 Master Behavioral Archetypes

As in a classroom, each person in a focus group absorbs and processes information differently.  An effective moderator varies question style and activities to maximize engagement.  Tools exist to profile participants in advance to understand how they will think and behave in a group setting.

#2 Leverage the Power of Small Groups

A moderating commandment is that participants speak 80% of the time.  Brain science tells us the most effective format is for the speaker to talk for 10 minutes and then allow the audience to talk to each other, ideally in pairs.  If you really want deep and thoughtful answers, the brain requires time to “talk it through.”

#3 Give People Time to Think

When moderating, our standard is to escort each participant back to the lobby.  While it is a polite gesture, the real reason is that participants will continue to share thoughts during the walk and before they depart.  The brain requires time to generate new thoughts.  Ideally, you should consider staggered engagements such as interacting with group participants one-on-one prior to the group session.

#4 What You Show to Whom Matters

Three-quarters of adults are concrete (vs. abstract) processors.  Most people rely heavily on what they see, touch, smell, taste, and hear.  Words-only concept statements and mood boards are often too abstract, resulting in superficial feedback.  With 2D stimuli, it is proven that images in context trump words.  3D stimuli trumps everything; when you can, show something tangible.  If you need feedback on something abstract, reconsider who you ask.  (There are certain people hardwired for this task.)


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